Feminism, Sexual Politics, and Visual Culture

Centre for Doctoral Training

The CDT: Feminism, Sexual Politics, and Visual Culture was established in 2018 with a commitment of £310,000 over 4 years for studentships. The main catalyst for it is the deepening and rapidly changing global complexity of the relationship between feminist praxis and culture, particularly in politics, arts, and academia. The recent tsunamis of feminist activism, from sport to science, government to entertainment, are the most public evidence of this new complexity. Nearly 50 years after Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch the political-cultural challenge that confronts this generation brings adventure, risk, urgency and promise. The CDT will explore this moment.

The CDT is radically integrative, in five ways:

  • we aim for an inclusive, intersectional definition and practice of feminism;
  • 'visual culture’ or ‘arts’ to us is inclusive of all practices where visuality is significant, including performative and written modes;
  • we have a trans-disciplinary staff team, with expertise including Fine Art, Graphics, English Literature, Drama, Art History, Art Criticism, Politics, and Sociology;
  • the research that is undertaken will have immediate implications for areas such as social policy, pedagogies, and cultural industries as well as feminist thinking and the arts;
  • the CDT has international resonance and impact, as can be demonstrated most simply by the range of countries from which the students come and their research.

Research questions

We have focused our studentships at the intersection of feminist thinking and visual culture, to explore areas that include critical race theory; activist interventions; curation and the making of the canon; masculinities; post-humanisms; and queer theory. Our five main areas of questioning are:

  • Spaces of (mis)rule. Activist movements such as #metoo and #notsurprised have made public the widespread sexual- and power-abuse across arts practices and institutions, shattering the image of them as liberating, experimental, and interrogative of the status quo. How can feminist theorists and practitioners respond to this exposure and new cultural risks? How can the collective joy of activism work strategically to prevent backlash? How can new historiographies of these spaces, and creation of new spaces, aid our understanding of and resistance against systemic exploitation? What are the critical and practical implications for the places of arts education, production, exhibition, or performance?
  • Dissenting Identities. (Re)definitions of gendered, sexual and transnational identities frequently respond to – or are challenged by – hyper-masculinity and ultra-nationalism. The current climate makes urgent the need for new, historically informed theories of alternative masculinities and queer, trans*, and transnational identities. How might the exploration of non-normative culture, history and community through arts practices and theories aid the protection and development of dissenting, precarious, or marginal identities? Do attempts to promote these identities (for example, in presentation spaces and criticism) run the risk either of neutralising radical identity positions through assimilation or of erasing the most marginal in the search for solidarity?
  • Decolonising theory and intersectionality. How does feminist thinking in arts theory and practice intersect with critical race thinking? How are raced subjectivities, identities and bodies negotiated through the arts, their environment, and the academy, and how can they be historicised, within an intersectional feminist framework? How can feminism as a political project be legible in differing cultural contexts? Can we move beyond multi-national perspectives on contemporary creative/professional practices and feminist theory, including into new ways of writing feminist theory and testing it through practice?
  • Feminist making and doing. From personal conversations to the most public of awards, women have highlighted gendered and raced inequalities within arts spaces and canons. How might feminist approaches to curation, archiving and canonisation (including critique of masculinist canon- and discipline- formation, verbatim theatre, ‘queering’ the gallery, or identity-specific literary prizes) challenge these inequalities? How might these challenges provide adventurous pathways to real and measurable change within the arts? How can we interrogate the gendered and raced associations of materials and processes of making and doing in highly gendered and raced working environments, and how do we negotiate the personal, artistic, academic, and professional risks in doing so?
  • Post-human bodies. Revolutions in bio-engineering, robotics, medicine, architecture and social media have transformed our relationships with bodies. Working in the intersections of arts and applied sciences, and of new technological and theoretical developments, how can we bring feminist methodologies to bear on the process of (re)making the body? How can we re-evaluate our dependency within and between human, animal, mechanical, virtual and other hybrid bodies? What does it mean to be human in a post-human world?

Pedagogies

What are the pedagogical aims of the CDT and how are they distinct?

All PhD student supervision adheres to the policy and practices determined by Loughborough’s Doctoral College (DC).In the CDT we will overlay the best practice of supervisory teamwork emerging from the DC with best feminist pedagogical practice of lateral sharing: while the staff have their academic expertise and experience, we recognise that all students bring distinct experiences. The aim is to build a rich, reflexive, productive research culture, engaging both supervisors and the students. As far as possible, supervisory teams will consist of two junior staff members and a senior Chair, so that it will embody a collegiate and feminist cross-generational mentoring structure.

This structure will emphasise connections through learning across differences. Following a tokenistic academic conference, Audre Lorde famously wrote ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master's house.’ Feminist pedagogies are frequently the site for the dissemination of ‘new’ or ‘alternative’ knowledges and thus, are a critical site for the development of new methodologies, many of which 'riff' (Braidotti) – make connections that seemed not to exist before or where conventional wisdom says we ought not to tread. We have learned to re-examine academia’s theoretical story-telling narratives (Hemmings), and of the need to ‘cite each other into existence’ (Ahmed). This process comes from mutuality/generosity: less an emphasis upon sitting at the feet of the ‘master’ and more the establishment of communities of learners who bring different skills, knowledges and experiences to the process. It is not ‘top-down’, but emerges through engagements where candidates, supervisors and mentors, across generations, all learn; and where mentoring (staff/staff; staff/student; student/student) facilitates leadership that does not function as an imposition of hierarchy/status. Working with a programme of students and a group of staff enables us to be skills sharers. This is turn leads to mutual empowerment: rather than controlling knowledge to wield power, we all are sharing knowledge across our diversity to enable and empower people to make informed decisions about their lives.

CDT structure

The Director is Hilary Robinson, Professor of Feminism, Art, and Theory, School of Social Sciences and Humanities.

The Internal Management Group comprises Dr Marion Arnold, Dr Kathryn Brown, Dr Jennifer Cooke, Dr Rachael Grew, Prof. Ruth Kinna, and Prof. Marsha Meskimmon. 

Administratively the students are within the management structures of the School Social Sciences and Humanities Post-Graduate Research (PGR) students. Dr Brian Jarvis is the Director of PGR. Emma Nadin is the administrator. Prof. Stephen Rice is the Associate Dean for Research. Policy and Practice for PhDs at Loughborough is developed and overseen by the Doctoral College (DC).