Feminism and stuff

Barrett, P. A. and Taylor, B, J. 2001. Beyond Reflection: Cake and Co-operative Inquiry. Systemic Practice and Action Research. 15 (3) pp237-248

I’ve just read another methodological report on co-operative enquiry from the references on Peter Reason’s website. Like McCardle’s paper, it was both interesting and useful; focusing not so much this time on the mechanics and emotions of the setting up of the group, but on the processes the group followed, and the roles and relationships within it.

Some key points of relevance for my own project as follows:

  1. The importance of cake – as a ‘gesture’ and a ‘social breaker’. I couldn’t bring myself to offer gluten or refined sugar to people, but hopefully my black bean brownies will go down just as well among academics in an enquiry group meeting as they do at my yoga class, and make them feel sufficiently ‘special’. What if they don’t though? Genuine dilemma :-/
  2. The value of a ‘preliminary reconnaissance’ of the field (Kemmis & McTaggart 1988). In my case this I think this would be to get a sense of the drivers for getting involved in a project like this, and the level of contribution from participants that would be reasonable, effective and sustainable. This will help me to pitch it right when it comes to recruiting participants.
  3. I wondered reading the paper whether I should seek to recruit from a particular kind of university teacher. I’m not sure I want to say more about this at this stage, but it’ll be a possibility I’ll keep in mind during initial informal conversations.
  4. The need to think about how the enquiry will end, which makes me think about a sex education leaflet – ‘have you thought about how this relationship will end?’; a startling train of thought when it is no more than a twinkle. Barrett’s group continued for a total of 18 months, although at 8-10 months, changes in membership required to sustain the group influenced the nature of the interactions within it. I got the sense somehow that the Midwives Action Research Group exceeded its expected life span, though there was no mention in the paper of how long it was intended to run for.

McCardle and Barrett both speak of their commitment to feminist principles early on in their papers. This is interesting because although Annie immediately made the connection in the last workshop, suggesting I read – among others – Women’s Ways of Knowing, I hadn’t initially thought of participatory action research or co-operative enquiry as being deeply connected to feminism. I’ve been a bit shy of feminist theory in the past, for a number of reasons, one being that I’ve rarely felt particularly female. At school I had my hair short, wore trousers, sat with the boys and played football with them at breaktime. I was terrible at football – really awful – but they never told me to go away (actually maybe they did but I ignored them). I’ve always found it much harder to talk to and connect with women than men; maybe a difficult relationship with my sister is partly to blame for that. While I am very curious about this concept that women have a particular epistemology and particular voices, I am uncomfortable with the binary view of gender that it depends on.

It’s probable I’m naive or very thick-skinned, but I feel I’ve got off pretty lightly in terms of sexual oppression. In fact I feel like my sex has won me more opportunities in life than it’s denied me.

BUT… I am really interested in feminist theory. I’ve started reading Women’s Ways of Knowing and I don’t recognise myself in there but I wish I did. The authors are clearly lovely, warm people (which seems to be a common trait in co-operative enquirers). If they’d invited me on a month-long writing retreat I would have had a panic attack.

It makes me think – am I personable enough to do this thesis project? Am I comfortable enough around people? It’s certainly going to challenge me – but that’s why I want to do it.

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