GEA Fund project: institutional visit #1 – Small Slow Steps

This post has been a while in the making, there have been other drafts, many engaging and reflective email exchanges about form and content, and many personal and professional life events both uplifting and challenging since we met in June. But the luxury of time to reflect on our first institutional visit and what has come out of it has been important. The visit itself – to host and be hosted in the home institution of a colleague with whom we are building new partnerships, both professionally and personally, with few strings attached – is a rare and significant intervention in a ‘rankings’ and ‘output’ world. Metrics, workloads, and casualization make different forms of academic identity and ways of knowing more or less possible. Here we are challenged to imagine, and work towards ‘alternative’ educational futures and to re-think concepts of futurity that themselves turn (back) on neo-liberal, reproductive, and (hetero)normative temporal logics.

When reporting back on what was done, what was found out and what was achieved, as is now so often required, we, as academic sometimes lapse into grand statements of world-changing impact and findings ‘found’. Often, questions of transformation around sexual politics and identities form a narrative of progressive change, but what is also found woven through the same works is an accompanying narrative of partial ‘stasis’, or ‘lack of change’ (Ekins and King, 2006: 222). Sex education in particular is messy field, where sex and relationship education is neither consistent nor systematic. There are still many inconsistencies surrounding the provision of sex education in schools, even tough it is globally accepted that young people have a right to school-based sexuality education (WHO, 2010). And there are huge gaps between official sexuality education and diverse young people’s lived experiences (Sundaram and Sauntson, 2016).

We want to be modest, and mindful, of the work underway, aware too that there is much more to come and be shared in conversations between institutions, across borders, lost in policies, and found in quieter sustained conversations. There is much we have been ‘translating’ in our conversations across our Chinese-Scottish locations. Here is a brief version of where-we-are-now, in moving near and far:

Prof. Yvette Taylor hosted Dr. Lauren Misiaszek at the University of Strathclyde from 12-16 June, 2017. To continue to develop this project and explore future funding opportunities to advance its agenda, the visit included various meetings together and with colleagues in education, sociology, and the humanities, as well as a meeting with faculty-level leadership to discuss the Gender and Education Association (GEA) Fund and these future possibilities. We discussed grant proposals drawing on many of the themes of our Fund project, and continued some of these discussions in the Strathclyde Feminist Research Network, and the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (FWSA) conference held at Strathclyde. Lauren also participated in two invited Strathclyde lectures, further connecting to the larger GEA and/or Strathclyde community of faculty and students, and submitting her chapter ‘China with “foreign talent” characteristics: a “guerrilla” autoethnography of performing “foreign talentness” in a Chinese university’ to the edited collection Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures (Taylor and Lahad, eds, 2018).

This chapter resonates with Pereira’s (2017) analysis of the importance of ‘being modern and foreign’ in relation to credible and authoritative epistemic status.

Aware of our implicatedness in being ‘modern and foreign’, we then traveled to participate together and individually in GEA 2017 at Middlesex University in London, which allowed us our first experience of presenting this project publically together (purposefully, simply titled ‘Developing critical feminist sex education in teacher training institutions (Scotland and China): a discussion on our 2016/2017 GEA Fund project’), and of receiving feedback on our initial work. We also continued to meet about our next steps. Since the visit, we have learned we received one of the grants – pilot funding around the pedagogical practice of council circles from the University of Newcastle (Australia), called Gender-Health-Education Council (GHEC): Global Pedagogies for Practitioners. We are considering how this project may provide focus for the participants (including community partners, students, and colleagues) in our Fund project this coming fall semester. Simultaneously, we have begun to plan Yvette’s visit to Beijing Normal during Spring 2018.

But, what does all of this mean for us?

We have had freedom to think about our own process and tough questions at the core of our work, including how do we…:

  • continue to evolve our project, both theoretically and methodologically, in response to current events and/or (inter)national agendas around sex education? What about writing about them in a blog like this when our work is in progress and the topics are considered ‘sensitive’, a term we are exploring?
  • respond to the pressures to embody ‘global capital’? To promote our project as “global”?
  • find meaning early-mid/mid-trajectory in professional settings? For us, this was about the reflective experience of getting to reflect together after Strathclyde seminars and meetings, preparing and presenting together for the first time, for those unexpected moments of rethinking the ‘taken for granted’ of the conference space, and for long, uninterrupted conversations outside the formal setting
  • build slow, simmering partnerships that can outlast grant cycles?

Universities ‘internationalise’ in marketing themselves as global institutions, competing to attract elite international students and hyper-mobile staff, establishing transnational partnerships and ‘satellite’ campuses. Concurrently HEIs are implicated in the maintenance of racialized borders whether in the monitoring of the immigration status of (some) staff and students, in the statutory duty to engage with ‘counter terrorism’ agendas such as ‘Prevent’ in the UK, and in the enduring and often unmarked whiteness and coloniality of curricula and disciplinary cannons. Likewise, ‘equality and diversity’ are increasingly institutionalized, in initiatives such as Athena Swan, yet it is clear that while HEIs measure and market their ‘happy diversity’ (Ahmed 2009) and institutional commitments to ‘diversity’ can be non-performative in practice (Ahmed 2012). Not unrelated, to return to our first question above, the drive to include diversity on school curriculum can be a specific neoliberal drive to get this ‘right’ as a matter of measurement (e.g. fewer teenage pregnancies as a measure of success) and technocratic efficiency. Again, we see the problematic return to, and perhaps inevitable use of, liberal notions of progressiveness and recognition (Binnie, 2011).

We pause on what the next steps of the project will look like: Will there be a shift in the sense of what sexuality studies is doing, beyond proliferating more case study examples? Will there be generational and geographical tensions or resolve in having ‘been there and done that’ (Arondekar and Patel, 2016) or in being ‘new for some but very old for others’ (de Sousa Santos, 2012?) Recognizing the work that is being done to challenge and orient away from historically dominant research landscapes, we will continue to ask, in the context of this sexual health education project, what kinds of pedagogies and methodologies are needed to resist and rework educational borders and barriers? How does the project balance material, concrete interventions from the local to the international while simultaneously considering how to shift?



Dr. Lauren Ila Misiaszek

Institute of International and Comparative Education

Faculty of Education

Beijing Normal University



Prof. Yvette Taylor

School of Education

University of Strathclyde



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