Rethinking Sisterhood: The Affective Politics of Women’s Relationships
Feminist and Women Studies’ Association interim conference, University of Bristol Saturday 13th September 2014
Organizers: VIDA, the Critical Management Studies Women’s Association
“A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.” (Costa and Kallick, 1993: #5)
The often masculinist, acid and all too often scathing tenor of academic writing and debate in academia can be regarded as a particular challenge for female scholars. So can the low numbers of senior female role models in academic institutions of all kinds. Equally, women who are fortunate enough to find sympathetic male mentors may end up on the receiving end of a variety of sexist judgements about their relationships with these men. This is all made more complicated and more persistent by the ways in which women (the writers of this call included) just as much as men enrol in the discourses which produce and reproduce these problematic effects.
As a result, VIDA (http://www.vidascholars.org/) has been set up to establish a formal network which is consciously aimed at offering encouragement, advice and above all friendship to women academics at a whole variety of career stages whose work connects to Critical Management Studies, wherever they are located geographically and intellectually. We want to work collectively in order to ‘inhabit’ academia ‘differently’. We want to challenge the ‘automatisms’ of academic work that tend to reproduce existing processes and ways of being. One aspect of this challenge is to create collective spaces for reflection, connection, mutual support and knowledge formation and exchange. For us such practical interventions provide safe havens from which new collaborations, partnerships and friendships can emerge amongst women scholars.
This second experiment in critical friendship is one such intervention. We ran our first experiment at the Critical Management Studies Conference in Manchester in July 2013 and you can see an article about the experiment here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/constructive-criticism-without-the-machismo/2005317.article. Participation is limited to women. Any female scholar attending Rethinking Sisterhood – at whatever level, in whatever discipline – who is seeking constructive, friendly and supportive criticism from other women can submit a working paper in advance. This paper could be anything from a set of preliminary notes and a sketchy outline all the way through to something which is almost ready to submit to a journal. It could also be a paper which the applicant plans to present in one of the other streams at Rethinking Sisterhood, or at any other conference. Draft chapters from doctoral theses are also welcome. We ask that the maximum length of any submission is 10 000 words. The only criteria used in terms of selecting the papers for our experiment will be the time and numbers of critical friends we have available. We will select papers on a first come, first served basis if we are not able to accommodate all submissions. We have been allocated a 90 minute session at the Rethinking Sisterhood conference
Women whose papers are discussed in the experiment will not present their papers and there will be no formal discussants. A lead ‘critical friend’ will be assigned to each paper, just to kickstart discussion. Authors will also be asked to indicate to us when submitting whether there are areas of their work they are particularly keen to have comments on. This will be a round-table, collegiate and egalitarian engagement with the author’s ideas, a dialogue between peers: conventional academic hierarchies will not be in play. All those attending the stream will be expected to have read the papers in advance and to come prepared to comment. Papers will be pre-circulated by e-mail and as such those who are simply interested in attending will register that interest with us. This is an experiment which very much depends on generosity, because those attending and not submitting a paper will not get anything ‘tangible’ from the sessions.
If time allows, the experiment will end with a session where participants reflect on the experience, the kind of space we have created, the extent to which we have succeeded in leaving conventional academic practices of peer review ‘elsewhere’, the balance between criticality and friendship we have managed to achieve and so on. If time does not allow, then this discussion can be held afterwards, online. After the workshop, where written feedback on each paper exists, it will be sent to the authors if they wish. Authors can also engage in a continuing dialogue with our critical friends about their work’s progression.
Built into all of the above are the core VIDA values of equity, democracy, support, friendship, collectivism, challenge and intervention, amongst women, by women and for women. The organizers of this experiment, on behalf of VIDA, are Jo Brewis and Sarah Robinson, both University of Leicester. To submit a working paper, or just to register interest in attending the experiment, please email Jo Brewis at firstname.lastname@example.org by 14th July 2014 at the latest. If submitting a paper, please indicate whether there are areas you are particularly seeking comments on. Enquiries about the experiment can be sent to Jo at the same address.