Spring Symposium | Critical University Studies and Futures of Academic Feminisms

Friday, May 3, 2019 - 4:00pm to Saturday, May 4, 2019 - 5:00pm
W245 South College | UMass Amherst

This conference anticipates the inauguration of a PhD program in the department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass Amherst and considers graduate training in the field in the context of larger intellectual, political, and economic contexts. The conference will engage ongoing debates about how questions of gender, race, sexuality, and power have been theorized in the academy and understood on our campuses and in our communities. We enter into this conversation long after the idea of women and gender as the true proper objects of feminist studies have been decentered, at a time when all topics - including the university itself - are the proper domain of feminist thought, research, and teaching. At this particular historical moment, the stakes of these conversations are high. We gather to contemplate:  What legacies and structures that we have inherited continue to shape the contemporary academy? How can we best understand and describe the political, economic, cultural, and epistemic moment in which we find ourselves? What political desires and goals animate our investments in the work that we do? What spaces, frameworks, and contexts enable and hinder our visions for the field in particular and just futures in general? What roles do and might fields like WGSS play in materializing more just worlds? The conference is organized around four broad themes, each of which emphasizes the interconnectedness of theory and practice and highlights the stakes of knowing differently at the heart of academic feminisms.

Afterlives of Colonialism 

Friday, May 3  4:00-6:00 p.m.

Like most modern institutions (such as the nation, state, family, and more) universities, academic disciplines, and related forms of knowledge production are deeply linked to colonial power and practices. Indeed, the key terms and conceptual frameworks of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies—sex, gender, sexuality, race—are shaped by and shape coloniality in its past and ongoing forms. This panel examines the "afterlives" of colonialisms, which continue in various guises after the end of formal empires.  The following are some of the questions that frame the discussions in this panel: What are the legacies of colonialism in contemporary academia, and how are they being challenged? That is, what are the histories and genealogies of colonial and anti-colonial politics and practices? How do colonial forms of representation intersect with classical and contemporary forms of capitalist political economy to shape knowledge production? In what ways are notions of the "after" or "post" colonial enterprise being challenged? What alternate histories, practices and theories do feminisms offer in confronting colonial legacies? That is, how do feminists critically engage post-colonial, decolonial and settler colonial approaches in regional, temporal, theoretical, political terms? How do past political struggles and resistance to these legacies intersect with current strategies to strive for more just and inclusive forms of knowledge and world making?

  • Sandy Alexandre (MIT, MA)
  • Sushmita Chatterjee (Appalachian State University, NC)
  • Mel Chen ( UC Berkeley, CA)
  • Iyko Day (Mt. Holyoke College, MC)
  • Natali Valdez (Wellesley College, MA)

Saturday, May 4  9:30-11:30 a.m.

This panel will offer a wide variety of perspectives on WGSS as a field, a discipline (or inter-discipline), and a site of activist scholarship and methodological, pedagogical, knowledge making, and curricular innovation and critique. In the context of rising inequality, contested spaces for social movements, and the corporatization of higher education in the service of global capitalism, we ask: what is a sustainable vision for WGSS departments and programs? Panelists have collectively contributed to thinking and program building that represent not only some of the most exciting and foundational critiques of the discipline, but also the building blocks for a newly configured future for WGSS in the academy.

  • Elora Chowdhury (UMass Boston, MA)
  • Rebecca Herzig (Bates College, ME)
  • Janet Jakobsen (Barnard College, NY)
  • Priya Kandaswamy (Mills College, CA)
  • Michelle Rowley (University of Maryland, MD)

Working While Feminist in the Privatized University

Saturday, May 4   12:30-2:30 p.m.

This panel will examine the manifold kinds of labour we are asked to do as feminist academics, including diversity work. Along with this goes a critical examination of so-called work/life balance, and how the imperative is put on the individual to carve out time/resources to be a well-rounded individual without institutional support--in fact, with increasing institutional demands.  These trends are not isolated to the U.S., but rather represent a transnational phenomenon. Such developments have implications not only for current scholars but also for any graduate students we might train. Both work/life balance and diversity have become central foci of the neoliberal university; how do we train feminist academics to be successful in this context while also critiquing and transforming it?  How do we model being academics and, well, humans? What kind of demands do we expect of our graduate students while simultaneously acknowledging their humanity AND the demands of the market? While Marx may not have all the answers, his vision of a society wherein "a man [sic] would be given ‘the possibility to do this today and that tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to go fishing in the afternoon, to do cattle breeding in the evening, to criticise after dinner" seems like a dream worth considering.  What other thinkers beyond Marx have offered radical possibilities for redefining work, and what are the implications for academic feminist work? This panel will explore these questions through scholarly debates, policy approaches and activist frameworks.

  • Lisa Armstrong (Smith College, MA)
  • Karen Cardozo (Hollins College, VA)
  • Mari Castaneda (UMass Amherst, MA)
  • Mariana Richey (UMass Amherst, MA)
  • Natasha Warikoo (Harvard University, MA)

Evasion, Theft, and the Neoliberal University

Saturday, May 4   3:00-5:00 p.m.

This panel is inspired by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s depiction of a university worker who “hides from this interpellation,” and “goes with hands full into the underground of the university.” This squirreling away on behalf of the Undercommons, an act of “theft,” orientates the panel, which draws together people with various investments in the university and the nurture of underground study. If we understand Undercommons as a set of strategies and practices engaging both the academy and fugitivity: How might we evade the logic of the neoliberal university while occupying it? What strategies might we develop to elude its surveillance, and how do we, tactically, become visible to it? With respect to graduate education (in building a program, a curriculum, a cohort), how might we cultivate the conditions for theft and evasion? What is worth stealing from the university?

  • Tara Bynum (Hampshire College, MA)
  • Biko Caruthers (UMass Amherst, MA)
  • Misty De Berry (Northwestern University, IL)
  • Steve Dillon (Hampshire College, MA)

Thanks to our co-sponsors at UMass:

  • Afro American Studies
  • Anthropology Department
  • Classics Department
  • College of Humanities and Fine Arts
  • English Department
  • History Department
  • Interdisciplinary Studies Institute
  • Institute of Social Science Research
  • Philosophy Department
  • School of Public Policy
  • Sociology Department
  • Commonwealth Honors College
  • Graduate School
  • Center for Women and Community
  • Stonewall Center


Five College Sponsors:

  • Five College Lecture Fund
  • American Studies, Amherst College
  • African Studies, Smith College
  • Sophia Smith Collection -- Smith College Special Collections
  • Five College Women’s Studies Research Center