Recruitment for and information about doctoral research to be conducted at the Biennial FWSA Conference, June 2013
Emily F. Henderson is an ESRC-funded PhD student at the Institute of Education (IOE), University of London. Emily’s PhD study focuses on interpretations, experiences and understandings of gender at feminist academic conferences. She will be conducting part of her research at the Biennial FWSA Conference in Nottingham, 21-23 June 2013. This research has been approved by the FWSA Executive and the co-organisers of the conference. Emily is looking for attendees of the 2013 FWSA conference who would be willing to participate in her research. This blog post includes information about the study for the purposes of recruiting participants (see section 2), as well as more general details of the study for attendees of the conference and a wider readership. Emily is a member of the FWSA, and her essay about lecturing on gender, which contains some of the nascent ideas of her PhD project, was shortlisted for the 2011-12 FWSA Student Essay Competition. The research is not an evaluation or an audit of the biennial FWSA conference, or of the FWSA.
1) Information on the study
“Eventful Gender: A Study of Gender and Higher Education as Performed and Disseminated at Academic Conferences”
Emily F. Henderson
ESRC-funded PhD Candidate, Institute of Education, University of London
Professor Elaine Unterhalter and Dr Jenny Parkes
I am particularly interested in creating feminist spaces within conference pedagogy, and have designed a study that offers opportunities for reflexive networking and an enriched, collaborative conference experience. The aim of the study is to explore understandings of gender – and related concepts – in higher education and academia, with a multiple focus on gender as a concept, an area of research and study, and a performance of academic and personal identity. The research sites of the study are gender-related academic conferences, because gender, Women’s Studies and feminist conferences are sites for the dissemination and renegotiation of gender. I have designed a qualitative study for which I have gained ethical approval from the Institute of Education.
Although gender is often defined as a concept that refers to the ideas that we have about the body and identity, in academia gender has a more complex existence. In addition to the gendered subjects of academia, gender also refers to a domain for research and study, as well as a tool, lens or variable to be researched and studied. Most research studies on gender and Higher Education focus on one or other of these aspects of gender, but in this study I aim to research all three levels, with the idea that the levels blur and merge, and furthermore that they inform each other. The manifestations of gender in a Higher Education setting are thus myriad and complex, and omnipresent; there are tensions as to what gender means to whom, who it includes and excludes, how it should be built into content and mechanism, who can or should wield it. The conceptual work that gender is asked to do is increasingly simplified as it gains popularity as the new tick-box term for anatomical sex; this use of the term pushes the complexity and politics out of gender. In this study, I engage with the plural manifestations of gender across academia, with the aim of re-radicalising the concept so that it can be put to work across Higher Education in a less segmented, binary form.
The empirical aspect of the study focuses on gender-related academic conferences as microcosms of Higher Education, but also as sites of resistance and difference. At gender-related conferences, we find a concentration of the different manifestations of gender in academia. Firstly, gender and its satellite concepts are debated and redefined in the presentations and discussions. Secondly, when gender academics and students are grouped together, they identify themselves according to niches within gender as a domain for research and study; they discuss the progress and challenges of the domain within their own institutions. Finally, gendered academic identities are performed at conferences, and gender conferences tend to be occupied by people who themselves identify with and perform non-binary, complex notions of gender, which come to be minority issues in the Higher Education Institution at large. With the concentration of these plural and parallel manifestations of gender that we find at gender-related academic conferences, we receive an impression of gender in academia at large. This impression relates to dominant discourses around Higher Education, such as globalisation, marketisation, and performance culture, for the international academic conference is a site where these discourses are played out by competitive and globally mobile individuals. However, conferences may also be construed as sites of resistance, of collaborative and innovative learning and social and emotional engagement.
The project takes the form of a collaborative and participatory study of three national Women’s Association conferences, in the United Kingdom, the United States (TBC), and India (TBC). In each case, I am recruiting a small number of attendees within the conference, so that we can chart the levels of understanding of gender that shift and solidify during the conference; where possible, we will also discuss the conference as an informal focus group. Interactions with participants will to some extent mimic the social processes of the conference, in that we will exchange thoughts as we coincide in sessions and social spaces, write notes for each other and meet to discuss. The participants will be asked to discuss their evolving understandings of gender as a concept, a domain for research and study, a performed identity, and I will be involved in this task as a participant and observer. In each conference I will be confronted by a national and regional context as well as a global, temporary, decontextualised space and time. I employ an ethic of research throughout the study, from planning to writing, that requires gender to operate as a disorganising concept, rather than as a fixed, and fixing, variable or lens. I use Jacques Derrida’s work on speech and writing, academic authority, events and performance, and Judith Butler’s theorisation of gender, to conceptualise gender in academia.
2) Recruitment of participants for FWSA 2013 Conference
The invitation to participate is open to anyone who is registered to attend any part of the FWSA conference (21-23 June 2013, Nottingham).
To participate in the study, you do not have to consider yourself an expert in gender. Participation will begin with a short, informal interview by phone or Skype with each participant before the conference, in which we will discuss our understandings of gender, and the way that it relates to our work. At the conference itself, participants (including me) will develop our initial discussions, with the option of meeting as a group, and we will discuss how our understandings of gender develop during the conference. Interactions during the conference will occur both when we accidentally meet and during more scheduled meetings, and in writing if preferred; the level and type of interaction will be determined by each participant. No interactions will disrupt attendance of conference sessions.
Participants would ideally be available for a 30-minute informal interview by phone or Skype in the week before the conference. After this, I have booked a room at the University of Nottingham in which I can meet participants both one-to-one and as a group.
If you have any questions about the study or your eligibility to participate, please do not hesitate to get in touch: ehenderson01(at)ioe.ac.uk
If you are interested in participating in the study, please let me know (ehenderson01(at)ioe.ac.uk) by 5pm on Friday 14th June, 2013. Further information about the study will be provided to participants.