A General Update

It has been a fair while since I have updated this blog, but for good reason. March and April were both crazy, crazy months, in which I finished my second round of participant interviews, edited the transcripts, got through a PhD milestone ‘progress review’ seminar, wrote a journal article draft, organised an overseas conference trip, all while teaching/tutoring for the first time for a sociology of education subject! This was the most stressful professional period of my life by far and consequently I spent most of May recovering.

The good news is that I passed my progress review and got really great, positive feedback. Also, other than a few minor dramas and the excessive stress of dealing with so many things at once, everything is actually going fairly well. I feel like since I survived March and April, I can survive anything this PhD journey can throw at me.

I’m really looking forward to presenting at the Gender and Education Association conference in London in a couple of weeks. My presentation will be examining how new materialist theories offer something different in theorising about gender-sex, and I’ll be relating this of course to the context of science education and ethics. Hopefully I can also get some more data analysis done before then to add that to the presentation. In July, I’ll then be able to do more intense data analysis and begin writing my analysis chapters! I wouldn’t say the end is in sight as yet, considering there is a lot of work, and specifically writing, to be done but at least I am feeling more than less on track.

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Academia and Gender Neutral Pronouns

Reading this article got me thinking again about gender neutral pronouns and academia, something that has come up for me previously while reading journal articles, especially those that use the awkward ‘he/she’ or even ‘she’ as a non-specific pronoun. Some might have a feminist argument for using ‘she’ in this way but I see it as only reinforcing the gender-sex binary and as alienating as the universal ‘he’. The cause of feminism is not to just reverse gendered binary power … er … right?

As the article points out, while language constantly evolves over time, actually aiming to introduce something new into language is extremely difficult. But if there’s one space where I would think such an undertaking could be well-received it’s in academic articles/journals; most particularly of course those concerned with sociology/gender. So far I haven’t read one such article that employs gender neutral pronouns (not including they/them/theirs) but of course I have only read so many articles in particular research fields so I can’t be sure if there are or aren’t. I would be very surprised, however, if there are many such articles that don’t specifically address such topics like transgender or non-binary people out there that do use gender neutral pronouns. The point is, regardless, that I have read many articles that could well have employed a gender neutral pronoun but did not do so.

So what’s the problem with just using they/them/theirs? There’s much debate out there about this and I’m certainly not against using this form but I’m not sure it always works. This article uses the example ‘Sam thought they were late to the party’ to illustrate some possible confusion: who is late to the party, Sam or someone else? Although I know it is some genderqueer/non-binary people’s pronoun of choice, I wonder if the use of a newer form is not only smoother for current English standards but also more political. Would it force people out of their comfort zones in regard to normative gender-sex?

The other main problem facing the use of gender-neutral pronouns is that there are a handful of newly invented ones (all language is invented!) and no clear winner. I’d argue, however, that there is actually no great problem with multiple gender-neutral pronouns (I currently prefer xie/xem/xyr myself). It should be fairly self-evident what they are, at least in writing. With journal articles, I’m sure a short footnote would more than suffice to explain whichever gender-neutral pronouns the author is using. Journals might also stipulate which neutral pronoun they go with in their submission style guides.

Beyond the argument that using gender-neutral pronouns is beneficial for being able to refer to people who identify as neither male or female, or who prefer gender neutral pronouns for whatever reason, or merely the argument for grammatical smoothness, the use of gender neutral pronouns might also have theoretical relevance.

For instance, it’s my aim in my data analysis to avoid pre-categorising my participants into the gender-sex binary. To refer to them with gender neutral pronouns before examining the complex assemblages around gender-sex they exist in could be one method to avoid the traps of essentialisms or binary logics. So of course it is my intention to use gender-neutral pronouns in journal articles when the time comes but I hope others might consider doing so as well, and not just to refer to non-binary people but as a matter of course.

A New Year

I’ve almost reached the third year of my PhD; it’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for two years. On the one hand it feels like I haven’t done much to reflect two years of work but on the other hand it feels like I’ve been working on this for many, many years. In any case, I ended 2014 on a good note by attending and presenting at the Gender and Education Association (GEA) interim conference held here in Melbourne. It was my first presentation at a conference but I believe it went very well, as indicated by the complimentary comments I received afterwards. A copy of my presentation slides can be found on my Academic.edu profile. The title is ‘Gender-Sex, Science and Ethics: The Provocation of New Materialism’ and, in basic summary, it’s about what I think new materialism has to offer generally and also specifically in terms of my research project. I argued that new materialism can and should be thought of as provocative rather than as ‘better’ than other frameworks. No doubt, a time will come when it will cease to be provocative and hopefully there’ll be then something else to use as a tool to challenge accepted knowledge. I do think that within my research field of gender and science education, frameworks such as poststructuralism and social constructionism have become overly dominant and entrenched to the point, in some instances at least, they stifle original thought or insights.

As for my general PhD progress, I am at the point now of attempting to use new materialism to analyse my interview data with ten pre-service teachers as well as considering what else I can do in terms of ‘assembling’ more data, and data that is not so human/individual centred. Not exactly easy to do! I had previously planned to do another interview with my participants but I’m not so sure at the moment this is the best thing to do, or if there is something else I could do other than another interview. Whatever I end up doing, this will no doubt take up the first quarter of the year and after that there will be more analysis before I get down to some more serious writing. I’m hoping this will also be the year that I get to go to a larger overseas international conference (potentially the next GEA conference in London) as well as gain some experience tutoring or lecturing and to publish a journal article. A big year, hopefully it will be a good and productive one with minimal disruptions (I won’t be silly enough to hope there won’t be any disruptions).

Musings About ‘Opinions’

It’s a bad habit reading comments on online news articles but it’s one I can’t always stop myself from doing. On the negative side it often leads to despair about humanity. On the positive side though it can work as a positive provocation for sociological considerations. In this case it is a provocation for thinking in particular about knowledge/epistemology, which is a main focus of my PhD research. In particular, concerning the knowledge/epistemology of technoscience but the same questions can be relevant in all areas.

I’m not sure if it’s true that some people feel freer to voice opinion online, especially if it’s anonymous, but it’s obvious that it’s easier to see a whole lot of different opinions clashing in one place online.

I have noted a common trend of these ‘debates’ that happen online often involve the defensive claim from a participant that ‘well, I’m entitled to my opinion’. There is also the tactic used that if their opponents don’t ‘respect their opinion’ this is evidence that said opponents are not playing the game fairly and therefore anything they say is worthless, or something along those lines.

It’s been interesting that in the interviews I’ve done so far, my participants have generally stated things like ‘everyone’s opinions should be respected’, although this was sometimes modified as depending on what people are basing their opinions on (i.e. vague ideas or ‘facts’?).

If someone has no direct experience and has taken no, or very little, time to read up widely on a topic, should they still get to have their opinion respected—even by people who do have direct/lived experience or studied a topic in depth?

Perhaps it’s that when it comes to social topics, people assume their right to opinion does come from direct lived experience. People feel it’s well within their right as someone who has a gender-sex, sexuality, family, children, or whatever, that they can have an opinion, and this opinion should be respected, even about people who have a different gender-sex, sexuality, family, way of raising children or whatever than them. Even when they have no experience or particular knowledge of the specific contexts.

It’s a messy area. What counts as knowledge? Who gets to be more respected for having particular kinds of knowledge? When is an opinion not worth any respect whatsoever? In the particular context of education, it’s worth considering how a teacher responds to students’ opinions. When should they respect an opinion? Should they not respect certain opinions? After all, to not respect a student’s opinion is not necessarily to disrespect them? A particularly contentious example might be a student who expresses their opinion in a classroom that there’s no such thing as human-induced climate change. Whether it’s a science class or an English class or a history class, how should the teacher react? Obviously it becomes much more difficult with issues that are still widely debated about as opposed to areas that are broadly accepted as ‘factually’ settled. I don’t particularly have any answers to this but I do believe it’s necessary to consider such things in relation to my research.

New Materialism + Related Readings

A follow up from my previous post, I thought I’d just post some resources for new materialism that I have read or am reading. I’ll continually add to this post.

Last Updated: 13/2/2015

Books

Alaimo, Stacy; Hekman, Susan (Eds.). (2008). Material Feminisms. USA: Indiana University Press.

Barad, Karen. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. ebrary: Duke University Press

newiconDeleuze and Research Methodologies. (2013). (R. Coleman & J. Ringrose Eds.). Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press.

Dolphijn, R. and I. Van der Tuin (2013). New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Online, Open Humanities Press.

Coole, Diana; Frost, Samantha (Eds.). (2010). New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. USA: Duke University Press.

Giffney, Noreen; Hird, Myra J (Eds.). (2008). Queering the Non/Human. England: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Articles

newiconAllen, Louisa. (2015). Sexual assemblages: mobile phones/young people/school. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(1), 120-132.

Barad, Karen. (2011). Nature’s Queer Performativity. Qui Parle, 19(2), 121-158.

Barad, Karen. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs, 28(3), 801-831.

newiconBoden, Linnea. (2013). Seeing red? The agency of computer software in the production and management of students’ school absences. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(9), 1117-1131.

Coleman, Rebecca. (2014). Inventive Feminist Theory: Representation, Materiality and Intensive Time. Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), 27-45.

Davis, Noela. (2009). New Materialism and Feminism’s Anti-Biologism: A Response to Sara Ahmed. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 16(1), 67-80.

Dolphijn, Rick; van der Tuin, Iris. (2011). Pushing dualism to an extreme: On the philosophical impetus of a new materialism. Contemporary Philosophy Review, 44, 383–400.

newiconFox, Nick J.; Alldred, Pam. (2014). New materialist social inquiry: designs, methods and the research-assemblage. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 1-14.

Fraser, Mariam. (2002). What is the matter of feminist criticism? Economy and Society, 31(4), 606-625.

newiconHinton, Peta. (2014). ‘Situated Knowledges’ and New Materialism(s): Rethinking a Politics of Location. Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), 99-113.

Hinton, Peta. (2013). The Quantum Dance and the World’s ‘Extraordinary Liveliness’: Refiguring Corporeal Ethics in Karen Barad’s Agential Realism. Somatechnics, 3(1), 169–189.

Hird, Myra J. (2004). Feminist Matters: New materialist considerations of sexual difference. Feminist Theory, 5(2), 223-232.

Jackson, Alecia Youngblood. (2013). Making matter making us: thinking with Grosz to find freedom in new feminist materialisms. Gender and Education, 25(6), 769-775.

Juelskjaer, Malou. (2013). Gendered subjectivities of spacetimematter. Gender and Education, 25(6), 754-768.

Juelskjaer, Malou; Schwennesen, Nete. (2012). Intra-active Entanglements – An Interview with Karen Barad. Kvinder, Kon & Forskning, 10(1-2), 10-24.

Kleinman, Adam. (2012). Intra-actions. Mousse, 34, 76-81.

Lorenz-Meyer, Dagmar. (2014). Reassembling Gender: On the Immanent Politics of Gendering Apparatuses of Bodily Production in Science. Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), 78-98.

newiconMasny, Diana. (2013). Rhizoanalytic Pathways in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(5), 339–348.

Mazzei, Lisa A. (2013). Materialist mappings of knowing in being: researchers constituted in the production of knowledge. Gender and Education, 25(6), 776-785.

newiconPostma, Dirk. (2012). Education as Sociomaterial Critique. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 20(1), 137-156.

newiconPuar, Jasbir. (2013). ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’: intersectionality, assemblage, and affective politics. Meritum, 8(2), 371-390.

Taylor, Carol A.; Ivinson, Gabrielle. (2013). Material feminisms: new directions for education. Gender and Education, 25(6), 665-670.

newiconThiele, Kathrin. (2014). Pushing Dualisms and Differences: From ‘Equality versus Difference’ to ‘Nonmimetic Sharing’ and ‘Staying with the Trouble’. Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), 9-26.

newiconTimeto, Frederica. (2011). Diffracting the rays of technoscience: a situated critique of representation. Poiesis Prax, 8, 151-167.

Van der Tuin, Iris. (2008). Deflationary Logic: Response to Sara Ahmed’s `Imaginary Prohibitions Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ”New Materialism”’. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 15(4), 411-416.

newiconWalker, Rachel Lowen. (2014). The Living Present as a Materialist Feminist Temporality. Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), 40-61.

Critical of New Materialism

Ahmed, Sara. (2008). Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 15(23), 23-39.

Bruining, Dennis. (2013). A Somatechnics of Moralism: New Materialism or Material Foundationalism. Somatechnics, 3(1), 149–168.

Sullivan, Nikki. (2012). The somatechnics of perception and the matter of the non/human: A critical response to the new materialism. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 19(3), 299–313.

Introductions

I’ve created this PhD blog for a couple of reasons. One is to reach out to the research community, to hopefully make contacts in my areas of interest and to share some of my thoughts. The other reason is to use this as a way to track my own progress. I’m just beginning my second year and my path has been far from straight forward. I began my PhD with the intention of researching masculinities but have now ended up in the area of  ‘gender-sex’ (my term that I will explain further about later), science, education and ethics.

Before I get into that though, it might be useful to first explain a bit about who I am.

My name is Blue Mahy and I’m based in the faculty of education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. I have a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from Deakin University. My major was professional and creative writing, with minors in communications and literary studies.

In my undergrad I became very interested in learning about gender, sexuality, queer theory, poststructuralism and other similar areas. After taking a unit called Men and Masculinities I became particularly interested in this subject and therefore it became my intention to carry this interest into doing a PhD. However, my readings and suggestions made by my supervisors led me onto a somewhat different path.

Today, my intention is to conduct research with pre-service teachers, to examine the relationships between gender-sex, science, education and science-ethical issues, primarily using conceptual ideas from the ‘new materialism’ paradigm, especially those from theorist Karen Barad.

So, welcome to my blog and please get in contact with me if we share similar interests!

B.