Locating the self: The sticky, shifting processes of knowledge-making, boundary-tracing and coming home
Sarah Pearce, Kristi Urry, Aisha J. M. Sultan, and Biannca Challans
we are map-makers of ourselves, …we are cartographers of a fleshy reality—a reality made tangible and authentic through the embodied processes of location and situation. (Rowen 2019)
The fifth annual South Australian Gender, Sex and Sexualities Conference for Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers took place on 19th and 20th of September 2018, hosted by the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender, at the University of Adelaide. The conference theme was ‘Space and Place: Conceptions of movement, boundaries and belonging’, abbreviated as Space and Place. This annual conference is multi-disciplinary and cross-institutional, bringing together academics, artists, activists and the broader community to explore gender, sex, and sexualities in an inclusive and welcoming environment. Founded in 2014 by Petra Mossman and Adele Lausberg, this conference has been hosted twice by Flinders University, twice by the University of South Australia, and will be hosted for a second time in 2019 by the University of Adelaide. Previous conference themes have included ‘Gendered Perspectives’, ‘Transgressions’, and ‘Art(i)culations of Violence’.
The Gender, Sex and Sexualities conference has not always been called as such, known until 2016 (inclusive) as the Gender and Sexuality Conference. Changes to the way that the conference approaches gender, sex and sexualities was driven largely by the contribution and guidance of Dr Michael Lawrence Noble (1959-2018), who acted as the Intersex Consultant and Communications Officer for the 2017 conference committee. Driven by his own experiences and challenges, both personally and medically, Dr Noble was one of Australia’s first intersex advocates and came to be recognised as a prominent member of the intersex human rights movement. In 2018, an annual prize was established in memoriam of Dr Noble’s invaluable contributions to the conference and his outstanding life achievements as an advocate and academic. The Dr Michael Noble Prize for Outstanding Contribution to the Conference recognises the contributions of one presenter (or group of presenters) each year to the conference: the first recipient of this prize in 2018 was Angelica Harris-Faull, whose paper is also published in this special issue.
Space and Place aimed to explore conceptions of these as they are relevant to and intersect with gender, sex, and sexualities across the structural, personal, institutional, cultural, symbolic, epistemic, and discursive. Space and place as concepts, together or separate, are at once locational, sociocultural and temporal. Conference presentations, including visual art, poetry, performance and critical scholarship, explored ‘space’ and ‘place’ across a variety of contexts and through multiple disciplinary lenses. In particular, Space and Place aimed to foreground the voices of First Nations and migrant presenters. This conference has been grounded in a strong feminist approach, and continues to work toward a higher standard of intersectionality. A fundamental aspect of feminist ethic is inclusivity, and we recognise that feminist perspectives and spaces have been historically White. The committee aimed to disrupt and decentre Whiteness at the conference in 2018, by driving an emphasis on Indigenous, POC, migrant and refugee perceptions and experiences in relation to gender, sex and sexualities, with a particular orientation toward colonised, decolonised and postcolonial spaces. Our attempts to centre non-White voices at the conference have not been well-reflected in this special issue; the absence of Indigenous, POC, migrant and refugee voices here highlights once more the predominantly White and colonised nature of many academic spaces, including those that may not be considered dominant or mainstream in and of themselves. The conference continues to be an evolving intersectional project that is committed to inclusion and equity, and seeks to draw on our privileged positions inside the academy to contribute to the dismantling of hegemonic structures and discourses.
As in previous years, Space and Place was a multifaceted event that incorporated both the critical and the creative; the interplay and connections between these two spaces constitutes a fertile space for holistic engagement with the theme material. In addition to the two-day single-stream conference, Space and Place featured five pre-conference workshops and was followed by a public performance event. The workshops, attended by honours and postgraduate students, early career researchers, activists, and members of the wider community, facilitated skill-building in reflecting, writing and presenting in relation to doing and disseminating research with social impact. Similarly, the performance event sought to erode the divide between scholarly, artistic, and community spaces by bringing together students, scholars, and the broader community through a creative and dynamic exploration of the conference theme. Two of the poems included in this special issue, by Tait, and Urry and Pearce, were performed at the creative event.
The main conference was opened by Dr Cassandra Loeser (University of South Australia), who delivered a thoughtful keynote address exploring embodiment in research and the physical, lasting impact that research has on the bodies and minds of those participating—researcher included. Loeser argued that embodiment is a strength in research, used to orient toward and open new lines of inquiry, rather than controlled, hidden or removed. In this way, Loeser challenged researchers to think differently of and with the data they collect; what else is there and what does it say? Moreover, Loeser gifted the conference audience with her own public vulnerability: this is a kind of power that is not held over others but may be shared with, and is contingent upon being with, others and within community.
Dr Kathomi Gatwiri (Southern Cross University) delivered a keynote address on the conference’s second day that also challenged the audience to orient differently to the way that questions are asked and answered. Gatwiri’s focus was not in local research endeavours but in the ongoing and urgent need to decolonise institutional spaces through asking where, and who, ideas come from. Drawing on Black and African feminisms, Gatwiri emphasised the need to interrogate intersecting systems of oppression within academia and, as part of that process, the importance of foregrounding personal experience and of storytelling. These practices, along with collaboration, for example by engaging co-teaching between White and POC educators in order to speak with and not for, can be both deconstructive and reconstructive.
The conversation surrounding decolonisation was continued by a panel of invited student, early career and established researchers, who discussed the dynamics of contested space, and diverse place-making within marginalised communities, including Indigenous, refugee, migrant and POC experiences in Australia. The panel comprised Dr Kathomi Gatwiri, Domenic Guerrera, Rebecca Richards and Gabriella Zizzo, and the discussion was moderated by Dr Katrina Jaworski (University of South Australia). A definition of ‘home’ emerged as a place wherein you, or your humanity, is seen, and to which you always return. The panellists described the crucial project(s) of retaining and resurrecting the outlines of spaces that have been disguised or disfigured by colonising forces and narratives. Questions surrounding how such projects may be attempted, and how to be aware of the shapes within which we operate and relate, constituted a call to reflexivity: in our scholarship, we need always to critically engage with the self, not just with methodologies. The ultimate aim is to live in hope and without resistance, fear, or compromise. The panel closed with a resounding call to action, as the audience was reminded there are already people out there doing the work: we must find them—cite them—do the work!
As the conference theme suggests, any consideration of space, place, or both necessarily raises questions of movement between, belonging to, and the boundaries of any space(s) or place(s). Questions arise such as: How do I/we define the borders of any given space? What is the relationship between my body/self to the space it inhabits? How are bodies marked by space and place? How do we belong anywhere/to anywhere? How do we, as embodied subjects, make/create space?
Haraway’s conception of feminist objectivity as concerning ‘limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object’ (1988, 583) offers a possible jumping-off point for this discussion of movement, belonging and boundaries. She argues for situated and embodied knowledges, and against the unlocatable and therefore irresponsible; for ethical researchers and makers, knowledge must always exist in relation to location or perspective, and the self (583). In situating ourselves in our knowledge—our research and practice—and remaining embodied, we must also always be thinking of and responding to boundaries. According to Haraway, ‘boundaries are drawn by mapping practices’; they materialise in and through social interaction (1988, 595). As we, social entities, move through social spaces and places, we produce geographies and topographies that map the boundaries of things, and ourselves. Crucially, boundaries are ‘very tricky’; they ‘shift from within’ (Haraway 1988, 595) and are labile and unfixed—constantly constructed and emerging through our interactions and frictions with the social world and with social beings. Boundaries therefore gesture insistently towards time; movement is played out and observed via the passage of time. This inextricable connection of boundaries and movement to time points to a broader linkage between space and time. The constant back-and-forth between place-making and identity-building connects and disconnects us not only in the here and now, but also within and across different planes of time and space. Space and place are not bounded by time, but instead transgress boundaries in both directions; tied to the future as much as they are embedded in the past and felt in the present.
Space and place are not bounded by time, but instead transgress boundaries in both directions; tied to the future as much as they are embedded in the past and felt in the present.
Despite not imagining this special issue as specifically queer, some of the submitted papers enacted a repeated queering of both space and time. Queer uses or constructions of time and space develop in opposition to normative formations such as family, reproduction and heterosexuality, and according to ‘other logics of location, movement, and identification’ (Halberstam 2005, 12). Indeed, ‘the potential to open up new life narratives and alternative relations to time and space’ is, according to Halberstam, one reason for the compelling nature of queerness as a self-descriptor (2005, 13). In taking up and exploring the theme(s) of space and place, we inevitably also placed queer time at the centre of this special issue. Queer time, in the form of alternative temporalities, is inextricable from the kinds of spaces occupied by queer subcultures; when futures lie outside the paradigmatic spaces of normative living, such as birth, marriage and reproduction, queer temporalities are produced (Halberstam 2005, 14). Queer time is a disruptive force that refuses to engage in normative timelines, and opens up new possiblities and spaces for identity construction and subjective experience.
Our consideration of space and place raises important questions about kinship, belonging, community and the multiple possibilities for making and remaking home(s). We may conceive of kinship as ‘the set of possibilities for social relations in any given culture’ (Freeman 2007, 295). Traditional Western heteronormative conceptions of kinship have focussed on the family unit, and on systems of family units that propagate through space and time as extended family networks and in terms of descent or lineage (2007, 296-7). Kinship is also closely tied to embodiment; according to Freeman, kinship is resolutely corporeal, in that it draws upon understandings about the body, its limitations and possibilities (2007, 298). Moreover, kinship may be conceived of as ‘[marking] out a certain terrain of corporeal dependency’ (2007, 298). In simple terms, this may refer to the kinds of care and nurture given, taken, and shared by kin. Imagining kinship as dependency also gestures toward a technique of renewal: a ‘process by which bodies and the potential for physical and emotional attachment are created, transformed, and sustained over time’ (Freeman 2007, 298).
Given the emergence of queer conceptions of time, space and belonging in this special issue, it is illuminating to look toward queer conceptualisations of kinship. Understandings of kinship have been, to some extent, queered by the recognition that kinship is constructed by the social rather than arising through the biological: nurtured rather than natural. Moreover, a queer conception of kinship decentres heteronormative procreation and instead prioritises other kinds of connection and, above all, embodiment (Freeman 2007, 299, 301-3). Freeman describes queer kinship, or queer belonging, as the desire to ‘be bigger’ both spatially and temporally: to extend ‘a hand across time and touch the dead or those not born yet, to offer oneself beyond one’s own time’ (2007, 299). Queer forms of kinship may stand in for, resist, or replace, traditional heteronormative nuclear conceptions of family and blood kin. More explicitly, Halberstam has argued for a ‘forgetting of family’, in order to allow for the possibility of other modes of relating and caring, including belonging (2007, 317). He describes queer subcultures as ‘sites where queers reinvent notions of time, space, embodiment, community and relation’ (2007, 319).
In describing her own experiences of queer community, Weston (1997, 104) uses the term ‘spatial contiguity’, meaning the state of bordering or being in contact with something. Kinship may therefore constitute the joining, meeting or even overlapping of boundaries. Weston’s research reveals that kinship organisations in queer ‘chosen’ families tended to have ‘extremely fluid boundaries’, much like those of other minority or oppressed communities (108). Crucially for this collection of work, and particularly the more experimental, Weston associates queer constructions or definitions of kinship with ‘unfettered creativity’ (1997, 109). Freed from certain kinds of hetero- and cis-normative relationship structures, queer individuals and groups are free to (re)imagine kinship, and therefore belonging, on their own terms. Despite the illumination and freedom offered by queer conceptions of kinship, it is important to recognise that generic attempts to describe kinship may be problematic for queer individuals. Reference to an all-reaching, amorphous collectivity or ‘community’ risks eliding individual relationships and selves, or even stranding them somewhere between this abstract collectivity and individualist notions of identity (Freeman 2007, 297).
In exploring space and place, we necessarily centre embodiment, boundaries, movement, belonging and kinship.
In exploring space and place, we necessarily centre embodiment, boundaries, movement, belonging and kinship. Our contributors are searching for embodied and located knowledges; we are always coming back to and feeling into the body and its ever-shifting boundaries. Space is inextricable from time; consideration of alternative possibilities, spaces and temporalities enacts a queering of time and space and thus seeks to destabilise hegemonic constructions of location and belonging. Nuanced explorations of kinship and home also open up spaces for disruptive practices and knowledges; collaborative writing and performance practices—engaged by several of the contributions to this collection—foreground the often subversive ways in which we communicate and build community with each other. Finally, we must recognise the importance of multiplicity and avoid the violent practice of reduction; in recognising where we are situated, in both space and time, we allow the possibility of other locations and therefore other voices. All of the pieces included in this issue explore how space and place can be (re)made, (re)experienced, and mapped onto, through, and beyond bodies. Many of the pieces push back on dominant sociocultural discourses or societal forces that prescribe particular boundary-making practices and ways of belonging (or not) and of moving through spaces, from the domestic, to the ephemeral, to the institutional. Contributors come from a range of disciplines, including visual art, creative writing, English/literary studies, psychology and performance arts, or some combination of these.
The first critical piece grounds the issue firmly in an awareness of embodiment and its relation to both situated selfhood and the boundaries of the self. Dylan Rowen’s self-reflexive essay champions a kind of feminist self-authorship that is characterised by stepping into the body: a practice of (re)embodiment (and reclamation), as opposed to transcendence of the body. Rowen urges us to pay attention to the space occupied by the self in any given (research) moment: ‘the body is made and remade through acts of referencing and self-renewal, a feminist self-authorship is achieved via recognising my/our own way in which myself/you inhabit space’ (Rowen 2019). If the skin is both a site of encounter and possibility and a surface upon which societal forces act, the process of recognising how we live our lives and where we write from allows us to understand and rewrite the geographies and topographies of our bodies, skins and selves. This process of (re)making the self points to the tactile nature of bodies—they are formed through embodied contact with histories and the combined effects of space and place.
Angelica Harris-Faull also explores processes of (re)making the self and negotiating bodily boundaries, as she reflects on the womb as complex matrix and site of socio-political contestation. She positions research-led printmaking as a practice which, ‘with a focus on the potential to repeat, over-print, misprint, ghost print and re-carve, can open a conversation between different time periods’ (Harris-Faull 2019). Like Rowen, Harris-Faull centres a kind of connectedness in her work; the transparent, repeated, (re)made body-prints she has produced and reproduced echo and point to the interconnected nature of ideas about the womb, which repeat through time. Much as Ahmed (2010, cited in Harris-Faull 2019) contradicts the idea of boundaries as discrete and concrete through the notion of ‘stickiness’, Harris-Faull’s body (as woman and researcher) is permeable: texts stay with her, seep into her flesh. As with Rowen, the practice of embodiment constitutes a feminist power stance that counteracts the hegemonic canon.
Much as Ahmed contradicts the idea of boundaries as discrete and concrete through the notion of ‘stickiness’, Harris-Faull’s body (as woman and researcher) is permeable: texts stay with her, seep into her flesh.
In Locus, a series of drypoint etchings, Victoria Janice Paterson interrogates representations of the female form via interweaving themes of psychological perception, philosophy, gender and femininity with subjective experience. Paterson draws upon the history and materiality of printmaking to explore subtle, yet symbolic and therefore recognisable, stereotypes of femininity through abstraction and re- contextualisation. Like Harris-Faull, Paterson (re)makes the self, again and again; the medium of printmaking offers a concrete representation of the ways in which femininity is repeatedly constructed and reproduced, while abstraction works to destabilise notions of feminine embodiment. Through the repetition and interplay of shapes, repeating outlines and shadows, Paterson is able to trace the female form and its social constructions obliquely; her use of traditional printmaking techniques combined with more modern digital methods of image reproduction such as photography alludes to the continued human project of mapping the interior space: the human (female) body.
In many of the works contained in this special issue, the spaces both within and encountered by the body are inextricably linked to temporality. “A Pesky Case of Grief” by Chloe Cannell foregrounds an exploration of time as she presents the peculiarity of temporality for the queer, grieving adolescent self. Techniques such as fragmentation and nonlinearity describe the non-sense and dissolution of time, boundaries, relationships and life itself for the grieving subject. Through centring the queerness of the protagonist, Cannell also gestures to a queer sense of time. Though the narrative is deliberately fragmented, and linear progress is hard to pin down, Cannell demonstrates various processes of movement—in, out and through—relationships, connections and emotions. Everything shifts and changes for this protagonist, and therein lies the possibility for a new narrative. In an attempt to resist the weight of (hetero-)normativity within the young adult genre, Cannell utilises queer constructions of time to foreground young queer subjectivity and point to different ways of growing that resist or delay a heteronormative future.
Caitlin Tait’s poem “East Terrace/Payneham Road” directly explores the passage of time through the juxtaposition of physical spaces. Music provides a thread of continuity, connecting two disparate loci in time and two distinct selves; however, this tenacious central thread also threatens to collapse the boundary between these two spaces, and between the now-self and the then-self. As both Rowen and Harris-Faull indicate, the self and its boundaries are permeable and unstable. The intangible spaces of memory hold past versions of the self; when these past-selves brush up against the now-self, an embodied ‘flinch’ is produced, pointing to the vulnerability of the body. Despite this ‘flinch’ and the sense of impending collapse, Tait also gestures toward movement between the two physical spaces (streets) as the protagonist grows through the passage of time and the imprinting process of new experiences.
“Queer”, by Kristi Urry and Sarah Pearce, explores experiences of queerness through a collection of fragmented moments, each addressing the oppressions of heteronormativity (and, to a lesser degree, homonormativity). The authors’ (cisgender) bisexual/queer identities are shown to be in constant conflict with, and constantly erased by, normative expectations and restrictions surrounding sexuality and desire, and their expression. As in Tait’s piece, the distinctions between the different past- and present-selves are fragile; in a sense, these moments are always- and already-happening, carried as alternate temporalities within the complex queer self. Through the temporal disruptions and dislocations of queer time, Urry and Pearce trace the non-linearity of exploring and connecting with sexuality as it unfolds through and shapes our everyday experiences. Collaborative writing and performance gesture insistently to a multiplicity of experience; the authors are connected by their poetic and performative effort, but remain resolutely separate, even as the stories bleed and diffuse into one another.
As in Tait’s piece, the distinctions between the different past- and present-selves are fragile; in a sense, these moments are always- and already-happening, carried as alternate temporalities within the complex queer self.
In “Xenokin and Queer Morphologies”, Barrett, da Rimini & Nilsson (2019) draw on the work of Hester (2018) and Haraway (1988, 2003) to explore kinship and connection beyond blood and genealogy. Presented through polyvocal autoethnography/speculation/poetic, the authors’ ‘xenofam’ (Hester, 2018), and the affective work of building and affirming this non-traditional kinship formation, resists traditional notions of home and family as White, cis-het, patriarchal, and genetic. Having ‘all birthed one another’ and through their inability to identify any point or boundary ‘as the instant [they] switched from people who knew each other to becoming-kin’ (2019), the authors point to the queering of time and of family in xenokin praxis. Xenokin becomes simultaneously a place, ‘home’, that exists within practices of resistance and caring, and a non-space; a boundary or ‘horizon’ that can be oriented toward and approached but never arrived at. Xenokin praxis is not a destination, then, but rather, like the permeable and unfixed boundaries of Rowen’s and Harris-Faull’s embodied selves, an ‘explod[ing] into a web of sticky bonds that unfurl without limit’; a horizon of possibility and resistance, of making and remaking (xeno)kin.
Xenokin praxis is not a destination, then, but rather, like the permeable and unfixed boundaries of Rowen’s and Harris-Faull’s embodied selves, an ‘explod[ing] into a web of sticky bonds that unfurl without limit’.
This issue closes with a collaborative creative piece in which belonging and home are, again, the focus. The multi-authored work was produced in one of the pre-conference workshops, ‘Writing for Social Change’ facilitated by David Chapple. Participants reflected on love, hope, sadness, childhood and home, using simple and direct poetry to explore together how belonging is formed for the self. The ‘lonely room’ in this house echoes the domestic spaces and homes described by Cannell, Urry and Pearce, and Barrett et al. Memory is presented as an embodied experience, tied to taste (rice cooked in fire) and smell (moth balls, pig’s feet, cabbage odours), sound (prayer calls and spinning wheels) and silence (Chapple 2019); in this way, the selves articulated in this poem continue the thread of embodiment that weaves its way through this special issue. The memories (that, indeed, we are all made [of]) described gesture insistently to the interconnected nature of now and then, adult and child (Chapple 2019). Yet again, space/place forms a specific location in time that recalls and connects to other moments in time.
The ‘sticky bonds’ produced through indeterminable and fluid connections and the ever-shifting terrain of memory and relationship propagate throughout this special issue, producing a sense of kinship even between the contributors and included works. The common projects of feminist embodiment and location of the self unite this collection, which is engaged in a constant process of questioning, knowledge-making, the breaking down of boundaries and coming (or making) home. Through the embodied processes of location and situation, we render our fleshy reality tangible and authentic. Together, the critical, creative and experimental works examine the continual processes of making and re-making space and place through the geographic, visceral, embodied, social, discursive and temporal. While space and place often seem to contain, confine and define, the contributing authors demonstrate the possibility of imagining—and building, practicing, and embodying—different, often undeterminable, potentialities. The imagined boundaries of the spaces and places in, on and around which we come to understand ourselves are not static; we can, and do, draw and redraw, build and rebuild, spill over and seep under. The shifting of space is temporal, too, constructed via and by a locus of past, present and future, simultaneously carried together with the self. Indeed, space and place are already emerging in the future as much as they are unfolding in the present and embedded in the past. Ultimately, in proffering conceptions of belonging from below, this issue extends both scholarly and creative hands ‘across time’, in the attempt to ‘touch the dead or those not born yet, to offer oneself beyond one’s own time (Freeman 2007, 299). The 2019 conference, themed ‘Past, Present and Future: contested histories and emerging identities’, will continue to explore the questions and possibilities raised in this special collection—each year, the conference itself re-iterates, moving always toward a collective ideal or process of embodied, inclusive and interrogative scholarship and creativity.
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Harris-Faull, Angelica. 2019. ‘The re-producing womb – matrix: reflections on an organ as a site of socio-political contestation through a discussion of print-based artworks’, Writing From Below, vol.4 no.3.
Rowen, Dylan. 2019. ‘Encountering, Positioning and Orientating my Queer “Self”’, Writing From Below, vol.4 no.3.
Weston, Kath. 1997. Families We Choose : Lesbians, Gays, Kinship, New York: Columbia University Press. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/adelaide/detail.action?docID=991398.
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