Women on the Left: Summer Research Seminar – 8th June

Our final research seminar of the year will take place on 8th June in NN.0.07, Martin Hall, at 4 pm. As usual, we welcome two speakers from different disciplines.

Glyn Salton-Cox, (English), UC Santa Barbara, ‘“Red Loving Heart”: Reconstructing Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lesbian Leninism.’

In an essay on Sylvia Townsend Warner and Patrick Hamilton, Arnold Rattenbury inveighs against how published editions of her correspondence and journals have ripped out the “red, loving heart” of his old friend and comrade. His polemic against the anti-Communist principles of selection deployed by her editors William Maxwell and Claire Harmon is based on personal recollection, but is amply confirmed by a close look at Townsend Warner’s archive at the Dorset County Museum. In this paper I read correspondence and journal entries excised from editions of Townsend Warner’s journals and correspondence, arguing that these missing documents reveal a strikingly assertive personal-political formation, that I name “queer vanguardism.” Crucially informed by engagements with Lenin and with other important Soviet figures such as Comintern chief Gregori Dimitrov and invigorated by her relationship with the equally politically committed Valentine Ackland, Townsend Warner fashions a uniquely lesbian Leninist conception of political praxis, according to which the dynamic pairing of herself and Ackland would bring political consciousness to the rural masses in Dorset.

This confident queer politics vitally informs her most famous novel, Summer Will Show (1936) in which the organized Sophia and the passionate Minna represent a distinctly Soviet dialectic of spontaneity and consciousness. Building on José Esteban Muñoz’s recent work on queer utopia, I thus argue that Warner opens up revolutionary forms of non-reproductive futurity. Finally, I situate Townsend Warner in a longer history of radical thought and activism, contending that the marked vanguardism of early gay liberation, and of certain strains of contemporary queer theory must be understood in a surprising genealogy stretching back not only to Soviet revolution, but to nineteenth-century Russian radicals such as Nikoli Chernyshevsky, whose 1863 novel What is to Be Done? not only provided Lenin with a title for his famous 1902 polemic, but also had a marked influence on Summer Will Show.


Ruth Kinna, (Political Thought), Loughborough, ‘Women Nihilists and Anarchist Ethics.’

West European interest in nihilism was sparked both the activism of Russian radical movements in the 1870s and 80s and by what appeared to be the negativity of the intellectual doctrines, famously modelled by Yevgeny Bazarov, the anti-hero of Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (1862). In the period leading up to the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, nihilism became associated with terrorism and moral degeneracy, often used interchangeably with anarchism. The popularisation of Nietzsche’s work helped seal the reputation for violence and linked nihilism with slave morality.

In this paper I present an alternative account of nihilism, one advanced by the anarchist Peter Kropotkin. Finding the cultural inspiration for nihilism in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and Nikolai Chernyshevksy’s What is to be done?, Kropotkin argued that nihilism was primarily a women’s movement and that it was driven by resistance to dominating norms and, particularly, marriage conventions. The nihilists, Kropotkin argued, joined forces with socialists, transforming the socialist movement and provided the model for anarchist ethics.

By focusing on the Russian women’s movement, Kropotkin tapped into a popular conception of nihilism but painted an altogether different picture of the movement and the women who defined it to those that prevailed in Victorian England. After looking at some of the literatures that derided and denounced nihilism, I show how Kropotkin absorbed his conception of radical women’s activism into anarchism and explore the distinctive features of his understanding.


Working Lunch, 11th May 2016

Last week saw the last Gendered Lives working lunch of the academic year. In it, we reviewed the achievements of 2015-16, highlights of which included an award of seed funding for a soon-to-be-disclosed research project, and a talk from Charlotte Proudman, feminist barrister extraordinaire, as well as a number of research seminars and a productive postgraduate Work in Progress meeting. The last event of the term is planned for the 8th June: a research seminar, in conjunction with the Modern and Contemporary research group, with Glyn Salton Cox  (English, UC Santa Barbara) entitled ‘”Red Loving Heart”: Reconstructing Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lesbian Leninism’ and Ruth Kinna (Political Thought, Loughborough) who will be speaking on ‘Women Nihilists and Anarchist Ethics’.


We discussed the possibility of  developing a Trans Lives cluster to support research in this area in 2016-17. There is a meeting arranged for 2.30 on the 8th of June in NN0.007 (immediately before the last Gendered Lives research seminar). If you would like to be involved, get in touch with Catherine Armstrong (c.m.armstrong@lboro.ac.uk).


One postgraduate member, Jennifer Nicol, mooted the possibility of putting together an application for the FWSA postgraduate Small Grants scheme. Georgia Walker Churchman and Faye McCarthy also expressed an interest in developing an application. If any members of the group would be interested in working with us on it, email g.walker-churchman@lboro.ac.uk.


Carys Page, the university incumbent women’s officer, came to the meeting to discuss her work over the past year, including setting up the project ‘Lads at Loughborough’. Ella Gibbons will be starting as women’s officer in the new academic year, so hopefully we will be able to work with the Students’ Union in future.


The Gendered Lives group is going to host a blogpost about the relative merits of decriminalisation versus the Nordic legal model dealing with prostitution after Charlotte Proudman gave a full-blooded defence of the Nordic Model in her discussion of gender and the law for the group. We are in touch with a well-known advocate of decriminalisation who has agreed to do an interview for us. Further to this discussion, Line Nyhagen suggested getting in touch with Dr Maggie O’Neil at Durham for an academic take on the discussion. Watch the blog for further details.

Gendered Lives Mini-Profile: Dr Line Nyhagen

Line Nyhagen

Dr Line Nyhagen is Reader in Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University. Line’s research focuses on religion, citizenship and women’s social movements. Most recently, she has published an article with The Conversation delineating the obstacles Muslim women face when attempting to engage in civil society, and particularly prejudice against religious expression through modes of dress. Click here to read it.

Line’s latest book, Religion, Gender and Citizenship: Women of Faith, Gender Equality and Feminism (with Beatrice Halsaa, published April 2016) has already been called a ‘landmark contribution to scholarship’ (click here for pre-publication reviews). The book explores views and experiences of Christian and Muslim women living in Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom related to their faith, identities and citizenship. It also examines how this group views gender equality, women’s movements and feminism. This research developed from Line’s previous book, Majority-Minority Relations in Contemporary Women’s Movements: Strategic Sisterhood (with Beatrice Halsaa; Palgrave Macmillan 2012). The book compares and contrasts contemporary women’s movements in Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, with particular attention to relations between ethnic majority and ethnic minority women and politics.

Line has initiated, worked on and led several research projects that have investigated the experiences of ethnic minorities, including Muslim women and men, ethnic minority women’s organizations, and immigrant organizations. In a project sponsored by the Research Council of Norway, she studied immigrant organizations in Norway with a view to their involvement in political decision-making processes.

During International Women’s Week this April, Line gave a talk to the Loughborough Women’s Network at the Student Union on majority-minority relations in women’s movements. She has also just been named recipient of a Loughborough University Research-Informed Teaching Award that will be presented at the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference on 16th June 2016.

Gendered Lives Postgraduate Research Seminar

This Wednesday the Gendered Lives group invited five postgraduate members to present on their doctoral research. Each researcher had ten minutes to discuss their work, followed by short (yet stimulating) Q and A sessions. It was a lively afternoon with some fascinating presentations: read all about them below!

Sarah Green (Art): ‘Make Space for Men: The Wellbeing Benefits of Textile Crafts for Men. 

Sarah’s research focuses on the therapeutic potential of traditional feminine crafts such as knitting and embroidery for men experiencing mental health issues. She opened her discussion by examining some of the respects in which mental wellbeing is gendered, drawing on research demonstrating that men are more likely to express distress through self-destructive behaviours such as avoidance, denial and suicide. She offered several  different definitions of wellbeing to argue that craft activities which draw those practicing them into a ‘flow-state’, such as embroidery or knitting, can produce a meditative state which may have long term mental health benefits and be helpful in reducing anxiety. Sarah’s research also touches on issues of accessibility by pointing out that activities like the ones mentioned above are both inexpensive and portable. Questions from the floor maintained this focus by drawing attention to how  contemporary constructions of ‘wellbeing’ rely on productive engagement with wider society as a key indicator. These were highly compelling discussions: perhaps unsurprisingly, there were several (supportive) calls for a wider acceptance of more critical definition of the term – especially once some of us had settled in the congenial environment of the Paget after the discussion.

Sophie-Louise Hyde (English/Creative Writing), ‘The 2011 Birmingham Riots: Verbatim Poetry as Contemporary Life Writing’.

Sophie’s PhD project involves the creation of an original collection of poetry centring on the Birmingham riots, focusing on notions of community, nation, home and belonging. She began her presentation by explaining the advantages of using verbatim poetic techniques (taking individual words and phrases from interviewees and accounts of the riots available on social media), arguing that such practices lend her work a sense of immediacy and verisimilitude. She then moved on to examine the ethical and methodological challenges her work presents, particularly in terms of how to give a voice to those people who were directly involved in the riots. The talk then moved on to discuss the software programmes that Sophie could use to manage these issues, before ending with a reading from the collection itself. Again, questions tended to focus on issues typical to the commencement of a PhD project, in particular the management of the project’s size. Sophie had initially planned to write a sequence engaging with all five cities in which there was significant unrest outside London – an undertaking which had to be modified somewhat as the doctorate progressed.

Sian Lewis (Sociology), ‘Experiences and Perceptions of Sexual Harassment on the London Underground Network’. 

In this presentation, Sian outlined the contours of a project examining the perception and prevention of sexual harassment on the London Underground. In particular, she is interested in how harassment in this form often goes unnoticed by people who experience it, describing how in interview she often finds that respondents will say that they have never encountered harassment before going on to describe several incidents of this kind of behaviour. From there, the presentation moved on to a discussion of the steps taken by TFL and other public bodies to raise awareness of the issue, and to encourage women to report it. Discussion of the project in the Q and A session again revealed the frustrations of working on such a pressing issue in the context of individual study, with Sian drawing attention to various structural limitations placed on her research. Despite these niggles, there was a lively and engaging discussion afterwards, with many Gendered Lives members describing their own responses to issues of safety and accessibility around public transport.

Hazel McMichael (Art/English), ‘Listening to a Multisensory Mouth’.

Hazel researches women artists who have been neglected by the established art world. Her presentation at Gendered Lives focused on the work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Mouth to Mouth. In particular, she focused on how Cha’s video installations invite reflection upon the difficulties of voicing and expression. Hazel began by quoting a critical assessment of the video from the Electronic Arts Intermix on the video, which reads it as representing how ‘Cha isolates and repeats a simple, physical act — a mouth forming the eight Korean vowel graphemes — so that this ordinary action becomes something primal and riveting.’ Hazel noted, however, that Hangul (the Korean alphabet) has 10 graphemes, not 8, and that those missing correlate to the sounds ‘i’ and ‘yu’ in English. While the interpretation of the work quoted above focused on the loss of language, Hazel argued that the pointed absence of the vowel sounds which in English denote self and other suggests that the piece more directly implicates the English speaking viewer, silently demanding an acknowledgement of both speaker and listener’s responsibility in the communicative exchange.

Jenna Townend (English Literature): ‘Literary imitation, seventeenth-century devotional poetry, and women’s manuscript writing.’

This presentation began by outlining the concept of literary imitation. Jenna pointed out that the concept doesn’t translate easily into today’s literary terms. To illustrate her point she compared the practice to a montage of animated Disney films which overlay the same backgrounds with different key figures. In the question section it was also suggested that the practice might be comparable to cover-versions over other artists’ work. The presentation then focused on the work of Sarah Cowper, an imitator of George Herbert’s, who borrows from his well-known poem ‘The Temple’ in her commonplace book, but changes the wording so that the poem is more appropriate to a woman writer. Questions focused mainly on the historical issues surrounding the difference between allusion and imitation, particularly in defining at what point imitation takes the place of allusion, and the differences in how the two should be read.

If you’ve read this far, you have no doubt gathered that the afternoon was a fabulous showcase of the multidisciplinary interests (and talents) of the Gendered Lives postgraduate community. The event was well-attended and as good humoured as ever – and, as previously noted, many of the fascinating points raised in formal discussion were revisited with enthusiasm in less formal contexts. Enormous thanks to everyone who made it such an enjoyable discussion, especially the presenters themselves, and Jennifer Cooke for chairing. Here’s to more afternoons like this! 

GET INVOLVED: The next Gendered Lives event is a working lunch from 1-2 p.m. in NN007 (Martin Hall) on Wednesday May 11th. Come along to share ideas, meet the group, and find out what we’re up to in the future! And if that’s not enough of us, Gendered Lives’ Dr Jennifer Cooke will also be presenting research from her forthcoming monograph, The New Audacity: Contemporary Women Life-Writers and the Politics of Intimacy at 4 pm in the same room on the same day. Come along! 

Gendered Lives Mini-Profile: Sophie-Louise Hyde

Sophie Louise Hyde
Both a creative entrepreneur and emerging poet, Sophie-Louise is working on a part-creative PhD project, for which she was awarded a Glendonbrook Fellowship and expects to complete in 2016-17. Initiated in 2013, Sophie’s research explores the techniques of verbatim in poetry in order to create a ground-breaking body of work that will demonstrate practice as research. 
An example of life-writing, Verbatim poetry takes its form, originally, from the techniques of verbatim theatre which ’employs (largely or exclusively) tape-recorded material from the “real-life” originals of its characters and events’ (Paget, 1987, p.317). Sophie’s series of 28 verbatim poems, entitled United We Stand, examines the experiences of individuals and communities in Birmingham during the riots across England in 2011 and is a contemporary example of this form. These poems interrupt and reconstruct individual and community narratives about these events, in a bid to transform voice and demonstrate both the re-performing of the nation and the creation of imagined communities in this context.
Her academic interests are in Creative Writing and contemporary poetry. In particular, the work of prose poet Bhanu Kapil Rider, forms of landscape poetry and the use of digital technologies have all been motivation for her work. Sophie’s poetry has been selected for publication in some really original works, including Petrie 66 (‘The Rebel’, 2015) and The Worcester Journal (‘August 10th 2011’ and ‘On Monday Night’, 2016). 
She has taught on both Creative Writing and Introduction to Poetry modules at Loughborough University and her vested interest in life-writing and narrative led her to become an active member of the Gendered Lives Research Group. Sophie will be reading some of her poems and introducing the group to her work at the upcoming Postgraduate Research Seminar on 4th May. When Sophie is not writing poetry or exploring community, she can be found running online platform for students and graduates, The Student Wordsmith.