33 SES 16 A, Transdisciplinary Feminism as Powerful Knowledge: Re-thinking Educational Research on Gender
There is a long history in feminist thought concerned with disciplines and power. Feminists and sociologists of knowledge have shown that the constitution and continuity of disciplines is not natural or inevitable. Feminists have identified three major concerns regarding disciplines. First, that disciplines are about creating an external façade that the organisation of knowledge is coherent, absolute, unchanging and unchangeable. The effect of this has been profound in both delegitimizing and othering modes of knowledge such as women’s, people of colour, and Indigenous modes of knowledge to name but a few, and in producing a narrow curriculum based on the sectional goals of a minority. Second, disciplines have been seen as knowledge spaces for students’ and staff identities to be shaped, and for research alliances to be formed into discursive communities. While it may be true that disciplines promote communities of solidarity around a research problem, the shaping of identity to access and enter those solidarity communities are entangled with forms of symbolic and material violence that produce conformity and collusion with systems of power – disciplines govern us and shape us to fit them, not the other way around. Third, feminist understandings have shown that disciplines frame subject knowledge, curriculum content and modes of learning and teaching in ways which promote epistemological continuity. Thus, research which is most often said to be ‘relevant’, ‘evidence-based’ and ‘innovative’ has been associated with disciplinary thinking, while other thinking has been marginalised. Feminist criticisms of the relationship between disciplines and the hegemony of ‘powerful knowledge’ attest to this.
This symposium contests such views of disciplines as reductive, masculinist, colonialist, racist – as essentialist, limiting and narrow. It questions ‘whose knowledge’ does ‘powerful knowledge’ refer to, and brings to the surface the hidden work done by disciplines in shaping (and controlling) fields of knowledge and in creating barriers for those feminist researchers committed to producing knowledge differently. The papers in this symposium make the case for a feminist transdisciplinary view of knowledge, identity and power and their entangled relations. This stance offers a persuasive, critical argument for feminist transdisciplinary knowledge as powerful knowledge – knowledge which is more insightful, creative and intra-active; which generates creative, playful and innovative ways of coming to know; and, most importantly, works as a social justice project which can better attend to the many global problems that beset us in the Anthropocene.
Feminist transdisciplinarity is not the same as inter-disciplinary research where a researcher may draw on more than one discipline or knowledge field but in essence leaves that disciplinary knowledge intact. Neither is feminist transdisciplinarity the same as multi-disciplinary research where the emphasis is on bringing different individuals from different disciplines into relation with one another. As Hughes (2020) so persuasively argues: ‘Transdisciplinarity requires a feminist researcher to be both traveller and novitiate as we have to consistently and repeatedly leave our disciplinary comfort zones and go into unfamiliar knowledge fields often without a map or wayfinder. It requires an inventive willingness … to break across the disciplinary borders we each might usually rely upon.’ Such transdisciplinary wayfinding raises acute concerns and tensions about power, identity and knowledge as well as prompting feminist research in which knowledge is pluralised, proliferates and becomes powerful in new ways. This symposium grapples with these tensions and opportunities particular in relation to research on gender and education. It aligns with the theme of the conference in seeking to interrogate the relations between learning, curriculum, power and knowledge through innovative feminist work.
Hughes, C. (2020). Introduction. In Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge.
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