One year later…..

Miraculously GES was taught again – by me (as a casual), and the Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies program at La Trobe was sustained.

Rumour has it that it may even be restored as a major, but given the general ambiance of cutbacks and sackings my optimism is cautious.

If only economic rationalism was vaguely rational! The second year core unit had 126 enrollments, of which over 90% have contributed to the massive pile of marking that I’m slowly gnawing my way through…. So there is ‘market demand’ for Gender Studies. We’ll see how long that lasts if the proposed Commonwealth budget measures go through.

Part of burying my head in the sand against the tide of doom spreading from Federal politics and the immanent threat of global environmental catastrophe involves writing. Things are getting so bad that I’ve become more productive than I’d expected with a book chapter due for publication in September.

In my non-existent spare time, I’ve been involved at the edges of a wonderful initiative by the Melbourne Free University. this semester they have been running two courses for Asylum Seekers  – through a cooperation between academics at different universities…. they are also hoping to involve university students as volunteers, so please email them now if you are interested…. (melbournefreeuniversity@gmail.com).

I’ve also been involved with a group of artists and RMIT students who run weekly art classes inside the Melbourne Immigration Transit Centre as well as weekly art classes for Asylum Seekers in Melbourne. At the moment Melbourne Artists for Asylum Seekers just has a Facebook Page, but a website is coming soon.

I’m also speaking at the Australian Womens and Gender Studies conference at Melbourne Uni in late June. I’ll be giving a paper based on the week 10 lecture (who says casual teaching doesn’t contribute to research?), but the real highlight will be the Public Lecture with Sarah Ahmed on June 24th at Melbourne Uni.

Anyone can come, and AWGSA encourage students to join for the small fee of $20.

Back to GES, most of the blogs are on the internal LMS, however quite a few students did open-source blogs, and have given me permission to link them here:

Contemporary Debates

TomTom

Suffragette City

Taking Red Pills

Views from a sophisticated mind

A Journey Into Gender Studies

 The Dangerous Blank

Gender and Sexuality Blog: Awkwardly Writing About Stuff

 

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Marking land

I’m blogging back on the main blog, marking lots of first year essays and watching escapist trash.

Also planning a performance for next saturday!

Read my brain fart here.

 

 

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Postscript

I hope this is one of many, and have a vague random dream that students will continue to vent their rage online…..

We had the final tutorials for first year Gender Studies students who were all saying “Oh my God – I can’t look at ANYTHING now without being critical!” Which is pretty awesome feedback.

for my part – I’ll be going into an essay marking hole for the next few weeks, then I hope to continue writing my reflections on teaching gender.

the last 2 lectures I felt like I was running into the wind – being overwhelmed by current affairs and trying to share some critical frameworks or tools to try to address them – or at least not be as floored by them as I was feeling.

the Australia Pariah State refugee excision thing? that had me weeping tears of rage, literally… sobbing. I managed not to sob in the lecture, but did some Foucaultian dance with it all…..

And then the last episode of SBS insight – a fat shaming horror – rivalling the misogyny manuals of ACP…. well – that did leave me speechless.

Fortunately – other, more eloquent activist academics found words beyond the screams of FAAAAARRRRRRKKKKKK!!!!!!!!

Check this wonderful blog post by Protodoctor Wykes from Melbourne Uni….

And – its a good point to leave on. That the SBS/ABC current affairs journalese style of debate around topical issues of identity and diversity are everything that I hope to equip students to move away from. the fourth estate is dead as a dingo’s donger, and there are so few public forums for critical thought and research integrity. Maybe the blogosphere can allow some more useful conversations to keep happening.

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That time of year

The semester is drawing to a close and I’m about to sink into a major marking hole – with major essays from 3 first year tutes and 3 second year tutorials heading into my little suspension file very soon.

I have some fun scheduled at the end of a 3 week eyeball bursting binge….. partly to go see the Dalai Llama at Jeff’s Shed……

and then I’m organising a performance night on June 22nd at Hares and Hyenas.

 

In the meantime I survive doing crochet to Torchwood. Season 4 is scarily reminiscent of Australia’s treatment of Asylum seekers. This blog has the latest images of the tent city from Nauru, and I’m wondering why Gwen doesn’t appear with a bazuka.

Back to the grind, for now – of writing a lecture on intersectionality to be delivered tomorrow

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A uni tutor’s work is never done

My dream of being a portal between the academy and the outside world (particularly those components that are marginalised from mainstream discursive apparatii like the mainstream media, landline phone pollers, policy makers, lobbyists, law makers etc.) has been unravelling somewhat in the past couple weeks.

In brief, I have been a marking hound. I spent most of easter marking first year assignments and most of the past week marking second year blogs.

Meanwhile the Melbourne Free Uni had their website temporarily suspended last week for reasons that no-one knows or will ever know. It had something to do with the government, but was too secret for the government to tell anyone, why. Weird.

So the blocking of the website was a hassle, but many people could still access it, and the situation has now been rectified. Furthermore, if it had been permanent, then the MFU could have set up another website.

However, if the MFU people (including myself) just happened to be Iranian, Iraqui, Tamil, Burmese or from any country with documented political repression, then not only would the website be blocked, but we’d all be fleeing for our lives. I’ve met numerous political refugees, who have had their homes bombed, been arrested and tortured and threatened with death and death of their families for similar benign ‘radical’ activities, such as organising meetings and sharing knowledge, or organising foodshare cooperatives, or hosting political websites.

If the hypothetical free university participants ended up in Australia, and somehow survived 5 years in a detention centre enough to prove a successful claim for refugee status, then we would have been subject to another random, mysterious government security action. And in deed this is what happened to 55 detainees in MITA Broadmeadows last week. ASIO declared a group of successful refugees (who have already been subject to international police checks and character references) to be a ‘security threat’. No one can obtain information about why or what this entails, and no one can appeal it. 27 of the refugees in question have been on a hunger strike for nearly 7 days, and there has been a vigil outside of supporters.

I’ve been sick with worry and distress and rage, and have had to plod on with marking, all through my weekend, and through today as well. I haven’t had the time to take PT to Broadmeadows, to join the vigil, or negotiate with SERCO staff to maybe visit some of the inmates. All I have been able to do is write letters, and petitions, and emails…. and do the marking.

Fortunately, most of the blogs are heartwarming and inspiring. New knowledge! students wrangling with complex readings and reflecting critically on daily life!

Here are links to some of the student blogs (with their permission). enjoy.

This one starts with a great meme about Foucault’s repressive hypothesis!

and this blog nicely includes a Game Of Thrones meme to illustrate their discussion of Sarah Ahmed and sexual orientations.

This blog has a wonderful link to the trailer of ‘two spirits’ embedded in a discussion of intersex identities, as well as many other links to youtube clips and articles.

Good ‘ol cultural studies scholar that I am, I revel in the links between popular/alternative culture and high falutin theoretical extrapolation…..

As I get more permission from students to add their blogs to this one, I’ll add a blogroll of student posts. If anything else – they are a great record of how the beleagured field of Gender Studies actually goes about our ‘business’ of teaching people to look at the world in conscious, critical ways.

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Opening Education Sources….

I thought I’d write a little bit about why and how I’m encouraging students to create blogs through public sites such as blogger, tumblr and wordpress. I’ve attached some links to this page of the open source educational resources that influence how I approach the component of knowledge that I care about: the open-source knowledge creation part, for which the world wide web can be so useful.

The stuff we teach in Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies matters – on a personal and community level as well as an academic level, and the academic integrity of what we discuss and write about depends on a transparent and engaged link with our real-world communities. this is one of the founding principles of feminist epistemology 101 which I want to hold onto. In practice it means that we bring in real-world scenarios: case studies and current affairs, and that we have a commitment to share our critical analysis of these case studies with the community. We who have the luxury of generating knowledge do not own that knowledge – it is shared with the subjects of that knowledge.

Most university subjects have an online component based around a close-sourced softwear that is leased by the university from an external company. La Trobe has LMS, as does Melbourne University, and Deakin has it’s own system called ‘Deakin Students Online’. It’s a bit of a paradoxical shift from ye olde days of the internet (pre world wide web) when universities in Australia set up an interweb known as aarnet – an online information sharing platform. Now most university emails are located in servers hosted by Microsoft. Universities have shifted from the creators and respositories of knowledge to being large corporate consumers of information management softwear.

Online subject management is usually referred to as a ‘blackboard’, and used to be called WebCT before the branded packages such as LMS came in. I set up the blackboard for the first subject I tutored in at Sydney University 9 years ago, and to be honest, I haven’t found that very much has changed in 9 years. Administering the ‘Learning Management System’ part of the current subject I am running is painful and tedious, and mandatory, although unpaid. I use it to provide basic information, upload lecture notes and readings and as a way of monitoring assessment. (students post a note on the blackboard when they update their blog). However, as I learnt from last year, blackboard postings are not archived (or at least not in an acessible fashion). Last year students and tutors posted numerous links to current affairs materials, blogs, videos etc on the subject discussion board, however this year I cannot access any of them. Subject readings, lecture notes and lecture recordings remain the exclusive property of the university, only accessible to the fee-paying subscribers whose subject enrolment has been successfully completed, and only accessible for a short time period.

This is not the kind of knowledge economy that I want to endorse – hence the use of open-source blogging as a course component. However, I am still wrangling a little bit with web 2.0 softwear…. A couple of students had trouble with blogger.com on the new google+ format. Google plus was google’s attempt to compete with Facebook – so it creates an online persona for subscribed users where a blog is included but can only be shared through social media or via email. I really don’t like the idea of subscriber based content – and believe readers should be able to access information outside of an app, social network or cookies collecting IP addresses.

I’m no expert on the technicalities of this tho – and still fumble my way through the parts of the interwebs that are workable and accessible in the now – incredibly limited time that I have to work on this stuff. I feel like I am doing 2 jobs or wearing 2 hats: managing the university administrative persona – and trying to create and sustain the ‘real’ processes of genuinely creative learning.

So I was delighted with the first batch of student blog posts and amazed at how many students started writing early. Reading through 90 blogs on a Monday was pretty full on, but to be honest – totally worth it! Most students made a serious attempt to make their blogs attractive and write posts that were considered and sensitive. and I have a hope that they may be able to start using the interwebs in more interesting ways that the bland buzzfeed social media half smile vapidity of small screen distractions in daily life. Encouraging students to develop their own practice as public intellectuals is the best thing that I can possibly teach.

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Intersexion and Intersection are quite different things

Today I tried to explain my understanding of gender as an attempt to create categories of human bodies that are themselves quite complex and difficult things to negotiate.

One student in the lecture very pithily described the difference between sex and gender as “gender is about who is wearing the pants: sex is about who’s pants you want to get into”.

ha ha!

Meanwhile I introduced the concept of intersectionality: claiming that the course is approached from an intersectional approach to bodies and social categories and power. that the effects of difference in power and identity are almost never experienced according to a single axis alone (ie sexism, or homophobia or class difference or racism) – and that the experience of sexism is always affected by our position in relation to racial privilege and racism, and class privilege and whether we identify as or are read as ‘queer’.

So that is intersectionality. It’s a tricky thing to negotiate, and Elizabeth Grosz has spoken quite eloquently how the fixation on identity politics in US gender studies departments means that intersectional studies can be quite bogged down in specifying the intersections of fixed or essentialised identities – whereas identity and power are often much more protean – power is slippery, and identities are constantly contested and negotiated – even at the bare life stage of those most marginalised by the brutality of race relations in Australia – because life – any life – is like that – bodies are complex and desires are complex and playful and generally quite marvellous….

I also showed a clip from this awesome film which is showing in Melbourne on Sunday week. Intersex activism has had an increasing profile lately with the  submission from Organisation Intersex International to the senate inquiry examining consolidation of the Anti Discrimination and Human rights legislation.

We’ll be studying the latter later in the course, however I wanted to show the clip because of it’s emotive appeal, and it’s demonstration of how intersex voices generate a critical imperative for gender scholars. The ground under which we study gender has and is shifting – largely through the work of intersex, transexual and transgender activists and academics.

There is something in the intensity of bodily materiality – of stories of childrens’ genitals being operated on surgically without their choice or agency that offers a visceral challenge to ‘gender binaries’. Suddenly it’s no longer an abstract concept, but a fairly brutal medical/legal regime that causes real pain. Also the matter of bodily excess – that many bodies are born with ambiguous genitalia, somehow evokes a factoid challenge to the gender binary, as if fleshy deviation makes the exception more ‘real’ or ‘innate’ than psychological or cultural exceptions to the gender binaries. Of course I don’t entirely agree with this. I’m interested in how bodies are interpreted as cultural and social concerns, and how power works through and with the bodies we have to create the strange gender systems we live in.

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