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Tricia Morris, M.A. Candidate Katie Macdonald, M.A. M.Ed. Abstract Excitement, anticipation and pride were emotions that ushered us into our research projects, but we concluded with a sense of loss, discomfort and anger. We encountered moments of disjuncture where it became painfully obvious to us that our projects were tied to the oppressive systems and discourses we had set out to subvert. These painful realizations manifested ‘in the field,’ and we reacted in anger and fear in attempts to resecure our roles as feminist researchers. It was through our conversations that we began to imagine how to employ those moments where our abilities, intentions and methods were called into question as learning moments about privilege and the ways in which we protect(ed) our authority and positions ‘in the field’. This paper focusses on the ways these conversations prompted, necessitated and facilitated our ability to not only reflect on those painful disjunctures but to encourage their inclusion and usefulness in researching and writing. Keywords Friendship, dialogue, love, blogging, crisis, competition, healing, feminism, disjuncture, transformation
Centre for the study of Theory, Culture, and Politics, Trent University, Peterborough, ON, Canada Faculty of Education, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
oth of our theses are completed and printed, and they sit on different shelves at different universities. In them, though, we find each other in the acknowledgements and in the bibliographies. Our ideas were not developed independently.
Although our research had different focuses we constructed common links through conversations with one another. We began our research projects in separate provinces, at separate institutions, and found ourselves missing one another as colleagues and learning partners, and also as friends. We felt, too, as though we were learning in environments which did not encourage our engagement in an academic community, but instead encouraged competition. In it, we were competitive. We began to envision ourselves as above, as better than the students and colleagues we were engaging with, because we wanted to form community in ways that we believed others did not. It’s clearer now that these thoughts were detrimental to our attempts to form the community we hoped for, and we would like to think that this paper is an attempt to reach out to other students, to show how integral the community we formed with each other was to thoughtful research, to be challenged to make it better, and to expand it to include people who aren’t just us. We begin this paper with excerpts1 from letters we wrote to each other while each did our research. These letters are published (in a less abridged form) on a blog called Textual Healings which we created as a substitute for the academic communities we both felt we lacked in our programs and as a way to form the community we needed. April 13, 2009 Tuesday Nights2 Tricia, On Tuesdays, I volunteer at a Rape Crisis Centre in Toronto. I can never know how a day there will
1 These excerpts have been edited for coherency and length. They appear in their full form on our blog, accessible at: http://textualhealings. wordpress.com 2 http://textualhealings.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/hello-world/
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 affect me — some days I am floored by the compassion, humour and support that permeates the centre. Women who, on a day-to-day basis, are faced with violent crimes done to women are able to laugh, and hug, and feel hope. Other days, though, I can’t shake thinking of the stories I hear, the amount of calls I get and have to direct to the crisis line, or that a place like the centre has to put so much effort into being recognized as an essential service and into getting funding. Shifting back to my intellectual work on Tuesday night is difficult for me. And it’s where I am right now. I spent the day at the centre and a thesis chapter is nagging at me from the computer. But, I’m finding the transition from being present at the centre into talking about volunteer experiences of development and their language so difficult. I feel disheartened at critiquing the work that volunteers do when they genuinely feel as though they’re able to make a difference and am struggling to articulate why I think this work is important. I often have to come back to this beautiful passage by J.K. Gibson-Graham, where they say that … our seldom inspected common sense posits a separation – or even an opposition – between thought, understood as cerebral reflection, and action, understood as embodied engagement with the world. This makes it hard to see thinking itself as a kind of action – that we are doing thinking, in other words, touching the world and being touched by it and in the process things (and we) are changing (2006: xxix)3.
3 We did not include the complete reference for this piece on our blog, in part because we understood that our readership was limited (primarily) to one another and
I have to push myself all the time to imagine thinking this way. I guess I just need to be able to feel like it’s happening. To feel momentum. To be pushed by things that allow me to imagine the world differently. And, I think most importantly, I need to imagine the shift between volunteering at the centre and writing about the ways development volunteers understand their experiences, as actually not so far apart. -Katie (MacDonald 2009b) April 23, 2009 Words and action4 Dear Katie, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to blog you back. This is a conversation that gets to me. “Theory” versus “activism” is a conversation (and a binary) that occupies much of my thoughts lately. I’m about to write to you about how I can consider thinking and writing as forms of action, and yet I’m constantly plagued by the fear that I’m only writing this as a sort of validation for not doing anything beyond thinking (and writing about that thinking). I’m not in the streets protesting with signs. You already know this. I’m so grateful that I live in a world where people do that work “in the streets,” and yet I consistently “don’t have the time” or “I’m not sure I agree with an organization’s politics” or any number of excuses not to get out there. I worry that this is just another way of legitimizing not doing action.
we were both reading this text at the time. That we were reading the same texts, even though our projects were so different, is also indicative of the sort of connections we sought to make across differences. The reference is to the following text: Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006. A Postcapitalist Politics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 4 http://textualhealings.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/ words-and-action/
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 I hope it’s not. Or at least that it’s not just that. I’m writing a thesis about what folks have written in response to Thomas Beatie, The Pregnant Man. Some of it is really difficult to read: blog posts, forum comments, television transcripts. It’s violent stuff, at times. Not all of it. But some of it hurts to read because I can hear it working to deny Thomas Beatie’s representations of himself as a pregnant man. I can hear it denying Thomas Beatie a space to exist as he would like to exist. They might be statements in response to his pregnancy like: “[s]he is NOT a male and certainly NOT a man. It is a shemale who decided to keep the female plumbing but lopped off her breasts”(Former Fetus 2008, emphasis added)5. I read blog posts like this, and all I can think about is how words are working to deny Thomas Beatie a space to speak and to live as a man. And I get so sad. If I can see this blogger’s post as action that works against Thomas Beatie, why do I have such a hard time imagining that my thinking and academic writing is an active act of activism? If I must understand bloggers words as active, and ultimately I must for they hurt me and Thomas Beatie (to hurt being an active verb), I must understand my own words as equally able to act on the world in other, (hopefully) more powerful ways. 80 | Tricia Morris & Katie MacDonald I must understand my own thinking and writing as action, as activism, and our discussions as conversations which can and must change the world
5 Likewise, we had discussed this comment as Tricia gathered it from a forum called Stormfront, a white supremacist electronic meeting place. The full reference is as follows: Fetus, Former 2008 Re: ‘Pregnant Man’ Thomas Beatie and Wife Nancy Expecting Second Child [msg 2]. Electronic document, http://freerepublic.com/focus/fnews/ 2131660/posts, accessed January 31, 2009
and the way I live in it. Does this make sense? –Tricia (Morris 2009b) We came to our separate academic work with the idea that we were ‘doing something different’ than other scholars and students in our programs. These differences that we imagined as integral to our work were rooted, in part, in our belief that our (and the plural here is important, because we always do it together) writing could be action and that we could be active in the world through the written word. Guided by the work of J.K. Gibson-Graham we envisioned our academic work as capable of touching the world and being touched by it. Often we both feel as though we’re writing within an academy which does not promote engagement with those working and living outside of its confines, except to study or write about those Others on the Outside. We were determined to make the research we undertook different from those projects which are researchoriented and don’t encourage engagement, and so worked hard to construct what we imagined to be feminist, inclusive, community oriented and ‘different’ paradigms. We also believed that our writing could be different because we were doing it together. In the portion of this paper that follows we discuss our ‘separate’ research projects; nevertheless, this paper is written not only to consider how community was a part of our learning, and informed our learning, but to acknowledge the role our community with one another played in our learning and writing. When we discuss our ‘individual’ research projects we slip back and forth from third to first person singular and plural, in part because grammar and conventions of academic publication constrain how we are able to speak about these projects. The pronoun trouble we get into is meant to reflect this. Academic discourse often does not leave room for blurred authorship, and we recognize that conventions which blur the lines between authors are not easy to write, and nor are they easy for a lot of us to read. Tracing learning back to communities, to friends, to discussions, talks over coffee, or revelations in dreams is
‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 often understood as illegitimate. Often these conversations aren’t even citable in traditional formats like AAA. Because we are not co-authors on each other’s theses “we” seems inappropriate, and yet “I” cannot represent the dialogue between our two voices that is present in those theses. We are left, then, in a difficult place. For this reason, in your reading of what follows in this paper you may feel uncomfortable or as though it is hard to follow who is talking -- this is intentional. With this style of writing we also hope to demonstrate how entwined our learning was, how we are unable to trace fully the routes and roots of ideas and learning and that common tropes of writing and citing make this learning invisible. Here it goes: Tricia’s research concerned representations of Thomas Beatie, heralded in newspaper articles as “The Pregnant Man.” I began my research because I had grown weary of descriptions of him offered by commenters on newspaper discussion forums and blog posts. Their comments were violent— they called him out as an IT, a freakshow, another butch lesbian with no tits, really just a woman, and not a real man (cf. Morris 2009a). What I wished to interrogate, rather than who Thomas Beatie really is, was why commenters articulated descriptions of him in the ways they did and why these descriptions seemed more powerful than the self-descriptions he offered. I set out with the intention, not of correcting their descriptions, but of proving that the reason they were describing him this way was because they subscribed to the understanding that biological sex is an immutable and fixed truth. My research was different, I thought, because I was postmodern and didn’t believe there was a biological truth about bodies. I wasn’t asserting a truth about him, and was using bloggers’ expressions of truth against their originary purposes to problematize the idea that there is Truth at all. My writing would be insurrectionary, and theirs would be oppressive. Initially Katie had the intention of working with women in a small community in Ecuador where she had volunteered as an undergraduate. I was interested in exploring the ways development discourse was present in the lives of the women in the community and how they saw it functioning both in their community and to alter the ways they understood the world. To make my project different I undertook an intensive Spanish course in Ecuador where I hoped to be able to become fluent enough to interview women without the use of a translator. I was disdainful of translation errors, the presence of someone else in the interview and what would feel like an inability to connect with women whom I wanted to ask intimate details of their lives. By interviewing indigenous women in Ecuador about development, I hoped to be able to participate in a feminist project where I would include them in discovering what was important to interrogate about development and to connect with them through the use of Spanish. We thought we were different. It was through embodied engagement with our work that we came to understand that our paradigms weren’t infallible and that our research projects were tied to the very oppressive systems and discourses we had set out to subvert. Through disjunctures we experienced ‘in the field’ and the ways we had imagined and constructed our research, we began to wonder if we were truly doing something different at all. The disjuncture in Katie’s field happened as she slowly began to realize that the women in the community were not Spanish speakers, but rather Quechua speakers who had learned some Spanish. Those in the community who spoke Spanish were middle-aged men. I began to wonder, then, about how my research would shift if I had to translate not only from Quechua to Spanish to English but also to ask questions specifically concerned with the experiences of women and to have them translated through a man. This led me to be concerned with what had happened when I classified the community and the people in it as a ‘Spanish community’. This was my third time visiting and only now was I truly realizing the language barriers. In the elision of the community’s indigenous language I also erased their history prior to colonization of Ecuador by Spain, and any sort of nuanced understanding about the indigenous rights struggle in Ecuador
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 for bilingual education and complex ideas of resistance to colonial and oppressive forces through language. I had constructed my research so that I had learned Spanish to work with women who did not speak it. Disillusionment worked similarly with Tricia, though it was in a different context. I began to work, for fun and in a space not ostensibly connected with my research, on a campus radio show with a group of friends. This radio show eventually fell apart over a conflict about whether or not, as non-transgender-identified women, we were capable of airing a radio show about transphobia. I had wanted to broadcast some of the things I was writing about in my research. While I was adamant that I am, indeed, more than capable of discussing this, a co-host disagreed vehemently, accusing me of perpetuating the oppression we would be seeking to end through the show. As folks who are not transgendered, she suggested, we did not have and should not appropriate the authority to speak on the topic of systems of oppression without those who are oppressed by them. We should not speak about people without speaking to those people, she told me. I wanted to dismiss my co-host’s anger as emotion that ought to have been directed at someone else-folks like the bloggers and commenters whose projects were actually oppressing Thomas Beatie. I forget, in these moments, that anger ought to be directed at me for the privilege I enjoy. I began to worry that, in privileging my destabilizations of truth over Thomas Beatie’s expressions of truth, I was perpetuating his oppression and my privilege through writing. The disjunctures we experienced were ruptures; we felt them as wounds and expressed them bodily through tears. We came to each other, hurt by the interactions which forced us to confront the deficiencies in our research. Our conversations were, in part, about healing ourselves and finding space to suture our wounds. We began to do so, for instance, in our Gmail instant messaging conversation dated February 4, 2009. We wrote: Tricia: […] I mostly mean-- it sucks to have someone assume you’re someone you’re not. [...] Katie: i’m so sorry [this disagreement with the ladies on your radio show] made you feel so badly. but you’re lovely and make the world a better place. and i’m currently thanking you for it. Tricia: It’s ok. I’m just feeling intense. And I just want the world not to hurt people. Katie: Of course. You are intense. But, the world needs it. Tricia: Ha. True. Well. I hope so Katie: It does. I love you. Fear not. Hah. Our conversations allowed us to heal and reinforce to each other that we aren’t terrible people. As our conversations allowed us to begin healing, they also enabled us to do so in ways which left a mark. That mark is visible in our texts. Our conversations elucidated the ways in which these moments of disjuncture could help us re-imagine our work to express these ruptures textually. It allowed us to include moments of disjuncture, discomfort and destabilization in our research and our writing so that we became subjects of our own research. As subjects of our research we used our experiences as ways to analyze our work ‘in the field.’ Tricia began writing a thesis chapter in which she discussed the falling out over the radio show, in order to validate the arguments she had made against my co-host’s protests. In the course of that writing, it became clear to me that my cohost’s arguments were not as dismissible as I had intended them to be. She had a point, and I was devastated about that. In talking through my co-host’s arguments with Katie, I slowly began to treat them as arguments that were integral to the sorts of discussions my research engaged. For instance, I included a blog post from the blog Questioning Transphobia which expressed many of the difficulties my radio show co-host pointed to in my research as a non-transgender identified person. The post, entitled “Tranny: A Guide for the Perplexed,” told me quite simply: [TRANNY]. DON’T FUCKING USE IT UNLESS YOU’RE TRANS.*
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 * And even then… (Queen Emily, as cited in Morris 2009a: 52) I began to treat these responses not as critiques, but as considerations I had not entertained in the development of my research. In this chapter where I intended to knock my opponent down, I ended up analyzing my own responses to her arguments and emphasizing the ways in which my responses were concerned with protecting my privilege. In the final chapter of her thesis Katie examined the ways in which volunteers can represent communities with language and images that can be harmful. These assumptions rely on egotistical belief that we can become experts on people with whom we visit for short amounts of time, and with whom we don’t often share a language. In this chapter I included excerpts from my journal from the first year I traveled to Ecuador. These quotes from my journal were embarrassing, to say the least, but allowed me to examine language volunteers employ that can be destructive (but also often sound quite nice) such as: The people here reflect something so sacred and amazing. Their respect for us and complete modesty made me humble. Standing in the kitchen with two people who worked off of the land, took pride in everything they do I felt like an asshole. An ignorant 20year old who’d never really worked a day in her life or taken pride in any of her work (MacDonald 2009a: 129) This inclusion allowed me not only to critique language, but to also implicate myself in these processes. We both understand, as Rosi Braidotti (2002) suggests, that “[s]elf-reflexivity is... not an individual activity, but an interactive process which relies upon a social network of exchanges” (herising 2005: 133). The inclusion of these embarrassing moments could not have happened without encouragement from our academic community. As Ani Difranco sings, “I have this whole new family and I’m in love with each of them. And I’m on this list called lucky, whenever I’m in reach of them” (2004). We came to realize through our work that the communities we had formed, both with one another and with others, was the safe home-base that we needed to be able to take these risks in our work. Including ourselves as subjects of our own research also requires a reimagining of the field of research to include ourselves. Being ‘in the field’ then, is not distinguishable from being ‘in our lives’. The field that Katie’s research eventually became– volunteer experiences of development –is one that she has been unable to extract herself from. During the final editing process of my thesis last year, I found myself marking an essay of one of my students about their trip to a country in Central America and their experiences there. Reading and commenting on this essay was a continuation of ‘the field’ for me. I was engaged with volunteer experiences in a very real and tangible and also textual way but was also simply working as a TA in sociology. Our imagined communities of research became larger, more fluid communities of learning which are not defined by distinct borders. We both understand, as Kathleen Staudt suggests, that “[s] truggles do not end, but reemerge in new guises and languages; masters must be positioned to engage, then and now. Experience is a great teacher and that kind of learning means we must do more than write” (2002: 67) We would like to conclude with the “About Us” section we include with our blog, Textual Healings: We love feminism and reggae and coffee. We’re striving for true dialogue and true love with all folks. Our conversations with one another give us momentum and make us want to change the world. Sometimes they’re funny. Other times they’re sad. Most times they’re challenging. We hope you have friends like this in the world. If you don’t (or even if you do) you can be ours (MacDonald & Morris 2009).
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009
Saunders (ed.). London: Zed Books. Pp. 57-68.
References Difranco, Ani 2004 “Educated Guess”. From Educated Guess. New York: Righteous Babe Records. herising, fairn 2005 “Interrupting positions: Critical thresholds and queer pro/positions”. In Research as resistance: Critical, indigenous, and antio-ppressive approaches. Leslie Brown & Susan Strega (eds.). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press. Pp. 127152.. MacDonald, Katherine/Katie 2009a Unarticulated Spaces of Difference in Development: Finding Room for Radical Change in Spaces of Invisibility. Masters thesis, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, York University. 2009b Tuesday Nights. Electronic document, http://textualhealings.wordpress.com/2009/ 04/13/hello-world, accessed January 31, 2010 MacDonald, Katie and Morris, Tricia 2009 About Us. Electronic document, http:// textualhealings.wordpress.com/about, accessed January 31, 2010 Morris, Patricia/Tricia 2009a Men are from Mars/ Women are from Venus. Wait a Minute, Does that Pregnant Lad/y Have a Penis?: Talking about the Talk about “The Pregnant Man.” Honours thesis, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, St. Thomas University.
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2009b Words and Action. Electronic document, http://textualhealings.wordpress.com/2009/ 04/23/words-and-action, accessed January 31, 2010 Staudt, Kathleen 2002 “Dismantling the Master’s House with the Master’s Tools? Gender World in and with Powerful Bureaucracies”. In Feminist PostDevelopment Thought: Rethinking modernity, post-colonialism and representation. Kriemild
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?