Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Emotional Politics - Submissions welcome!

Check out the Call for Papers of the conference I'm organizing with my colleague Angela Matthews! Emotional Politics: The Role of Affect in Social Movements and Organizing will be held at the University of Kent on 31 May 2018. This one-day interdisciplinary conference will bring together academic researchers, activists, policy-makers and practitioners. The aim is to exchange and discuss current concerns and developments in the research and practice surrounding emotion, organizing and social movements. We hope to get a mix of research papers and accounts by activists.
Dr Carolyn Pedwell, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Kent, will deliver the key note and it's safe to say that it will be brilliant!

Veteran activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis (2016) claims that in order for a movement to be effective it needs to mobilize the masses. How does one do this? What motivates people to join a movement, especially if they are not directly affected by the campaign’s agenda and the successful implementation of its goals? Deborah Gould (2009) argues that the purposeful channelling of emotion can be decisive for the success or failure of a movement. Recent campaigns such as Black Lives Matter or the Women’s Marches, though US-centric, have managed to garner the support from millions of people worldwide. According to Carolyn Pedwell (2014) and Sara Ahmed (2004), the key lies in the relational nature of such elusive terms as emotion, feeling and affect and their ability to circulate between subjects and objects. How can organizers and campaigners make use of these characteristics? What problems may arise in the concrete experience of organizing?
Themes for papers may include (but are not restricted to):

  • Politics, emotion, and affect
  • Social movements, rights-based action, campaigning and protest (such as LGBTQI+, disability, human rights)
  • NGOs and non-profit organisations
  • Critical race, gender, and cultural studies
  • Queer, trans and feminist activisms
  • Legal and political studies perspectives
  • Political theologies and philosophies
  • Queer and non-binary phenomenologies
  • Alienation and engagements
  • Practice-based activism and activist-scholars
  • Influencing policy and policy formation

Submission guidelines
Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words for a twenty-minute research paper to by Friday, 22 December 2017.
We also welcome contributions by activists and practitioners on their experience of the role of affect and emotion in their work. Please also submit a proposal of no more than 250 words for a 10-minute presentation.
Postgraduate and early career researchers are particularly encouraged to submit proposals.

It would be fantastic to be able to hear from some craftivists at the event!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Exploring Gender and Sexuality through Making

"Gender, Sexuality and the Sensory" was the title of an amazing one-day symposium recently held at the University of Kent. It asked what significance explorations of the sensory have for contemporary analysis of gender, sex and sexuality. Alongside a a line-up of brilliant speakers I offered a drop-in feminist craftivism workshop during registration and breaks. The idea was to allow people a hands-on sensory experience in exploring the symposium's main themes by making their very own feminist felt badge. I had provided a selection of templates of background shapes and gender themed motifs such as the letter Q for queer, the female sign, ovaries and elongated oval shapes which could be combined to form an abstract resemblance of a vagina. The base material was felt and people could use some mesh fabric, loads of different beads and pearls and of course lots of colourful thread to embellish their badges. 

The results were absolutely stunning!! Most people used the templates as a starting point for creating their own designs and I am truly impressed by the dedication and creativity people put into their pieces. I suggested that people should take needle and thread into the lecture theatre so they could continue working on their badges while listening to the presentations. Many reported afterwards that it actually helped them concentrate - something I've picked up a long time ago. Unfortunately, it's not yet something the academy has come to appreciate. Often, I don't dare to take out my sewing during a lecture because I feel that people would perceive it as extremely rude and as a sign of disinterest. I guess from now on, whenever I give a talk, I will make a habit of letting people know in the beginning that I don't mind if they engage in some kind of quiet creative activity while listening because I'm aware of the benefits.

Some recent scholarship has also come to appreciate practices of making as forms of meaning-making (Cvetkovich 2012, Gauntlett 2007 and 2011, Sedgewick 2003). During the act of making (a painting, a knitted hat, a clay bowl or a felt badge) materials, ideas or both are connected and turned into something new. The maker hereby inhabits a curious position; he or she not only connects the individual materials, but is also provided with the opportunity to connect with the materials themselves and his or her own physical presence in the world through a sensory and kinesthetic engagement with them (Gauntlett 2011). For instance, as the cool metal of the knitting needles rests against the skin of one’s hands, the regular and rhythmic motion of knitting provides a space for body and mind to rest and wander as well as an outlet for feelings of agitation and despair. As such, creative practices of making provide an opportunity to “maneuver the mind inside or around an impasse [as] forms of agency that can take the form of literal movement and are thus more e-motional or sensational or tactile” (Cvetkovich 2012: 21). 

One of the participants in the workshop expressed unease about which design to choose because she was worried about its implied message regarding gender and sexuality. A concern I can relate to as one naturally does not want to offend someone else or perhaps send "the wrong" message. But rather than looking at these badges as definitive statements about gender, sex and sexuality, they are, in fact, an invitation for conversation and a means to raise awareness. If asked by someone about your awesome flashy vagina badge, hopefully, this will provide an opportunity to engage someone in a meaningful conversation about gender, sex and sexuality and, for example, allow them to reflect on the constructedness of gender categories. In the spirit of the so-called 'Craftivist Movement', your felt badge is evidence of your dedication to interrogating gender and sexuality because you have invested skill, time, and effort in creating a handmade object that encourages critical engagement with the topic (Greer 2014). As such, making is not only about connecting materials, but also about bringing together ideas and people (Gauntlett 2011). 

Cvetkovich, Ann. Depression : A Public Feeling. Durham, NC : Duke University Press, 2012.
Gauntlett, David. Creative Explorations : New Approaches to Identities and Audiences. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis, 2007.
–--. Making Is Connecting : The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge : Polity, 2011.
Greer, Betsy. Ed. Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling : Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press , 2003.  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cuban Textile Encounters

"Hecha a mano! Handmade! Alles Handarbeit!" - When walking down the narrow alleyways of the crafts markets in the central Cuban town of Trinidad, visitors can hardly avoid the overzealous stall sellers advertising and praising their goods. The majority of the stalls are manned by women and feature items of pulled and drawn threadwork as well as embroidery and the occasional crochet and patchwork objects. The women highlight in multiple languages the handmade nature of their work as the unique selling point. Most pieces are done in white thread on white linen or cotton, but some also offer items with coloured thread on white background. Popular motifs are the so called 'Flower of Trinidad' and the 'Star of Trinidad'. 

I was given the fantastic opportunity to spend three weeks in Cuba and to visit Trinidad and other places as part of a scholarship offered by my university. Little is known about Cuban needlework history or current trends and practices in the field, though some contemporary Cuban artists like Aimée García and Celia Ledón have embraced fibre within their artistic practices. The needlewomen of the Trinidad craft markets readily report that their work goes back to needlework techniques introduced to Trinidad by Spanish colonizers from the seventeenth century onwards. The very small collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century textiles in the Museo Historico Municipal Trinidad seems to confirm this. However, it remains unclear to me why practices of whitework and threadwork came to inhabit such a continuously prominent position in Trinidad specifically when Spanish colonizers settled all across the island. Its prominence today is certainly partly due to the thousands of tourists that visit Trinidad ever year and serve as potential customers to the needlewomen. Yet, this is also the case in many other Cuban towns such as Viñales, Varadero, and the capital city Havana. And while craft objects such as small wooden boxes and hummingbirds, leather sandals and jewellery made of seeds and cow's horn are sold all over the island, the threadworked and embroidered table cloths appear to be rather unique to Trinidad. Indeed, Casa de la Obra Pía in Havana which houses a small museum of sewing machines and needlework in Cuba does not particularly address any tradition of white- and threadwork, but displays a collection of ‘standard’ embroidery samplers and bobbin lace artefacts similar to the ones common at the time in the UK and continental Europe. Perhaps this is just part of an orchestrated effort to attract more visitors to Trinidad? Maybe, though the beautiful colonial style town next to the tropical forest of Topes de Collantes seems to have enough on offer as it is.

One thing that struck me about the textiles on offer in Trinidad is that while their handmade character is repeatedly stressed, they do not offer much in terms of individuality of design. Instead, they feature standardised patterns and designs and one can barely tell one woman’s work from that of the other. In fact, I suspect that some of the women are only the sellers and not the makers of the textiles, although they of course assure you that they have made each and every object in their stall themselves. Some can actually be seen working on pieces as they wait for customers. I have, however, also seen museum guards work on table cloths similar to those on offer in the stalls as they sit and observe the tourist pass through the exhibition rooms. It seems fair to assume that these cloths are being produced for sale and that the women are partnering with stall owners. The prices charged for the pieces are ridiculously low given the fact that they are clearly handmade. A large table cloth with matching napkins can easily be purchased for around 30 to 40 Dollars. Sadly, this is reflected in the quality of some of the pieces which upon closer inspection show the occasional loose thread or sloppily finished raw edge. The more surprised I was to see large numbers of middle aged German tourists buying the rather traditional looking table cloths. A good look in their mothers’ linen closet would most likely procure items very similar in technique and style and of potentially higher quality. On the passing of their mothers, however, these handmade textiles are too often thrown out or given away, which is how they regularly end up in my possession. Yet, purchased for little money in a picturesque town on a Caribbean island the handmade embroidered and threadworked table cloths seems to acquire a different kind of value.

I am extremely grateful to the scholarship’s donor and the University of Kent for making this trip possible and hope to develop some of the themes and ideas collected during my time in Cuba in more detail in the future.