Critical Or Racial Pedagogy Within Situated Knowledge? Ways Of Crossing ‘Locational’ Travelling Concepts

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

Keywords: situated knowledge, critical pedagogy, location

Introductory Dilemmas

First of all, thinking about how to conceptualize my paper, I was faced with ethical ambivalence at its most extreme. On the one hand it encompasses the intentional and desirable position of my ‘self’ to ‘travel’ freely within the complexity of curriculum fields & concepts referring to the Women’s Studies agenda, while on the other hand, there is a sort of situated knowledge as an ethical perception (Haraway, 1988), namely, the obligation to ‘locate’ the concepts within geographical and ideological contexts in order to be both ‘functional’ and translational, that is more appropriate for sharing the respective issues and concerns with a greater certainty. Both positions in a way are travelling ones, although I must admit that the first one allows me to deal with concepts unlimitedly, and with a real feeling of making choices with(in) them and their linkages. Apart from the fact that the opportunity of using a variety of travelling concepts with regards to Women’s Studies might lead me in various directions in order to make an analysis and to express the worth and challenges of Women’s Studies, its content, utopian projections and ways of experiments, I feel boundariless belonging to the net(s) of Women’s Studies issues without locational presumptions or epistemological prejudices and concerns.

If I think of Women’s Studies as an epistemologically mobile body (1), then I would like to say that Women’s Studies in Zagreb has functioned as one complex body of theory, activism and art; so that different concepts that trigger difference and power, ethics and aesthetics, institutional concerns and curricula, are already incorporated (of course, with many internal controversies and questions), fluidly connected and open for exciting analysis. So why then did I opt for the so-called second position, that would embed the most ‘mobile’ travelling concepts within the locational context(s), accepting at the same time the exposure of situated knowledge in its very blatant emplacement?

My ad hoc internal ethical dilemma, whether or not to favour certain concepts right now in order to fit the communicational or cultural patterns crossing East/West (2), South/North or to ‘please’ the wider Women’s Studies community or..., become a crucial vast concern. I feel uncomfortable even thinking of it in such a way. The question that is endlessly posed to myself and from others, is whether it is better to shift contexts, create subversive positions, or just simply dare to say: ‘Yes, we are great in feminist art and cultural studies and we’ve already used performativity as a pedagogical tool in education’ despite our location(s) (geographical and others) (3), a lack of significant feminist theoretical tradition or general presumptions of our ‘being’, or respecting the fact that we are still not acknowledged in the mainstream academic world. Does this seem so arrogant or so globalized?

But yet again I’ve taken ‘other’ concepts into account. When I considered that the concepts situated knowledge, geographical location (4) and critical or racial pedagogy seem right now to constitute something as a precondition for liveable critical (self)reflection and communication (5), the decision was already made. Also, for many scholars situated outside the mainstream these concepts offer the possibility not only of revising established positions (such as margin-centre, or unawareness-critical thinking) and redefining subjectivity (6), but of re-examining their own radical and subversive potential.

In dealing with these concepts I considered how different geographical, historical and temporal locations do matter, as Sabine Grenz points out in her paper. But I also considered how we ought to think of more distinctive and nuanced ways to articulate our positionality, engaging with the question of multiple perspectives. Thus, exploring these concepts is not a benevolent gesture but a new effort for the personal feminist journey that constantly questions its theoretical and activist assumptions.

Power of Context(s)
Three crucial factors have defined Women’s Studies in Zagreb since 1995: an outsider position in relation to the official academic setting, but with significant influence upon it; an on-going internal creative drive to run Women’s Studies as an inventive laboratory for educational programs and research/cultural activities (7); and an unexpectedly ‘epistemological mediator’ role (with limited success!) between inter-relational and conflicting areas of theory, activism and art. This independent position, apart from the exhausting fundraising work, for the most part enables a richness of experiments and innovative strategies.

Students from various disciplines and faculties as well as artists and activists joined Women’s Studies in order to learn and share feminist theoretical concerns as well as to question and enjoy new knowledge (8). Not an easy task! In the meantime, I became aware of how context (ideological, geographical anddiscursive) is crucial to the potential elaboration of the WS agenda. I realised this despite, or perhaps because of the fact that we felt very displaced.

Context(s): Geographical as Postcolonial?
When I proposed Cultural Studies (9) as an advanced three-week program for the Women’s Studies students from the ex-Yugoslav region (academic year, May 2000/2001), I was thinking more of the invention of methodology and intercultural curriculum than of postcolonial textuality as a matter of a potential location or situatedness. But this is what happened. Location, feminism as ‘exile’ and a place for resistance, displacement, border, concept of belonging, ‘forbidden’ knowledge, history and ‘self-censorship’ of memory in connection with the desire to explore one’s own identity in war and post/war time, appeared as almost existential issues. The Balkans as a term itself became an intriguing object for exploration, theoretical ‘extravagance’ and ideological suspicion (Todorova, 1997; Bjelic and Savic, 2003), in short, a catchall phrase for the Other and Otherness in the same way as the post-Yugoslav region was. The Balkans became theorised as a postcolonial term (The Third) in the radicalisation of its Otherness. Therefore, more than anything else, The Balkans requires ethical ‘reading’ within a wider scope that assumes personal commitment to the endeavour, and thus an acceptance of responsibility from both sides (scholars and students) (10).

The program was envisioned as a series of theoretical analyses and creative dialogues around the paradigms of body/nature, culture (namely, literature and theatre), myth, history, identity(-ies) and discourse (11). What is worth noting here is the way the meanings of the designed topics created a critical framework and produced a discussion on different levels by inviting participants from various countries of the post-war Yugoslav region to question different concepts and issues facing their own momentum and scale of knowledge within space, time and discourse. Interestingly, Women’s Studies became a welcome meeting place for the introduction and ‘testing’ of other studies such as Cultural and Postcolonial Studies, in a situation where none of these studies has/had yet been institutionalised within the Croatian university system.

The pedagogical procedure as a whole seemed like a complex web of potential doors and perspectives that raised, on one hand, theoretical concerns and limitations including cultural differences and priorities, and, on the other hand, an inclusion of awareness that leads to different steps and uncertain motions. How do women produce women’s myths and use them as a core of political discourse within Balkan history right to the present? How might we deconstruct the patriarchal structure inscribed into literal texts or define women as a collective? Which fantasies about socialism do feminists from the region maintain?… These dilemmas returned the scholars and students to fundamental questions.

Following Spivak (1988; 1999), I asked myself where my own place of speaking and naming was, and how this impacted my constitution as an epistemological subject of shared and situated knowledge. Following this, how might we (in the classroom) avoid the ‘obsession’ of self-reflexivity and acceleration of examples (12) or the trap of unquestionable essentialism, in order to deal with epistemological complexity in an innovative manner? And, further, how can we ensure that this complexity encompasses both knowledge and practice, identity politics and epistemological critique of identity, relations of power asymmetry and shifting patterns of inequality (13)? These remain as open dilemmas for pedagogy as feminist epistemological project. The context of globality entered the agenda of this program from its specific angle, as did the question of the ‘international curriculum’.

Some students found the program empowering, intriguing and rich in terms of new knowledge and approaches, some found themselves ‘blocked’ with the density of educational activities, travelling theories and points, scale of involvement and intensity of the lecturers’ passion. But the key problem that appeared was how to ‘transfer’ the a-ha moments of critical awareness the students invariably experienced into other educational/learning practices (strictly disciplinary and narrowly directed).

Since then I have had several opportunities to teach women’s subjectivity in relation to postcolonial theories at different universities where I ‘tested’ different aspects of situated knowledge that needed to be disturbed by feminist ‘intervention’. In 2002/2003 I ran the course Women and Postcoloniality at the Centre for Women’s Studies, learning in the meantime how the need for self-knowledge and ‘authentication’ are implicitly contained within the epistemological desire to cope with theorizing of global issues and postcoloniality. The engagement with postcolonial theories as the basis for critical understanding of the figure of female ‘Otherness’ within global communities has, for the most part, been accepted by student audiences with great interest, although they found it less easy to critically link different subjects of the Other(s) and Otherness across the world with their own position of/as the Other.

Concluding Impressions
Concerning situated knowledge within the Women’s Studies curriculum I became aware of the necessity for the uncovering, rearranging, and interconnectedness of the layers of knowledge as well as of its inclusive ambiguity. I was also confronted with the limited possibilities of foreseeing different types of obstacles in advance. I also found that the cohesive relatedness of knowledge, the power of naming and the power of space was useful in addressing Women’s Studies issues.

With regards to the ‘situated’ context we are not only ‘currently unevenly situated between two historiographic discourses: discourses of the post and the trans’, as Radhakrishnan points out in relation to postcoloniality (2000: 38), but with some certainty ‘in-between’, more at the threshold of ‘the West’, although without any clarity of ‘secure’ positioning.

During this time of shaping Women’s Studies curricula in relation to postcoloniality, I discovered three critical points which touch the positioning of the feminist scholar: the first is the disruption of any space/time/knowledge relation between academic industry in the ‘West’ and in the so-called ‘South/East’ (14); the second is the number of obstacles that mitigate against theoretical innovation or authority, as scholars from privileged locations have, within the framed conditions of epistemic power, more opportunities, greater access to mainstream knowledge resources and discursive mediators of meanings (15); the third is the paradoxical position of Women’s Studies programs in respective areas - with enormous efforts they ‘travel’ simultaneously through Western curricula including a set of their historical times and agendas, often accepting them without resonance with their own contents and contexts, and through an internal urge for inventing their own imaginary concepts. This I guess might be part of feminist critical pedagogy.

1. The uncertainty that underlies the question: who or what indeed travels within nets of bodies (real or metaphorical ones), concepts, time/space and meanings, opens up valuable arguments in favour of taking, according to Joan Anim-Addo, an interrogative position as a standpoint in analysis. Anin-Addo provocatively asks ‘which bodies and indeed which minds are weighted in discourse encoding the power to give or alternatively to discover, and where are the narratives of the “crossover griot” to be found in all of this?’
2. I agree with Therese Garstenauer’s points that ‘The manifold unequal and hierarchically structured relations that constitute ... “East” and “West” shall be analysed, with regard to their discursive production as well as to the institutional and organisational conditions of this production,’ bearing in mind that there may be various degrees of “Easternness” and “Westernness”?
3. For example, within three courses Sex Metathesis in Literature and Theatre, The Female Hamlet and Acting and ‘Forever Female’ in the regular program at Women’s Studies, the lecturers experiment with a notion of performativity in their own way, very often to show how sex metathesis works within different fields and disciplines and crossing them and how they articulate this exciting adventure of mirroring and shifting sex identities, displacement of sex/gender roles as well as analysing the key figures in literature and theatre that flirt both with canons and roles. Having in mind Soula Pavlidou’s reflections on ‘performativity’, I wonder which would be the best explanatory tools for considering its potentials in the pedagogical process.
4. I have explored the meaning of location through the concept of the ‘local’ as ‘critical topography’ via Cindy Katz’s explanation of globalization, location, and feminist engagement, as does Assimina Karavanta in her position paper.
5. I use this notion as Iain Chambers defines it: ‘Communication is, ultimately, about creating shared Time.’ (1994: 74).
6. I am drawing on Eva Skaerbaek’s claim for recognition of ethical interaction in order to redefine (inter)subjectivity.
7. The map of teaching/sharing knowledge is based on: multidisciplinarity – which weaves its way through the entire curriculum; openness to new ideas, topics, courses, challenged by constant self-critical positioning within the teaching process; developing spiral models among teaching, research/publishing activities and creative art practices (in film, visual arts, drama, cultural events, etc.) and the stimulating of social/academic change.
8. Women’s Studies is still not acknowledged as an academic discipline in Croatia and the Centre for Women’s Studies is the only place which offers an interdisciplinary program in Women’s Studies issues.
9. The official title of this program was Discourses on Development of Civil Society and National Identities – Women in Cultural Studies in the Balkans, framed in this way for fundraising reasons.
10. Here, I am drawing on Dasa Duhacek’s very powerful delineation of responsibility as contextual/situational in a manifold sense. I agree with her insistence that responsibility in our context means both an active ethical stand and unconditional choice.
11. The lecturers on the program were Zarana Papic (Belgrade), Svetlana Slapsak (Ljubljana), Andrea Peto (Budapest), Lada Cale Feldman, Aida Bagic, Rada Boric and Biljana Kasic (Zagreb).
12. I found Clare Hemmings’ concern as to whether the explosion of examples from respective contexts or countries be of any real use, aside from fulfilling the institutional agenda of international curricula. And I shared her critical cynicism coming from the context (ex-Yugoslav, war and post-war) that has become a commercial market for gathering ‘examples’ in the field of women’s issues over the last thirteen years. Each of us in the region, in a completely naive manner, supported this by being ‘examples’ ourselves.
13. I fully concur with Josefina Bueno Alonso’s emphasis on the importance of representativity when we speak about postcoloniality, in order to show how and ‘where power and hegemonic relations are interwoven, thus influencing not only the text’s production but also its diffusion and/or reception’. [as per change in Josefina’s paper]
14. This concern is very much addressed in Veronica Vasterling’s paper, especially through her emphasis on the representation of power and presence, namely the imbalance between Western hegemony and the absence of the rest: ‘the West is overrepresented and the rest is underrepresented.’
15. How to bridge the false opposition between catching current theoretical trends in order to be in the acknowledged market of feminist global ideas or remaining ‘stuck’ in one’s own ‘authenticity’ whatever this means (structural authenticity, subjective position or performative action) deserves substantive affirmative intervention. I am also concerned with how to go about shifting the pattern of recycling the same positioning under the banner of accountability, recognition or the privilege of ‘being just in time’?

Bjelic, D.I. & Savic, O. (2003). Balkan kao Metafora: Izmedu Globalizacije i Fragmentacije
[Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation]. Belgrade: Beogradski krug.
Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges; the Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies. 14, 3.
Radhakrishnan, R. (2000). Postmodernism and the Rest of the World. In Afzal-Khan, F. & Seshadri-Crooks, K. (Eds.), The Pre-occupation of Postcolonial Studies. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Spivak, C.G. (1988). In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. London & New York: Routledge.
Spivak, C.G. (1999). A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Todorova, M. (1997). Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press.