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: bit.ly/1yM3LOt.
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.
Back to Top