Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Sara Ahmed and @VConnecting

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I was reminded of a post on citation practices by Sara Ahmed, so I started re-reading it and it struck a chord with reference to my recent keynote on how Virtually Connecting challenges academic Gatekeeping.

Here is the quote I will unpack:

If you are screened out (by virtue of the body you have) then you simply do not even appear or register to others. You might even have to become insistent, wave your arms, even shout, just to appear. And then of course how you appear (as being insistent) means you still tend not to be heard.

This. This is sooo what Virtually Connecting is about. Many of us possess bodies that are invisible in the academic scene, or would be, if we didn’t have digital presence. But when people are in a gathering in person, our digital presence becomes less significant to them. Ours are not the faces they see, the voices they hear, the hands they shake, the folks they sit with at dinner or chat with over coffee. And this matters so much for social capital. I will always remember the day I read a post by Lee Skallerup Bessette on “shameless self-promotion” and understood and accepted my behavior in my first year On Twitter. I have not had to do this for a LONG time now, and I count myself fortunate. But this is a privilege that I got only after shouting and waving for a year or more until people noticed me. And then I realized they noticed me digitally but not… There was an entire body attached to me… And vconnecting does not bring bodies to conferences, but it does bring voices and ideas of those people into conferences and makes their faces remembered when normally they would be temporarily forgotten. I’m not even just talking the actual virtual folks in each session, but what they represent : the absent majority.

And this quote

When we think this question “who appears?” we are asked a question about how spaces are occupied by certain bodies who get so used to their occupation that they don’t even notice it… To question who appears is to become the cause of discomfort. It is almost as if we have a duty not to notice who turns up and who doesn’t.

That’s right. They don’t even notice it. Unless you make them notice it. And even then they may ignore it. And this is where empty invitations come from. Folks who invite you to a space in the name of diversity or presumably respecting your work, but do not follow through with support for funding or virtual options… Or those who offer a second-class virtual seat with no one who cares about how well you are integrated.

One of the best virtual presentations I had was at Unicollaboration. There was an IT person who tested with me the day before and just before and stayed the whole time. I even learned how to pronounce his name in Polish! There were two old friends involved in organizing who helped me before and during. There were a couple familiar faces in the audience who came to say hi before the session. There was a vconnecting session right after and people responding to my keynote. It was… Wonderful. I felt I was there. I heard others and I was heard. I was a human with an almost-body there.

And this, which she is quoting from her book:

When you realise that the apparently open spaces of academic gatherings are restricted, you notice the restriction: you also notice how those restrictions are either kept out of view or defended if they come into view

She goes on to critique open calls that are really not open at all.
She writes later,

If privilege means going the way things are flowing, then letting things flow, will mean that’s who ends up going.

And this

I express a sense of what is lost when academic gatherings are restricted to certain kinds of bodies

I will stop here. But someday I’ll come back to this again

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