3. Feminist acts of resistance and invention

Resignation as a feminist act of care and contribution to the internation

A feminism committed to anti-racism and anti-capitalism cannot be confined within the boundaries of a discipline, institution, or society, for it has circulated through all these spaces, always seeking to blur their distinctions and separation. The ethics concerned with dismantling domination can be upheld, lived, and exercised at any time, by anyone, throughout and within the spaces we inhabit and traverse. Fuelled by a feminist desire to live in a non-oppressive world, we can recognise our agency and power to democratise spaces: one such act of loving care is the act of resigning. Sara Ahmed, antiracist feminist professor in race and cultural studies, chose to resign from her teaching and research roles at Goldsmiths University as a political intervention and response to the institution’s concealing of violence and active refusal to address sexual harassment by its staff upon students. She argues that ‘silence about violence is violence’ (2016a).

Responding to allegations of neglect and cover-up, the institution appropriated the Feminist Research Group’s otium against themselves as evidence to validate its ethical commitments and good will. More precisely, it invoked the group’s conference and research on sexual harassment (undertaken collectively by student and graduate survivors, researchers and other supporters, many voluntarily, on the university’s premises) as evidence of its tackling of sexual harassment (Ahmed 2016c; University of Goldsmiths 2016).When the work you do to expose a problem is used as evidence there is not a problem When the work you do to expose a problem is used as evidence there is not a problem When the work you do to expose a problem is used as evidence there is not a problem When the work you do to expose a problem is used as evidence there is not a problem However, written policies/law do not reflect practice – by seeking to protect its ‘brand’ and the careers of the perpetrators, the university furthered systematic violence and exploitation upon survivors through non-disclosure agreements (Weale and Batty 2016). The research group’s ethical commitments to care and social transformation were negated and annihilated, as their work to ‘expose a problem [was] used as evidence there is not a problem’ (Ahmed 2016d). The feminist who challenges domination kills the patriarchal joy manufactured by the corporate university:

if your labour is to expose violence, because that violence is hidden, that labour can even be understood as causing violence, for example, as intending to damage the reputation of an organisation. (Ahmed 2016c)

Resignation was, in this case, ‘an act of feminist protest and self-care’ and a refusal to reproduce ‘a world I cannot bear, a world I do not think should be borne’ (Ahmed 2016a). As such, the permeation of sexual violence throughout all spheres of society, including its universities, was questioned and made public by Ahmed, opening up new paths and processes to address patriarchal drives of sexual violence. Importantly, Ahmed also recognises that resigning is not accessible to everyone, and that itself is a problem: ‘not being able to leave [is] the root of so much injustice’ (2016b). We see that professing, in this instance, is not simply a performance within the confines of an institution – it is a political act, as Ahmed lives the ethics of feminism in the spaces she transverses. Finally, ‘we need to challenge [the problem] where we are; wherever we are’ (Ahmed 2016c – emphasis in original). The university’s role to create new transitional objects in the form of therapeutic technics to which we can attach ourselves can be fulfilled through transitional spaces which are always pharmacological, but which can, as we have seen, be permeated by feminist ethics.

Inventing feminist transitional spaces of contribution

The classroom is, I contend, a potential ‘transitional relational space’ in which libidinal attachments to objects can emerge (Stiegler 2013:71). Here, long circuits of transindividuation (desire, philia) can circulate, the space itself having no interiority or exteriority. In general, a transitional space is ‘neither inside nor outside but constitutes a relational structure on the basis of which relations of trust and fidelity can be established’ (2013:69), creating projections. Additionally, we need to consider how practices, knowledge and philia can be transmitted without reproducing already-existing privileges, prejudices and drives. This matter is explored in Teaching to Transgress (1994) where hooks highlights the pharmacology of the classroom by reflecting on her experience as a socially-situated black, working class and woman academic and former student.

While Stiegler considers the libido as part of the unconscious (2013:24), hooks makes explicit that the libido, Eros and desire as dimensions of the classroom setting, marked by capitalism and patriarchy, which need to be discussed, acknowledged and acted upon critically by students and teachers (hooks 1994:194). She links intellectual practice to emotions such as excitement for ideas, insofar as mutual engagement allows to ‘move within and beyond the classroom’ (1994:205). This way, she disrupts the hierarchical and false dualism between rationalisation and emotions, posing questions such as ‘what did one do with the body in the classroom?’ (1994:191-192). In practice, few professors ‘talk about the place of emotions in the classroom’ and about the biases which shape pedagogy and behaviour within the classroom, impeding invigorating discussions driven by a quest and love for knowledge (1994:154-155; 187-195). In response, hooks challenges the notion that passion ought to be privatised and invites academic teachers to dare to have passion within this space (1994:194-198). Accordingly, by working with and through affects and Eros, passion emerges as a pre-requisite for critical and lively discussions, encouraging students to live differently.

During her undergraduate experience in the early 1970s, Women’s Studies was the ‘one space’ where teaching was a performative practice which recognised ‘a connection between ideas learned in university settings and those learned in life practices’, and where Eros was ‘present in our classrooms, as a motivating force’ (hooks 1994:15; 194). Elevation and empowerment become manifest through transgressions which create new contexts in which we embrace new visions of ‘wholeness of being’ without reinforcing systematic prejudices (hooks 1994:183). So, hooks reveals new ways to rethink the mechanisms of capitalism and patriarchy which despiritualise the civil society and the classroom, establishing the feminist classroom as a transitional space of hope. Upon traversing the feminist classroom, the teacher’s responsibility is to address, engage and channel their own and students’ attitudes, desires, energies and assumptions (1994:188-189). Similarly, Stiegler asserts that through learning in the critical classroom, the subject ‘reconstitutes’ knowledge and circuits of thinking, letting themselves be ‘affected’ and transformed by it; this becomes a collective experience (2015a:163).

Otium and care as a promise for change and liberation

hooks invites those who inhabit academic spaces to performatively declare and promise a commitment to otium as liberation and change. For her, education is a practice of freedom, and teaching should ‘enable transgressions’ as a ‘movement against and beyond boundaries’ (1994:11-12). Similarly, Derrida asserts that the promise and pledge of responsibility is ‘reducible to neither theory nor practice’ (2002:215). However, for him, the promise is limited to the teacher (leading to problematic hierarchies regarding who can speak), but hooks considers that anyone can put savoir-faire and savoir-vivre at the centre of their focus and practice. In her own classroom, as a teacher, hooks refuses to be simply a technician or expert. Instead, she contributes, along with the students, to a process of trans-individuation. The theory produced in the classroom becomes ‘liberatory’ practice (hooks 1994:61). She puts it splendidly: ‘hearing each other’s voices, individual thoughts, and sometimes associating these voices with personal experience makes us more acutely aware of each other’ and this leads to engaging in ‘acts of recognition with one another’ (1994:186). A diversity of positions and experience are acknowledged without establishing positions of authority or presupposing relativism. The classroom engages in collective and critical listening to the lived reality of contributors speaking from their social location: ‘sharing personal narratives yet linking that knowledge with academic information really enhances our capacity to know’ (hooks 1994:148; 84).

Although the transitional potentiality of hooks’ therapeutic classroom is negated within the corporate university, their practices can be replicated and adopted anywhere. She encourages engaging in forms of contestation which form a ‘critical consciousness’ that is ‘rooted in the assumption that knowledge and critical thought done in the classroom should inform our habits of being and ways of living outside the classroom’ (hooks 1994:194). The classroom should be traversed by the long circuits of created through social struggles, to establish recognition and solidarity. Internalising transitional objects of care and philia (learning how to live, feel, relate to others) is necessary for the creation of pharmacological transitional spaces which allow for the potentiality of attaching oneself to objects of desire, to the law (Stiegler 2013:21).

hooks’ pedagogy represents precisely the vitalising tendency which Stiegler envisages to be the responsibility of the university to the civil society. Her feminist pedagogy is a practice of elevation which makes the classroom a therapeutic space for facilitating transgressions and thinking the pharmacology of otium and the technicity of desire. Through it, experiences within and outside the university are linked, dislocating disembodied scholarship with embodied positions willing to affirm and transform desire, in order to enact an ethics of love, of philia. A feminist commitment to working with the experiences and energies within the classroom offers the potential to invent noetic criteria for social change by establishing attachments to transitional objects which demand active inheritance. The feminist classroom is, therefore, a space of possibility for radical transformation of consciousness, a transitional space of contribution which de-proletarianises and creates new forms of attention and desire. These are articulated and transmitted among self-actualising individuals whose singularity is recognised as such, and whose distinctive pasts/retentions metastabilises the appearance of the political ‘we’.