Dorothy E. Smith (1987) The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology
I chose this because of its feminist commitment! And a sense of endurance in – as well as challenge to – the field of Gender Studies and Higher Education more broadly in these recessionary times, when the ‘everyday world’ is indeed problematic. This is a book I became more familiar with in doing an MA at the University of York and working on a dissertation about working-class women in Higher Education, supervised by Professor Stevi Jackson. I’d went through my undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh thinking about the ways that ‘working-class’ and ‘academia’ could be talked about and inhabited (or not). The next book on my list really helped with those thoughts too and I’ll come to that… but back to Dorothy Smith – the questions of race, class, gender, and of creating ‘feminist standpoints’ from the places we inhabit and move through, seemed then – and seems now – very relevant and compelling. There has been contestation about the danger in essentialising locations and voices, asserting these as entitlements, rather than as situated ‘truths’. But this seems an enduring problem to work through, rather than just dismiss as something resolved by another ‘wave’ of (post)feminism – Angela McRobbie’s critique of ‘gender mainstreaming’, as well as Lisa Adkins’ and Clare Hemmings’ work, contests this linear mis-fitting of feminisms. I don’t want to be saying that this work is a return to a real, proper and more viable feminism, which I think the recent Gender Panel at the BSA 2012 Conference contested, while also allowing for a sense of the way that feminist concerns and urgencies echo across time and place.
I’ve been a part of a few feminist reading groups in different UK-US institutions and this has posed a question of what kind of ‘feminism’ are we reading, evaluating and doing in classroom encounters. Who can be the feminist-in-the-classroom and what efforts, labours and recognition come into play here? How do these encounters travel beyond the classroom and where do we locate feminism? During a Fulbright sponsored research visit to Rutgers, I was lucky enough to participate in a weekly Happiness reading group, where researchers across the career stage were encouraged to present their work-in-progress and to share views on the subject of ‘happiness’; how to get it, whether and where it arrives, and what/who sustains this, with the group facilitating its production as well as its disruption. I’ve recently been reading Sara Ahmed’s work The Promise of Happiness which leads me to think that happily or not, the feminist in the classroom cannot often be equally present or an unburdened absence (speaking only for herself). Often there is the weighty expectation that she should take us, ‘our feminism’, to another level, revealing her feminist approach with her every articulation. I say this as an enduring concern rather than as avoidance.
Beverley Skeggs (1997) Formations of Class and Gender
Well, I’m going to continue with very much ‘alive’ and present sociologists (at the risk of embarrassment). So, this is the book I really remember grabbing off a shelf as an undergraduate at Edinburgh. I sat down on the library floor and read it there and then, something which rarely happens! While at Edinburgh I was doing care-work, even though I’d ‘made it in time’ in getting a maintenance grant; it seemed plausible to me that I would continue with a similar kind of work on leaving university as it was something I knew and could do well, where university had felt very unfamiliar and unexpected. This book made me question – as well as appreciate – these ‘cares’ as also about class and gender. It gave me a validity in raising (albeit quietly at that point) questions about class in the classroom and the inside-outside academic spaces I occupied. And still occupy. Questions about class inequalities and feminist subjects (and gaps) are ones followed through, I hope, in Working-class Lesbian Life: Classed Outsiders, which was my PhD project at York. Formations of Class and Gender was also key in my more recent project on lesbian and gay parenting, which showed that the middle-class ‘cares’ of some are positioned as responsible and opposed to the ‘carelessness’ of working-class parents – sexuality complicates the ‘success’ and ‘failure’ of these parental stories, and class positions. Val Gillies’ work on Marginalised Mothers is also really important in these debates – it is fantastic to be working alongside her at the Weeks Centre, as well as with colleagues such as Tracey Reynolds and Chamion Caballero, who highlight the racialised dimensions of these formations. I’d miss them all on my desert island…
Divya P. Tolia-Kelly (2010) Landscape, Race, Memory. Material Ecologies of Citizenship.
This is a book that came out as I was writing Fitting Into Place? Class and Gender Geographies and Temporalities and I was really grateful for it, it’s a really vivid account of belonging amongst British Asian women. Engaging with questions of Britishness in calling for attention to landscapes of memory and race, Tolia-Kelly recollects drinking tea and learning the manners and cultures of ‘quintessential Englishness’, via nursery rhythms and C.S. Lewis stories. In reading this, alongside interview accounts of working-class and middle-class women inhabiting the post-industrial landscape of the North East of England, and not really feeling present ‘then’ (in industrial times) or ‘now’ (in a ‘feminised’ economy), I was inspired to think through inclusions and exclusions, familiarity and strangeness, and also the elisions between Britishness and Englishness, apparent in regional dis-identification (and felt personally through my own ‘Scottishness’). I think what this book shows is the ways that histories – and futures – are carried; this was important theoretically but also methodologically as I occupied different entry points in researching the North East of England as, for example, ‘resident’, ‘researcher’, ‘citizen’, and in moving to New York in 2010 (as ‘foreigner’, ‘tourist’, ‘mobile academic’).
Yvette’s Non-academic book choice
Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
Well really I would take the whole Series of eight books and count these as one choice but Ramona the Brave is my favourite. The series is about growing up, femininity, families, sibling rivalry, schooling, friendship and bullies. I recall a whole section about divorce, smoking and unemployment, as ‘bad habits’, which I might need to rip-out. But it’s about negotiating place and belonging more generally – if the everyday world is problematic, fraught with gender and class inequalities, Ramona offers comfort – and strategies! I used to read this in a public library in Glasgow (which has shut-down now, alas). I recently found a copy (accidentally) and re-read meanings into Ramona’s friendship with Daisy Kidd, her ‘boisterous yet appealing’ character, loud activities and, ultimately, her brave triumphs!
Yvette’s Luxury Item
My luxury item would have to be my (this is contested) cat, Malaise, who lives an independent (‘living apart together’) life in York. Ramona’s cat was called Picky-Picky and Malaise is a much more sensible name.