Thoughtful gatherings: gendering conferences as spaces of learning, knowledge production and community
Special Issue Guest Editors: Emily F. Henderson & James Burford
Conferences are an important but neglected research area. While they are a ubiquitous feature of academic work and represent a billion-dollar global industry, conferences rarely take centre stage in their own right as objects of inquiry (Henderson, 2015). There is a clear dearth of academic analysis of conferences in general, and gender, feminist and queer analysis in particular. Arguably this lacuna is due to widespread ambivalence about the value of conferences, a sentiment which is shared across formal and informal academic spaces alike. This special issue, anticipated to appear in print in mid-2019, is an exhortation to scholars in the field of gender and education and beyond to ‘gather their thoughts’ about conferences. The special issue explores the intersection between conferences, education and gender in relation to three key themes: (i) learning, (ii) knowledge and (iii) community. Contributions to the special issue should address the key themes in accordance with Gender and Education’s focus on international scholarship, which is especially pertinent given the role of conferences in uniting—and perpetuating the exclusion of—international scholarly communities.
Conferences, understood as educational spaces where learning can/should happen, are rarely subjected to analyses of their pedagogical practice. This absence is consistent across explicitly feminist conferences (exceptions include Bell, 1987; Saul, 1992; Stanley, 1995), which is surprising given the decades of debate about feminist and gender pedagogy. Many questions remain about how delegates learn at conferences, the kinds of environments that support conference learning, and the pedagogical intentions of conference organisers and presenters.
Potential topics for this theme:
- Analyses of conferences as educational spaces, including posters, virtual conferences and social media use, which draw upon gender/queer/feminist theories.
- Analyses of the teaching and learning at explicitly gender/feminist-oriented conferences, including alternative conference pedagogies, trigger-warnings and no-platforming.
- Ways in which conference pedagogies contribute to in/accessibility for reasons of geopolitics or caring responsibilities, for example, and how conference pedagogy mediates the experiences of those who face exclusions/discrimination.
- Critical engagement with the pedagogy of informal conference spaces, including organised socials and entertainment, and the social/(un)professional learning which plays out at conferences.
(ii) Knowledge production
Conferences are important sites for knowledge dissemination and creation; ideas are developed and theoretical trends are set. Conferences are sites of embodied knowledge production, and as such academic hierarchies play out in full view (Lewis, 2013; Jones et al., 2014). Furthermore, these questions are inflected by debates about situated knowledge production, and inequalities in global academia. Conferences often aim to be international in scope, but the travel that they require is exclusionary for a number of reasons—including border politics and boycotts, economic disparity, precarity, and caring responsibilities. This theme addresses the production of knowledge about gender at conferences, and the gendered construct of knowledge producer.
Potential topics for this theme:
- Analyses of conference knowledge production, using gender, feminist and queer theoretical tools.
- Analyses of the reception of gender knowledge at conferences, including STEM conferences and conferences not designated as ‘gender’ conferences, and including historical accounts.
- Feminist-postcolonial and decolonial analyses of conferences, including questions of language, funding, boycotts and border politics, and ‘peripheral’ knowledge projects.
- Intersectional analyses of gendered knowledge producers/conference participants.
- Sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment and microaggressions at conferences (Shen, 2012).
Historically, conferences have been important spaces for building feminist solidarity, friendship and careers. At conferences, collaborative relationships and friendships—and rivalries—develop; this theme invites analyses of the social, familial and sometimes erotic dimensions of conferences. Of particular relevance to the role of conferences in the development of feminist and gender research is the blurring of academic-activist boundaries. Yet where there is community, there are also issues of belonging, membership and exclusion (Hodge, 2014). This theme therefore also addresses the underside of conference communities. For example, how do conference spaces, and their use by delegates, establish codes of in/appropriate gender presentation? How do conference spaces, particularly those held in the knowledge production ‘centre’ of the Global North, promote the inclusion of academic participants from the Global South?
Potential topics for this theme:
- The role of conference communities in the development of the gender research field/s.
- The presence of activism, advocacy, and NGOs at gender and feminist academic conferences, and the role of gender academics in activist and civil society conferences.
- Conferences as spaces of collegiality, solidarity, community, friendship or kinship, including intergenerational considerations.
- The relationship between community and conference learning and knowledge production.
- Issues of belonging and membership—and exclusion, such as geographical location, precarity, and the experiences of doctoral, adjunct and early career researchers within conference communities.
- Inclusive conferencing practice and hospitality in relation to intersectionality and care.
Information for contributors
The special issue seeks a mixture of conceptual/theoretical and/or empirical papers. Papers which engage with methodological debates and challenges will be welcomed, as will uses of creative research strategies. We invite authors from across the globe to submit abstracts, and especially welcome proposals for contributions from underrepresented and marginalised groups.
All submission proposals should: demonstrate a focus on conferences; clearly address at least one of the three key themes; use theories/conceptual tools relating to gender, feminism and/or queer studies; appeal to an international audience; take an inclusive perspective in terms of intersectionality.
Proposals should be for original works not previously published (including in conference proceedings) that are not currently under consideration for another journal or edited collection. Formats for proposals include full-length papers (5000-8000 words) or ‘Viewpoint’ pieces (3000-5000 words). See the journal’s full Instructions for Authors here for further information.
Proposals should include:
- the article title
- an abstract of 350 words maximum (not including references)
- author name/s, affiliation/s and a contact email address.
Abstracts are due by 5 February 2018. Please send abstracts and inquiries to Emily F. Henderson (email@example.com) and James Burford (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please note that selected authors will be invited, on the strength of their abstract, to submit a full-length manuscript by 2 April 2018. The guest editors are happy to discuss ideas prior to the deadline. We anticipate that the special issue will appear in print in mid-2019.
Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham: Duke University Press.
Bell, L. (1987). Hearing all our voices: Applications of feminist pedagogy to conferences, speeches and panel presentations. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 15(3-4), 74-80.
Henderson, E. F. (2015). Academic conferences: Representative and resistant sites for higher education research. Higher Education Research & Development, 34(5), 914-925.
Hodge, N. (2014). Unruly bodies at conference, Disability & Society, 29(4), 655-658.
Jones, T. M., Fanson, K. V., Lanfear, R., Symonds, M. R. E. and Higgie, M. (2014). ‘Gender differences in conference presentations: a consequence of self-selection?’. PeerJ, 1-15.
Lewis, G. (2013). ‘Unsafe Travel: Experiencing Intersectionality and Feminist Displacements’. Signs, 38 (4), 869-892.
Saul, J. (1992). Planning a women’s studies conference. Feminist Teacher, 7(1), 22-25.
Shen, H. (2012). Scientific groups revisit sexual harassment policies. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18790
Stanley, J. (1995). ‘Pain(t) for healing: the academic conference and the classed/embodied self’. In V. Walsh and L. Morley (Eds), Feminist academics : creative agents for change (pp. 169-182). London: Taylor & Francis.