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A little trip

Academic work is not always a million miles from show business. One point where they come close is the visiting lecture. That’s been a part of my work for the last fifteen years, usually adding lectures at different institutions to meet the heavy costs of inter-continental travel from Australia. A week ago I came home from a tour with seven public lectures and five workshops in three countries. I’ve reported about particular conferences on this blog, but not really about a tour, so here goes:
The trip began with a successful 3-day research group meeting in April at the Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. I travelled with Australian colleagues via Chile, flying over the far south Pacific and then over the magnificent Andes. The meeting was held in a room with an eat-your-heart-out view of the harbour and the most famous sugarloaf in the world; we also did some work.
Lecture at UERJ: photo courtesy Carmen de Mattos
The following week I gave a lecture at the State University of Rio de Janeiro’s impressive centre for research on sexuality and human rights, CLAM, which I have mentioned on Twitter. This centre’s programme extends across Latin America and ranges from HIV/AIDS to gender diversity.  My talk was called “Transsexual women’s embodiment: gender, medicine and politics“ and there’s a note about it here:
I then visited the Federal University of Bahia in Salvador, the first time I have been to Brasil’s legendary north-east.  UFBA has one of the pioneering gender research and teaching programmes in the country, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies, NEIM.  We did a seminar on research, with about forty people.  The next day I gave a public lecture “Gender in world perspective: thinking from the global South”, with sequential translation into Portuguese – difficult, but very effective.  There’s a note about it here.
In May I reached Europe.  First visit was to the University of Bristol’s Graduate School of Education, which has an innovative Centre for Globalization, Education and Social Futures.  I was kindly invited to launch the School’s new annual lecture series.  I spoke on “Education and the global politics of knowledge”; outside were rain, wind and cold - neoliberal weather!  The next morning held a workshop on methods in gender research, based on the studies currently being done by graduate students and staff at Bristol.  It was highly participatory and I enjoyed it a lot.
The following week in London I gave the Annual Lecture for the journal Feminist Theory, hosted by the Gender Institute at LSE.  Feminist Theory has recently published my paper “Meeting at the Edge of Fear: Theory on a World Scale” (2015, vol. 16 no. 1, pp. 49-66).  I took up the same theme for the lecture, under the title “Decolonizing Gender, in Theory and Practice”.  The LSE social media folk excelled themselves with a campaign publicizing the event. I saw the Twitter version of it with the hashtag #LSEConnell – curious to be the subject of a hashtag!  About two hundred people came, I was in good form, I think, and there were tough questions in the Q & A session – so all went as we hoped.  There’s a video of it online, also an audio recording, and something that was new to me, a “storify” of the tweets in and after the lecture.
I then leapt aboard the Flying Scotsman steaming north from King’s Cross station... no, unfortunately that famous train steams no more, it’s a boring Virgin Corporation intercity express... and headed for Newcastle.
The University of Newcastle was holding a Spring School in the humanities, on the theme of “Interiors”.  I gave the keynote address, “Border Protection: Inside and Outside Defended Spaces of the Neoliberal World Order”, trying to get bearings on the growth of gated communities and border-defence politics.  The next day I conducted a seminar with graduate students on transsexual embodiment. The Border Protection lecture too has been tweeted and storified (if that's a word).
Then, after meeting friends in London and doing just a little retail therapy, I headed for the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main.  The Cornelia Goethe Institute for Women’s Studies and Research on Gender Relations has been running – indeed is still running – a public lecture series on the theme “Masculinities”.  Mine was called “Masculinities in the World: Perspectives from the Global South”, and this too was very well attended, as the picture shows.  Before the lecture, I had a workshop with a masters-level class. They were very well prepared; and instead of being told what to think, they grilled me on the subject of masculinity research for nearly two hours.  Good stuff!
Conference in spring sunshine, courtesy of GSSC
Then on the admirable DeutscheBahn to Köln, where the University has recently founded a Global South StudiesCentre.  I gave the opening keynote at the Centre’s inaugural conference, on “Transformations in the Global South”.  You will find the programme here.  It was all in English; those questions about the politics of language buzzed around in my head.  My talk was called “The Global South and Transformations of Knowledge”, and discussed decolonial, Southern and postcolonial perspectives on organized knowledge - see the abstract.
And then: the long flight home, via Hong Kong, and a long recovery from exhaustion... Was it all worthwhile?  I find it hard to judge this kind of academic travel, against the wear-and-tear, cost (including carbon cost) and time involved. What I hope to do is focus attention on emerging issues and approaches, perhaps dramatising them for new audiences – that’s show business again. The ultimate purpose is to create a terrain on which other intellectual workers can build, in the future.  It’s a fragile project, and the real effects will be a long time emerging.  But in the short run, I got great satisfaction from this trip, I hope others got something too, and I’m grateful to all the people who made it happen.

Visual masculinities

I've had the pleasure of helping with an art show: writing for the catalogue of a new exhibition of works by a hundred artists, all men, reflecting on masculinity - with humour, technical skill, and critical awareness.  The show is put together by the innovative Museum of Contemporary Art in the Val de Marne, France.  You will find the announcement here.  My essay, "Masculine Markings", is published as: 'Inscriptions au masculin', pp. 162-171 in Julie David, ed., Chercher le garçon: une exposition collective d’artistes hommes. Vitry-sur-Seine: MAC VAL, Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne, 2015.  English text, in smaller type, pp. 210-213.

Russian translation

For Russian readers, an excellent translation of my book Gender and Power has just appeared: you can find the details here.  This is what I wrote for the new publication:

Gender is very familiar.  Gender arrangements are part of our everyday experience – the way we talk to people, our offices and factories, our loves, our dreams, our art and entertainments.  Therefore, this book starts with the story of a working-class Australian family, an undramatic story, to emphasise the daily reality of gender.
But gender is not so easy to understand.  The belief that women and men have opposite characters, which reflect their different biology, and that social arrangements reflect these differences, turns out to be factually wrong on almost every point.  As I argue in Gender and Power, the social arrangements always go beyond, and often contradict, the biological statute.
Gender is basically a social fact.  It is the way in which societies, through time, deal with human reproduction and organize social life in relation to our reproductive bodies.  Gender is a process in history.  Though conservative ideology pretends that gender is fixed, actually gender is dynamic, always changing, and gender arrangements can be remarkably different in diverse cultures.
Developing an understanding of gender that is adequate to the facts, as revealed by research, is the task of this book.  I draw on the resources of the social sciences and humanities, from economics to history to psychoanalysis, to develop an integrated theory of gender.
My argument centres on the insight that gender is a structure of social relations, created and continuously transformed in history.  Gender is an important dimension of social structure – greatly underestimated by mainstream social theory written by men.  It is also a complex structure.  Gender and Power proposes a three-dimensional model of gender relations, with substructures that I call power, division of labour, and cathexis (emotional attachment).
These structures provide the background to the everyday practices in which we experience and enact gender – the way we speak, work, dress, love, and imagine.  The practices, clearly, are not random.  There are recognizable patterns of practice, which we call “femininity”, “masculinity”, “heterosexuality”, etc.  The gender order of a society produces multiple patterns, and what turned out to be one of the most influential parts of Gender and Power introduces the idea of “hegemonic masculinity” in an arena of multiple femininities and masculinities.
Much of our everyday understanding of gender concerns emotions, self-concepts, and psychological difference.  Therefore a considerable part of the book examines ideas about gender in psychology, and what the psychological evidence really says about difference between women and men.  The evidence is, to most people, surprising.
Modern discussions of gender arose out of social struggles over gender inequality.  The field of gender studies is still driven by concerns with gender justice, gender-based violence, sexual diversity and reform of patriarchal institutions.  The final part of the book concerns itself with gender politics, again recognising the many forms that political practice can take.  Since writing the book I have continued to be engaged with these issues.  I have been involved in research and action about AIDS prevention, boys’ education, gender equality policy, corporate masculinities, peacemaking, and the struggle to end gender-based violence.  I have continued to think about gender theory, as I hope readers of this translation will do, because good theory is important for good practice.
This book was written by an Australian, though the writing was done far from home.  Most of it refers to ideas and research from north America and western Europe; I now think theory must take more account of the social experience and intellectual work of the rest of the world.  A global discussion of these problems is vital.  I am very pleased that this text will be available for Russian-speaking readers, in a careful and accurate translation.  I hope this will help the global dialogue we greatly need.

Twitter too

A note to say you can now find more great thoughts on Twitter: @raewynconnell

Constantine Cavafy

Translating poetry is a hell of a job, but there are exceptionally good English translations of the Greek-language poems of the great C. P. Cavafy.  I always enjoy reading them: sensual, sardonic, jumping unexpectedly from Classical to Hellenistic to Byzantine times, always with an eye on the present.  My celebratory poem ends with an expression that was applied to Sappho.  Our illustration shows Cavafy in middle age; for a lovely line drawing, and more about the poet, see this link: 

Poets: C. P. Cavafy

Cavafy!  Half your melancholy,
your desire, would sink a trireme.
And if I never hear again
of langorous young limbs in sordid beds, it will be soon enough.

But who else travelled
so lovingly, so limpidly, through time?
No man sings
like the Egyptian singer.

Gender and masculinities in Southern perspective

The global dimension in questions about gender, including questions about masculinities, is now recognized.  There’s a longstanding debate about gender in development, and a newer debate about the impacts of global neoliberalism on the employment of men and women, not to mention gender identities.  The international links of feminism have been contentious, and increasingly a subject of research.

There has been less recognition that gender theories also have a global dimension.  Most of the concepts that circulate internationally - in academic research, public policy, and the NGO world - come from the global North, i.e. western Europe and North America.  This includes concepts like gender identity, gender socialization, patriarchy, performativity, even masculinity and femininity.  It is not surprising that these concepts carry with them the social and cultural experience of the global North.

But this is now becoming an issue.  The social sciences and humanities are acknowledging the global economy of knowledge and its politics.  Discussions have arisen about the coloniality of gender, the multiplicity of feminist perspectives, and the gender dynamics of imperialism, colonialism and corporate globalization.  Increasingly it is recognized that theory does come from the colonized world and continues to come from the postcolonial “periphery” of the world economy.

I have been concerned with these issues for some time, in work that led to the book Southern Theory. Gender issues were present in that book, but were not central.  Since it was published I have been trying to bring southern-theory, de-colonial perspectives to the debates in gender studies.

Two papers from this work have recently been published.  One is about masculinities, called “Margin becoming centre: for a world-centred rethinking of masculinities”, in the Nordic journal NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, which has recently re-designed itself as a global journal. This discusses the global archive on masculinities and the way Southern perspectives could re-shape this domain of knowledge.

The second paper is about theories of gender, called “Rethinking gender from the South”, published in the pioneering US journal Feminist Studies (see the picture to the left). This discusses the work of a range of gender theorists in the postcolonial world, and the social conditions of their work.  The editors of this journal had the really good idea of accompanying the paper with some translations of theoretical classics from the global South.  There are three to start with, extracts from texts by He-Yin Zhen, Heleieth Saffioti, and Teresita de Barbieri.  If you don’t know these amazing feminist thinkers, you can find samples of their work here (scroll to bottom of page).

And while we are thinking about texts from the South, here is a remarkable online collection of South American work on sexuality, from the Brasilian sexuality research centre CLAM.

Why join a union in a university?

University of Sydney 2013

A couple of weeks ago I sat on the stage in a graduation ceremony in the Great Hall at University of Sydney – the one that looks like a piece of 15th century Cambridge built by a terrible surveyors’ mistake in an Australian paddock.  One of my PhD students was being awarded her degree, after 5 years’ hard work.

As I looked at the other side of the hall, where the parents, partners and children were sitting, I could see why public universities matter, and need to be defended.  For all the depressing news from Canberra about funding cuts, fees, league tables and the rest, universities are important institutions, which people in the wider community value.

Rightly.  This is the most advanced part of our whole education system, responsible (among other things) for producing the knowledge and the workforce for the rest of the education system. Though Australia doesn’t produce more than 3 or 4 percent of the world’s scientific publications, our universities produce most of the knowledge about Australian society and environment – and bring knowledge from the rest of the world into Australian life.  This country would be a sadder as well as poorer place without a flourishing university system.
But universities are becoming more difficult places to work in.  The neoliberal era since the 1980s has seen seen a spectacular decline in real government funding of university budgets, and a heavier and heavier reliance on student fees.  We have seen the rise of corporate-style management, with million-dollar-a-year Vice-Chancellors and their entourage sounding, and behaving, like big businessmen.
That means more authoritarian decision-making, undermining of industrial democracy, downward pressure on staff wages and conditions.  That is not temporary, nor a product of bad character.  It is a logic now built in to university management.  And it is undermining universities as public institutions.
When I wrote my open “Letter to Michael” during the 2013 enterprise bargaining struggle at U of Sydney – triggered by management’s attempt to degrade conditions as well as cut real wages – I told our Vice-Chancellor that unions are an important asset in university life.  Among other things, unions will cut through the public-relations guff and tell what the real problems are, where the shoe pinches.
Now I have studied some of the bizarre proposals about university futures coming from management consultants, not to mention the latest round of toxic policymaking in Canberra, I would say more than that.  The union is now where the most creative and well-informed policy discussions about universities are happening.  If Australian higher education is to change for the better, much of the thinking will come from the active membership of the National Tertiary Education Union.
Being a unionist is not just about protecting our own interests and security – though that’s not a trivial matter, with proposals for more casualization and outsourcing surfacing almost monthly around the country.
"I love teaching but casual work breaks my heart!"

Being a unionist is also about taking responsibility for what happens to our colleagues and fellow-workers - for making sure there are fair deals across the workforce. That has become particularly important as managements have pursued divide-and-rule strategies.  Universities now have groups of staff in very different situations, in terms of insecurity as well as income, and it is important to have strong links across these differences.
There’s an old union song called “Solidarity Forever”.  Though it’s too sentimental for many people now, it makes a valid point.  Responsibility is shared, and it’s joint action rather than individual action that counts most.
Joint action creates a certain culture in unions, and a certain personal experience in being an active member.  I’ve been in a number of different union branches, and I’ve always found shared membership a source of deep support.
I know that unions can become hierarchical, bureaucratic or factionalized, and I’ve known some that are all three.  But unionism always has democratic possibilities.  Unions express, in a way that nothing else does, the ideas, concerns and needs of the people who work at ground level – who actually make the economy work.  Unions can be vibrant and inventive.
(An aside: it says something about where creativity comes from, that there’s a great wealth of union and social movement songs, and a great absence of management songs.  Can you imagine a group of middle managers sitting around a camp-fire in the gathering dark and belting out a chorus about next year’s financial modelling, or the unique thrill of sacking workers who don’t meet their KPIs?)
Being an active union member gives you responsibilities and it does impose demands.  You have to commit time and energy.  You sometimes have to follow a majority decision that you disagree with; that’s part of respecting your colleagues. You may be called to act in local disputes that become highly personal; at other times you will be called to think about broad strategy.
Being an active union member can be hard.  It can also be exciting and creative.  Shared activism generates energy, as well as demanding it.  You are dealing with important issues and you have a chance to make a real impact on them.  In some ways it can re-shape your life, with new ideas and new friendships.  When I look back, I realize that the union has been an important part of my life, and my thinking, throughout my career. I hope that is true for a new generation too.