Elizabeth Richardson, Trinity Communications
After two long years without an in-person meeting, the Feminist Theory Workshop gathered once again on March 18-19, and the energy in Penn Pavilion was palpable.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am,” said Chair of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies Jocelyn Olcott in her opening remarks. “I thought this day would never come.”
Scholars came from all over the world for the two-day event, now in its 15th year, many of them traveling for the first time since the pandemic started in 2020. Using a novel conference platform, those who couldn’t were able to join the talks live online, participate in the Q&A, and build connections in virtual reception spaces. The virtual platform allowed the workshop to include feminist thinkers from all over the world, and included translation of keynotes into 18 languages. The workshop included receptions (both in-person and online), keynotes and roundtable discussions. These gatherings reflected the interactive and participatory dynamic that has long been a hallmark of this workshop.
Banu Subramaniam, professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, gave the first keynote talk, “Remembering a Queer Planet: Botanical (After)lives of Empire.” Subramaniam drew from her work as a biologist and gender studies scholar argue that colonialism and violence are at the root of how botany is studied today. She also touched on the benefits of studying gender.
“I want to speak to the power of gender studies and what it opens up for all of us,” she said. “The power of gender studies has made my work possible.”
Durba Mitra, assistant professor of studies in women, gender, and sexuality at Harvard University, drew on her social science research about the sex lives and sexuality of South Asian women. Her talk, “The Report, Or, Whatever Happened to Third World Feminist Theory?,” centered on how women and sexual minorities are studied and presented in research.
“We haven't produced enough substantive, material change for so many women based on these reports,” she stated, asking what women and sexual minorities could accomplish if they were not charged with being on committees that produce them.
Day two started with a keynote by Verónica Gago, professor of political science at the University of Buenos Aires and professor of sociology at National University of San Martín. Gago’s work centers on feminism and activism, and her talk, “Feminist International: The Strike as an Open Process,” used the Women’s Strike as a lens to study financial obligation, labor and capitalism. "The strike has to be produced — it is not a spontaneous event or a calendarized day,” she said. “Space must be created."
Gago also touched on the remarkable way that the feminist strike is “becoming capable of accommodating impossibility,” including those who believe they cannot strike because it is a privilege.
The last keynote was given by Jennifer Morgan, professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University, who also holds a Ph.D. in History from Duke. Her talk, "On Race and Re-Inscription: Writing Enslaved Women Back into the Early Modern Archive", shared the stories of three women — from 16th century Italy to colonial Virginia to a slave ship docked in Ghana — "who used the tools at their disposal…to stave off the inevitability of their children’s precarious futures.” Morgan’s research questions hope to access the origins of the Black radical tradition, or what she calls "an early modern Black female political economy."
The last event of the day was a roundtable discussion made up of:
Moderated by Jennifer Nash, the panelists discussed the self-scrutiny of feminist theory, the urgency of it in this moment in history and how scholars can use feminist and queer praxis to move through this world in a thoughtful manner to formulate an idea of a future.
Overall, participants said the workshop was a resounding success. “One of my favorite things about feminist events is that discussions and debates are based on cooperation, respect and care,” said one. “Another academic life is possible.”
You will be able to view the workshop on the Duke GSF YouTube channel.