Wednesday, December 5, 2012

To Wobble

Definitions of Wobble: to shake or wiggle, to be weak, to falter, unsteady movement from side to side, to sway, to shake, to stagger, unsteady motion, to tremble or quaver, like a baby, bad stance, spinning

To wobble usually has pretty negative connotations.  It seems to be a problematic action, one that reflects the unknown, uncertainties, undoing.  I have been thinking with my students about reclaiming wobbling as learning.  Fecho (2005) writes about wobble in this way, as the unsteady places with potential for learning.  When our understandings and current positioning in the world is questioned in some ways and we are given the opportunity to reflect and figure out how to move forward. 

Wobbling is a lot more interesting to me than other words usually associated with learning.  Especially at this time of the semester (finals week here we come!), learning sides up with measurement, success, achievement, numbers, grades, objective (huh?) assessments of knowledge.   For their final blog posts I am asking students instead to narrate:

moment(s) of wobble from this course.  You will be thinking about time(s) when your thinking has been challenged.  When something has felt uncomfortable or different that your usual experiences.  You will unpack your experience of this as well as why you think this has been a moment of wobble.

This blog post should be one with more questions than answers.  More uncertainties than certainties.  This should be about what you are wondering now.  This piece or question or idea does not need to have a resolution.

Be creative.

Be thoughtful.

Dig in.

This is no easy task.  With the dominant narratives of heroes and bootstraps in our heads, it is really difficult to write about our own wobbling, our uncertainty, and call that learning!  Well in my own last blog post (for class) this semester I am drawn again to thinking about wobbling in the field I am studying this semester, gender and language studies.  An essay I read this week, “She Sired Six Children” Feminist Experiments with Linguistic Gender, Anna Livia names, problematizes and values the wobble of feminist science fiction writers.  She takes this lovely approach to Ursala K. LeGuin’s feminist fop aux in the 70’s in The Left Hand of Darkness where she uses the masculine generic (he/him/etc) in reference to the (supposedly) amorphous gendered people in her novel.  Livia puts this work in context with LeGuin’s future works and her own critique of the language.  Livia’s exploration of Marge Piercy and June Arnold’s more progressive moves to create new non-gendered pronouns for their novels is still a messy task as both women struggle to make the transportation hold in their works.  Livia questions and honors the works of these women and the ways that they negotiate their own wobbling.

Anyway as the semester wraps up I am thinking about my own wobbling right now and hoping, like Livia I can  find value and not just judgment in this uncertain, unsteady, rocky stance.

Fecho, B. (2005).  Appreciating the wobble:  Teacher research, professional development, and figured worlds.  English Education, 37 (3). 

Livia, A. (1999). “She sired six children” Feminist experiments with linguistic gender. In M. Bucholtz, A.C. Liang, & L.A. Sutton, Reinventing identities: The gendered self in discourse.  NewYork: Oxfod University Press.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two Corners of Same Room, I Think Mine Has a Window, Though

Reading Rebecca Dobkins’ storied research about Native American women and girls interactions in early twentieth century federally mandated boarding schools has me thinking of all things about the open house at a local public Montessori school that I could apply (through a lottery system) to be my son’s kindergarten school for next year.  These two schooling situations in most ways couldn’t be more dissimilar.  The boarding schools described by Dobkins worked actively and without remorse to assimilate Native American children away from their home cultures, languages and lives.  The forces used were long distance separation from family, difficulty in returning home for any reason and use of legal language and even force to maintain the authority to separate families.  Our local Montessori school is the most progressive public opportunity available in my county, I, especially as a white, middle class, academic have a great deal of power/knowledge available to negotiate my and my child’s position in the school and his entrance to the school at all.  I don’t have any power over whether he gets in, but I can choose some other kind of schooling option altogether.  I don’t have to send him at all. 
It would seem that the differences between me and the Native American mothers who I have been reading in Dobkins’ essay are gulfs, but I’m interested in thinking also about the interconnectedness we share.  I was also reading today Dias Soto and Blue Swadners’ The Politics of Early Childhood Education.  The first chapter unravels the ways that schooling (again), particularly college education of some early childhood teachers and mothers worked to professionalize and make scientific some mothers and some teachers.  These professional mothers and teachers, I can count as both of these, are still under the reign of patriarch through discourses of white, male generated child development theories or the more modern neoliberal models of education and child rearing based on new business (still white and male) dispositions approaches to foster problem solving and flexibility, for instance.  Progressive schools that take up, for instance,  21st Century Learner frameworks, seem to work to the success of individual students, who can be self starters and business-ready but the benefits are not to all students, but to a few who are already benefiting from the corporate model of exchange in late capitalism.  I am left feeling cornered.  I can option to send my child to our neighborhood school, where worksheets abound, possibly to the Montessori alternative (although unlikely since I declined to enter him in the lottery at age 4, where most slots are taken) or I can homeschool him in a local community of thoughtful people, but with political consequences of separatism.  If I’m not interested in testing, structured curriculum, focus on “the basics,” then I am not at all compelled to be part of this public system, and though politically a powerful choice, it is a very difficult family one to make. 

The public schools push me (and family) out in some ways as zealously as they pulled in the children of the Native American children Dobkins writes of.  This power to separate groups of people, like women, mothers, who could be united is a major component in the colonialist efforts of schooling Dobkins illustrates.  So while I am faced with resisting guised power that works through me as a professional and as a mother.  My resistance seems separate and different and scaleless compared to the need for resistance of Native American mothers, who are marginalized and erased from history even.  But as Diaz Soto and Blue Swadner point out my schooling, my professionalization, has been another tool to create a hierarchy of differences, separating me from the other women in the world and in history with whom my resistance could be aligned.  


Diaz Soto, L. & Blue Swadner, B. (2006). The politics of early childhood education. NY: Peter Lang.

Dobkins, R. (1999). Strong language, strong actions: Native American women writing against federal authority, In M.Bucholtz, A.C. Liang, & L. Sutton (Eds.) Reinventing identities: The gendered self in discourse. New York: Oxford University Press.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Exhilaration for Connected Learning at #nwpam12

There is a
well come on
conversation in

A room
Of people who
Aren't only here
But are here
In the convo
From other rooms
And non-rooms
At other moments
Talking in my head
In earphones
And not
Making me smarter
When I hang in
A non room
Of real people

Who care

About having
And being
A conversation
That matters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Impasse and Detour

I so loved reading Haraway’s A Manifesto of Cyborgs.  I like that the meanings I make  from it are implicitly creative and that the turnings in and backward and round about in the text are defiant of arbitrary naming of a meaning.   I like my own confusions in reading, the wild moves of theory and the momentary connections to the material.  The whole piece is a question.

In the same list of readings this week were parts of Patricia Collins’ Black Feminist Thought.  Her preface brought my hooray for Haraway to a puzzling bumpy place, which for such a text should not feel so out of place.  In the preface Collins carefully names her political purposes for “[not stressing] the  contradictions,  frictions,  and  inconsistencies of Black feminist  thought” (p. xiv).  Collins instead asserts a collective picture of Black Feminism(s) with particular political aims, which she names for doing so. 

I was caught when I read this by the power in this naming of the stances we are taking, naming that there are many other possible and useful stances, but that we, for named reasons, are taking this particular stance.  I suppose the danger here, which Haraway attempts to avoid is the washing over of such statements in the use and circulation of the text’s ideas.  Rather Haraway’s Manifesto makes a claim of instability its particular mission and political work.  The creative meanings of the text are not easily washed away by removing prefacing or footnoted or other periphery remarks that might (as in Collins) act to disrupt a sense of stability in the text.  Haraway’s Manifesto is the disruption itself. 

I do think Haraway’s political work of fore fronting the slipperiness and theoretical nature of meaning still gets washed over, just in different ways from Collins.  While Patricia Collin’s thinking might be taken up as any particular flag for Black Feminism, Haraway can just be erased as eccentric, radical and overly theorized, and so dismissed altogether.

I am painting a dim picture in my mind.  Everyone, all the women, washed away.  Another interpretation, and one that might be more useful, even as I should probably keep in mind the first, is that these texts, these stances, in tandem as part of a growing conversation among feminists are difficult to wash away as a collective, however settled or fractured the collective story might appear.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Start Up Science Fiction with Historical-Theoretical Perspective

This week I have been reading about women and science fiction and the surrounding issues of representation, opening and closing off of meanings.  To that end I am making this week’s post an inquiry into science fiction writing.  And in "good" Writing Project style I learn by trying this out myself and letting things get way messy.  

So I am a pretty committed sci-fi and fantasy reader myself, but I have never tried to write any... until now :) I have some rather hefty imagined possibilities for what is right now just a small and possibly needy portion of story.  There is still a bunch of detailing work I have spinning around in my head.  For now, though, I tried to get across, some of the big ideas that seem important about the story and the deets that I could muster.  And through this story I hope to also narrate my reflections on a history of women and science fiction, which is a mixed, emerging and multiplicious bag of utopianism, separatism, images of possibility, and protagonizing of women.  So here we go…

Marni scanned her new Peoples History Card at the gate of the transport.  She let the rise and dip of her newly minted personal quick response code slide unfamiliarly through her fingers and slipped it back into the pocket of her apron as she followed the slightly muddy flashing arrows along the passageway.  She aligned to her internal sense of time and estimated that on Emig the older children would be ringing the dinner bells soon.  Her own stomach rumbled at that and she marched on wondering if they still had dinner bells on Earth IV and if they did who rang them.  Emerging out of the passageway into the night air the city overwhelmed the senses of all but the most sedate, and Marni, once inside her carefully chosen airtax, retreated into her thoughts for the ride through the city.  

It was easy enough to bring to mind Daga and the children.  She let her thoughts flow to a particular story, one that she kept close, while others slipped in and out, whether or not she had recorded them.  This was a good start and Marni breathed a little easier.  She knew that the council had asked her to come on this journey to Earth IV because of her particular imagination work and her familiarity with the inner workings of the Recorded People Stories.  Still, she couldn’t help but feel relief that her mind-stories were safely available, even if she had only been away from home less than a day.  She tuned herself to the images now fully.  Wondering if something different would emerge this time.

 She and Daga had been maybe twelve years old.  It wasn’t so long in the future that they would be transitioning away from the children’s circles or at least taking new roles there if they chose to stay.  They squatted side by side at the creek toes sinking into the rather smelly mud bank.  When Marni and Daga had arrived at the play circle an hour ago, Nila, one of the adult teachers this season, looking slightly frazzled with her own infant, Tino, nursing and three other small children playing nearby, had asked the two older children to fill the water buckets for the day.  Marni and Daga were happy enough to venture beyond the circle on this errand, especially when they saw Henry, the other teacher for this cycle, tying on his apron and joining Nila and the younger children.   As the older children walked through community toward the woods and creek, they talked about it being a good thing that this was Nila’s last week before cycling to another workfield.  The children’s circles work was generally the most respected and all out consuming works for a reason.  Marni and Daga thought Nila looked ready for a break.  Marni thought maybe Nila would spend the next weeks with the baby Tino at the Recorded People Stories House, where she might reflect and imagine ways to narrate her times this season in their circle.  Daga thought instead that Nila and Tino might go straight to a conference cycle with the current council to work on a plan the children and she had been exploring for possible changes around the treatment of farming animals.  

And now, knowing that both well routined adults were there at the circle with the younger children, and the afternoon dinner preparations still hours away, Marni and Daga hesitated, the water buckets just hauled up from the deepest water and sitting behind them.   And Daga began the familiar game,
“That tree is not a tree.”

Marni, picking up the lines, smirked, “It’s an Earth IV transport.”

“And this creek?,” Daga asked.

“It’s a marble.  Let’s go, Dag.”

“And you, Marni?”

“Me, what?”

“What are you not, Marni?” 

“I think I can hardly unravel that un-naming but named question.”

Daga stared hard at her, pressed on her palm slightly, did not let this idea go, “What are you not?”

After years, probably, Marni answered.

“Not yours?”  


In the airtax Marni smoothed her hand on the manufactured leather armrest and opened her eyes.  This surface felt firm, much more than her story.  She recalled a rant by her favorite mentor, Sarrah, “Fuzzy is good!  Do you think we want one-sided, firm, hard, completely known, stories, Marni?!  No!”  This made her smile and feel slightly less uneasy, but she couldn’t help wonder about how well fuzzy had played out so far in her life.  Oh she supposed, honing her Sarrah-voice, that that was one of many possible interpretations of events.  Sigh.  She was distracted from her musings by her stomach growling loudly.  She thought somewhat sourly that by now surely families and circles all over Emig had full bellies and she was another thirty minutes from her destination and her eventual dinner.

A day later Marni sat in a conference room at the university center carefully moving her eyes from person to person, from teacher to teacher, she thought, for that is how they called themselves.  She worked to imagine the stories that brought these people together and brought her across space to the planet her foremothers had called home.   She drew her attention to two women, Jaclyn just beside her and Ansor directly across the circle.  Jaclyn had a paper notebook out, not uncommon on Emig, but something that seemed out of place in the highly digitized surrounding here at the university. She knew that Jaclyn’s work over the past year had been the reimaging of Emig’s Recorded People Stories for the context of Earth IV.  She knew that Jaclyn’s own stories were key to the project’s beginning.   Ansor, whom Marni was casting as the group’s wise elder, had in fact several devices she seemed to be worked with at any given moment, a sleek flat screen rising only centimeters from the table surface, a small, clear, handheld data device, which her single thumb seemed to compose with and on a table behind Ansor, to which she rotated to every few minutes, a decidedly not-sleek, homemade patchwork of technologies that reminded Marni of both Jaclyn’s rustic notebook in this room and the digital wares of Emig in general.  

By the end of the day Marni was trembling with excitement of this new project and her possible role in it.  The work this group of teachers seemed so fresh to her, not that she did not feel this newness of ideas on Emig.  She did.  In fact, there, possibilities seemed endless.  To Marni, sometimes too endless.  Today though she had the idea that the Earth IV teachers’ imaginations of a Recorded People Stories felt like a new possibility in a place where roadblocks and ends were everywhere.  That is the difference, Marni thought, here the availability of the closings of meaning makes my open-imagination work more vital. 
Ansor did not seem as enthusiastic as Marni felt, or as anyone in the room particularly.  Though she was fully involved and was the person who had sent the request to Emig Council for someone, for Marni, to come.  Ansor, in so many ways both opposite and matching to Sarrah, reminded the group whenever affect seemed to happily rise, that their last project had ended in the co-opting of their fantastic idea by the National Business, Marking and Learning Association.   At this she held up each time her own People’s History Card at pointed with her red acrylic nail to the row of “badges” imprinting the plastic.  “This, friends, is the way our last imagination project turned out!   I (at my own and this university’s expense, of course) am the proud owner of forty-seven imagination badges.  I am a competitive asset to this institution!  Oh, damn.  This is important work you all, still, but we must be deliberate, so that the stories cannot be easily undone, sized up, quantified .  Marni, tell us again how people talk about The Stories, what do they say?”  

At seven o’clock there was a dinner bell as the group fell into a walk together to the dining hall.   The bell reminded Marni of her question the day before, and she wondered agin who rang the bell and who prepared the dinner?  And speaking of questions of who… looking around her, could it be possible that not one of the women in the group (There were ten people, and eight women, six under 40 she guessed) had a nursing baby to take part in this work?  She shook her head and herself and imagined for a moment the many possible arrangements people may have for work and family on Earth IV.  She breathed out, and asked Jaclyn, “Who rings the dinner bells?”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On Meaning and Questions

Inspired by Cindy Urbanski’s blog post this week and because it’s postmodern week [in gender and language studies class] in my postmodern(ish) life, I am responding to some readings I’ve been doing this week in poetic (I suppose the truth of that is up to you) verse.

What She Meant
I like the way
A rhythm and (line) break
To my words
Might draw attention
To the riffing of meaning
At least here
If not in the wheelbarrow or daffodils
(Where old and white and male drone singular)

Between you and me
(Imply here in “You and me” all the histories, thinking back localities, kicked around, knot-connected, heteroglossic humming together and clanging out of ideas, people, relationships, labors always responding, moving, churning along lines of power and powerful economies of knowledge)
Beats forward
Unauthorized meaning
Could dilate the fissures
With the pounding bass of questions

A Companion Poem
Of rising intonations,
The making of questions
So much of the time
Sold as not firm, hard, clear, known,
The truths,
That hold finite and tight
The might of strong statements
Static inclinations
Stand strong and fight
Wondering language
Wandering maybe
And so?
Is covered over as silly
Willy-nilly, unconvinced
Delicate dilettante

I guess
I will name and un-name
The unquestioned language
Describing the sounds
Of our bodies,
Lips, mouth, throat, breast, breath
As we rise to question
The pat on the head
Responses to vocals
That can reclaim
The high rising terminal,
Renaming it critical.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Representing Foucault and Feminism Via A Bunch of Research Questions

I want to do some thinking in this weekend’s post towards an essay I am writing about the gendered discourses of power at work around, in and through preschool teachers, which shape and are shaped by early childhood teaching as feminine labor.  I am going to try to brainstorm my way through connections to Foucault (via Weedon, 1997 and Bartky, 1992 for now), language as representation (Hall, 1997), and movements in gender and language studies to understand gender as working through multiple discourses, which particularly act to erase multiplicity and highlight difference (Baker, 2008).   Some of my notes on these are pictured here.   

 From these I want to see how well I can get this to work with the research idea I have been playing with about teacher labor in preschool.

So where are the discourses of preschool labor located?  How do I recognize them?  One publicly available place I have been thinking about is in curriculum materials, including the ways that teachers, administrators, companies, district officials talk about, embody and act on and around the curriculum.  The OWL curriculum and surrounding sites of dialogue a packaged set of materials, resources, teachers manuals, and pacing guides used in many public preschools  in the large urban area I am working in, is one such set of texts.  

Thinking about discourses, language, power, representation, and gender, some questions I may ask to build my lens for reading the OWL are:

What is the common sense relayed by OWL curriculum and surrounding discourse?  And how particularly is this stuff represented?

What is erased? (with my interests, particularly in terms of labor)

What languages are used or associated with the curriculum (language of teacher’s manual, language of materials, language of authorized children’s books) (… hmmm… language doesn’t feel like quite the right word, but I think this is the way Stuart Hall uses it…?)

Whose meanings about preschool, teachers, labor are represented in OWL?  

How are/might these meanings be countered, negotiated and/or sustained through activities working through, around and within the curriculum discourse?

How does the curriculum attempt to control the bodies of teachers?

In what ways is the discourse gendered?

What is the relationship between the discourse and power?   What are the material implications for preschool teachers?

How are my roles and authority as writer, researcher, student, early childhood teacher, mother, feminist, college lecturer implicit in the particular storied answers to these questions?


Baker, P. (2008). Sexed texts: Language, gender and sexuality.  London: Equinox. 

Bartky, S. (1992). Foucault, femininity and the modernization of patriarchal power.  In J.P. Sterba,  J. A. Kourany, R. Tong (Eds.). Feminist philosophies: Problems, theories, and applications, (pp. 103 – 188). Edgewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural representation and signifying practice. Sage.

Weedon, C. (1997). Feminist practice and postructural theory. Malden, Ma: Blackwell.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Study in Dictionary

I used to own a dictionary.  As a child I had a big green and white one, with colored pictures on creamy white pages.  It was the kind of book that just felt good to flip through.  There was a huge purple speckled paged dictionary at my grandmother’s house.  We had pocket dictionaries and pre-smartphone, hand held techno-dictionaries.   In the library at my high school and in the public library too a dictionary that would be too big to fit on a shelf, sat like an idol on a pedestal waiting for the faithful.  

Now I don’t think there is a dictionary in this house.  Not a paper one.  We do still have books.  At every corner, spilling off every shelf, nightstand, corner of flat space, but not a dictionary.   We have Google instead, and Wikipedia, and the red squiggle line in Word.  

The dictionaries as symbols of languages in my life come with contexts and histories that shape some of who I am.  As much as any words themselves it’s the context surrounding them that create meanings.  In my read of another chapter of Baker’s Sexed Texts this week she wrote about how more contemporary researchers in gender and language studies have moved to see  these social constructs of gender through, especially the importance of context and ways that gender is taken on, particularly through language.

In a chapter of her book, Feminist Practice & Poststructuralist Theory, Chris Weedon, creates very particular constructions of poststructuralist feminism and other feminisms (radical, Marxists, etc).  She builds a history of understanding the way women have been positioning through either negation, essentialized or fixed particularly through the projects of rationalism and humanism.  For Weedon poststructural lenses offer a more complicated, multiplicitious, power conscious and context-based understanding of gender.   As I spent time yesterday in Atkins Library interacting with three feminist dictionaries, I was thinking of the work similar to reading Weedon that this genre study into feminist dictionaries does for me as a student of feminism.  As Weedon tours feminisms and names the theories at work for constructing gender and difference, the dictionaries, work as part of a metagenre, which shows the thinking behind language in particular conversations.  In looking at dictionaries of Maggio, Kramarae and Treichler and Daly, I construct for myself understandings of how language works for these three feminists, as representative of larger movements in the field.

MJ Hardman writes about the material power of language in her work with speakers of the Jaqi language.  She explores the ways the non-sexist language constructs the everyday lives and power structures for and of women, and the contradictory structures created when outside languages (of conquerors) moves into the context.  She explores the particular contexts of words, including the people and location and history surrounding the social work they are associated with.  In looking next at selections from feminist dictionaries, I am wondering about the ways context is constructed or hidden by dictionaries. 

The Nonsexist Word Finder: A Dictionary of Gender-Free Usage (Maggio, 1989)
Maggio’s describes her goal to change words that are no longer useful, while for Maggio this may or may not change social issues, the language itself can become more socially useful.

A Feminist Dictionary (Kramarae & Treichler, 1996)
The excerpts below exemplify the goals of Kramarae and Treichler to counter traditional dictionaries by making visible women’s words, critique of languages of privilege, make visible multiple ways of knowing, to counter traditional processes of authorization and to inspire research and further thinking.

 Webster’s First new Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Langauge (Daly, 1987)
Below are examples of Daly’s work in this dictionary to connect words to women, through unbinding their definitions and disrupting the contexts and histories attached to them, making them undone.

Commonly these dictionaries  displace for the most part language from everyday life, partly fixing it in the traditional format of dictionary.  Each counters the dominant dictionary form, though: Maggio by demanding word replacement and change.  Kramarae and Treichler by exploding each “definition” with multiple forms and authors.  And Daly by critiquing and revisioning dominant forms for new and subversive purposes.  

In a  critique of Mary Daly’s work by Jane Hedley notes the parallels and differences in theory and political work between Daly and Andrienne Rich.  Hedley sees Daly’s binary-flipping work in revisioning language as useful only to a point, while Rich’s revisioning of language use as connected to everyday life as having more impact on the situations of women.  I think Hedley’s critique works to some extent for all three feminist dictionaries, possibly as they are contained by the form of dictionary in itself, even as they undo the form.  I wonder to what extend Elgin’s working of theory through novel puts power back into the everyday experiences (even if they are not completely common to my world everydays) of women.  Does this drawing on the day to day do similar political work to Adrienne Rich, or being fantastical are there still limits?  In some way the fantasy element may do greater work than ethnography or dictionary building or research article, since Elgin lays precise claim to the fact that her story, her theories the lives of these women are completely fiction.  The rest, I think Weedon would say (and sometimes me), is fiction too- it just pretends to be non.