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Introduction to ‘Travelling Concepts in Feminist Pedagogy’:
The Web Site and Beyond

 

‘Travelling Concepts in Feminist Pedagogy: European Perspectives’ is one of the projects that originated under the umbrella of Athena, which is a Socrates Thematic Network Project bringing together over 100 Women’s and Gender Studies programmes, institutes and documentation centres across Europe1. Athena II (2003-2006) was awarded three years’ funding to enable Athena partners to continue and deepen this work, with a particular emphasis on the development of diverse educational tools within Women’s and Gender Studies across Europe. The twenty-four Athena partners working within ‘Travelling Concepts’ have come together in the shared desire to track the movement of key feminist concepts across the geographical, political and cultural complexity that is contemporary Europe. While there is an emerging body of feminist work concerned with mapping how concepts travel in a range of disciplinary, national and international contexts (Bal, 2002; Braidotti, 2002), there has not been a systematic, collaborative effort with the singular aim of mapping how feminist concepts travel between and among European Women’s Studies contexts. And in particular, the task of linking conceptual complexity and the necessity for educational diversity within European Women’s Studies is only beginning to be recognised.

The partners involved in this ‘Travelling Concepts’ project come from fourteen different European countries, and are housed within a range of disciplines or interdisciplinary contexts. Some of us work within Gender or Women’s Studies departments, centres or institutes, while others negotiate the specific challenges of feminist research and pedagogy from within ‘home’ disciplines. Some of us work centrally within academic inquiry, while others straddle academic and activist interests, or teach within a broader educational context, such as adult education2. These differing contexts invariably produce different intellectual and political agendas within the group, yet there are a number of points of commonality that we are able to identify, and the differences also constitute productive arenas of inquiry in their own right. We start from the assumption that although different European Women’s and Gender Studies partners often make use of shared concepts, what those concepts mean is context specific across space and time.

The project takes two linked directions. The first is a mapping of sorts, that explores which feminist concepts are central to our current educational contexts and why. How do these concepts transform across different partner, transversal and intercultural contexts? How do the movements of concepts mirror, hinder, or transform the migration of people, as well as knowledges, across European borders? The second direction focuses on transmission of these concepts. How do we pass on knowledge of particular concepts through educational practice at a range of levels? This second trajectory includes an explicit focus on the educational tools we can develop that will be useful in academic contexts at all levels: higher and tertiary education, adult life-long learning, professional training, equal opportunities and so on.

 

Collaborative Travels

We are one of the largest groups within Athena II and since the inauguration of our work with a panel at the 5 th European Feminist Research Conference in Lund, Sweden in August 2003, have met in different European cities over the last two years to meet, think and produce work that maps how key concepts in feminist pedagogy travel, and what this means for teaching and research practice within the field. It is not only concepts that travel, of course. We have met, discussed, planned and published consistently over the last two years despite the fact that, as all readers will no doubt be aware, the actual output of collaborative work is always a fractional representation of the labour involved. Along the way, we have learned a good deal about the difficulties of international collaborative work. Some of these are material: the time constraints that affect us all, and the financial constraints that affect some of us more than others, and that follow depressingly predictable lines of seniority and European hierarchies. Freedom of movement for project partners varies considerably, of course, with those from non-EU countries encountering frequent visa difficulties, and last minute changes of plan that directly impact the collaborative process and the openness of its process. That Athena itself can only provide travel funds for partners with institutional affiliations to the network exacerbates these hierarchies, with senior and ‘Northern’ European partners usually having unproblematic access to these funds.

The negotiation of cultural, geographical and simply personality differences has also presented quite a few challenges, particularly since negotiation of these differences is subject to language constraints and power-relations inherent in the ‘common’ use of English for communication. For many partners, communicating in English means communicating in a 3 rd, 4 th or 5 th language, since the geography of Europe usually means that a 2 nd or 3 rd language reflects geographical proximity (German, for Dutch partners, French for Spanish and so on). At meetings, the meaning of a particular interaction for each party involved frequently only became clear much later as the material and subjective location of each individual emerged. And many exchanges remain obscure (at least to me, as a native English speaker). It is for this reason, perhaps, that the process of the group has been such a central object of enquiry within the work, and indeed, I would suggest that a reflexive process is inevitably a central part of collaborative feminist work interested in attending to geo-political inequality, particularly when geographical and linguistic borders are central to that work.

Intellectually and politically, then, thinking about travelling concepts in feminist pedagogy means foregrounding questions of exclusion, power and silence, among us and in Europe more generally. This work has to attend to racism and heterosexism as well as sexism, since these are major forces that shape what ‘Europe’ means, whose movements are constrained and curtailed, whose left more open. And practically speaking, without this attention, it would simply not be possible to begin to understand one another. We are particularly concerned to make sure that the work we produce reflects directly on all of these issues, is an invested, politically and intellectually charged map of conceptual travel, and not an attempt at a neutral map in which we are not staked and located. For my own part, and I think that of other people in the group, we have developed ways of working with one another despite and because of these differences, and have been reminded once again of the difficulty and value of collective feminist work that integrates rather than seeks to erase these differences.

 

What You’ll See

There are two main outcomes from the ‘Travelling Concepts’ project, linked to the directions indicated, above. The first is this website, within which concepts are explored from a range of geo-political, situated perspectives within Europe. Visitors to the site are encouraged to explore the site, use it as a scholarly or teaching resource, and pass on the link. The theory behind the site is that knowledge about conceptual travel across a European geo-political landscape can only be a collaborative project if singular perspectives are not simply replicated. There is thus no hierarchical order to the presentation of concepts, and no final definitions of terms.

Secondly, Raw Nerve Books have published a short book series, Travelling Concepts in Feminist Pedagogy: European Perspectives. Raw Nerve work collaboratively with authors, and have a particular interest in non-standard content and format. It was only when thinking about what the group might usefully publish together that we were confronted with the sheer uniformity of most publishing arenas, with academic publishers usually not being prepared to takes risks on collaborative, creative and innovative work, particularly with respect to design. We have worked closely with the editor of the press, Ann Kaloski, and the designer, Hilary Doran, to make the series as beautiful as possible, and in the spirit of the nature of the work.

 

Final Note

The framing of our work as a ‘European’ project is not intended to be exclusive, and people who do not consider themselves European are actively invited to contribute to this project. In fact, without that input, the mapping of ‘Travelling Concepts in European Feminist Pedagogy’ would make little sense. The history of Europe is a history of political movements of peoples, such that the subject of Europe (whether a citizen or not) frequently has a range of transnational identifications and ties both with and outside of a geographical European frame. Academic feminism is also characterised by movements of staff and students as part of the global market in gender. Not only is there considerable movement across European borders, likely to increase with the (2012) implementation of the (1999) Bologna Declaration,3 but many European academic feminist sites are sustainable only through continued recruitment of non-European international students . The flow of staff and students between and among international sites makes European academic feminism an interesting place to be, albeit it one dense with contradictions.4

In these respects alone, ‘Travelling Concepts in Feminist Pedagogy’ is of necessity a more broadly transnational project since the question of who occupies European feminist pedagogic sites is an open one. Our hope is that a focus on the complexity of European feminist pedagogy will go some way towards correcting the common assumption that ‘transnational feminist work’ always or only describes work concerned with non-European contexts. Teaching and learning within European Women’s or Gender Studies means having to take seriously the different trajectories that lead us to occupy space together.

Clare Hemmings © 2005

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Bibliography

Aaron, J. and Walby, S., eds (1991) Out of the Margins: Women’s Studies in the Nineties. London: Falmer Press.

Bal, M (2002) Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: a Rough Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Boxer, M. J. (1998) When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Braidotti, R. (2002) ‘The Uses and Abuses of the Sex/Gender Distinction in European Feminist Practices’, in G. Griffin and R. Braidotti (eds) Thinking Differently: a Reader in European Women’s Studies. London: Zed Books, pp. 285-307.

Hemmings,C. (2006) ‘The Life and Times of Academic Feminism’, in K. Davis, M. Evans and J. Lorber, eds. Handbook of Gender and Women’s Studies. London: Sage, pp.

Hinds, H., Phoenix, A. and J. Stacey, eds (1992) Working Out: New Directions for Women’s Studies. London: Falmer Press.

Rizvi, F. and Walsh, L. (1998) ‘Difference, Globalisation, and the Internationalisation of Curriculum’, Australian Universities’ Review. 41(2): 7.

Silius, H. (2002) ‘Women’s Employment, Equal Opportunities and Women’s Studies in Nine European Countries - a Summary’, Employment and Women’s Studies: The Impact of Women’s Studies Training of Women’s Employment in Europe, The University of Hull.

 

Project Participants

Josefina Bueno Alonso, University of Alicante, Spain

Joan Anim-Addo, Goldsmith College, UK

Silvia Caporale Bizzini, University of Alicante, Spain

Liana Borghi, University of Florence, Italy

Marina Calloni, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy

Giovanna Covi, University of Trento, Italy

Enikő Demény, Interdisciplinary Group on Gender Studies, Romania

Dasa Duhaček, Belgrade Women’s Studies Center, Serbia

Therese Garstenauer, University of Vienna, Austria

Luz Gomez, University of Alicante, Spain

Sara Goodman, Centre for Gender Studies, Sweden

Sabine Grenz, Humboldt University, Germany

Clare Hemmings, London School of Economics, UK

Ulla Holm, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Teresa Joaquim, Universidade Aberta, Portugal

Assimina Karavanta, University of Athens, Greece

Biljana Kasic, Centre for Women’s Studies, Zagreb, Croatia

Päivi Korvajärvi, University of Tampere, Finland

Theodossia Soula Pavlidou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Elena Pulcini, University of Florence, Italy

Melita Richter, University of Trieste, Italy

Eva Skaerbaek, Ostfold University College, Norway

Iris van der Tuin, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Veronica Vasterling, RU (Radboud University) Nijmegen, The Netherlands

 

Footnotes

(1) See the Athena website at http://www.let.uu.nl/womens_studies/Athena/ for more details of the project as a whole.

(2) See the following for the importance for feminist research and teaching of this diversity of institutional locations (Aaron and Walby, 1991; Boxer, 1998; Hemmings, 2006; Hinds, Phoenix and Stacey, 1992).

(3) While not underestimating the competition-led nature of the Bologna Declaration, The European Women’s Studies Thematic Network (Athena) has been actively exploring positive applications of this change (Silius, 2002: 19, 22), with particular emphasis on its potential value in consolidating a European Women’s Studies Curriculum and institutionalized exchange networks for staff and students.

(4) While an international staff and student body is cause for celebration in many ways, it also needs to be situated in the context of forced migration, the financial privilege of elites, and the cornering of the global student market by a few leading universities (Rizvi and Walsh, 1998). Recent wars in former Yugoslavia, for example, have forced many feminist academics to disperse to other countries, notably France and Italy. And of course it is usually only the richest students who can afford to chase qualifications across continents. I t is important to note that this situation similarly advantages academics and students without dependents or caring responsibilities.

 

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