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! 

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