A couple of summers ago a colleague mentioned that she’d been to the Summer Institute in Qualitative Research at MMU and had found it hugely stimulating. I remember at the time regretting that I had not been sharper in making time to go. So when a couple of colleagues mentioned that they’d signed up this time around, I decided to commit.
I could misrepresent what has happened since. I could massage a narrative that suggests that we all – with some gendered empathetic synchronicity – agreed that we would love nothing more than to offer ourselves en masse as a ‘Sussex Symposium’ to present at the event. In reality it happened a little differently and involved me unashamedly imposing my will upon the group in terms of a kernel of an idea I’d had of what we might do and how we might do it.
To be fair, since my initial cajoling and pleading, it has become much less about Humouring Rebecca and going along with her for the sake of a Quiet Life, and more about collective enthusiasm and engagement. We all like each other; we are interested in, and respect, the work that each of us does; and we have a sense of shared identity in finding ways, as feminists of different ages with a range of life experiences prior to coming to academic research, to ‘be’, ‘do’ and ‘go’ in the world.
We have met several times now – and I sense – with a growing commitment to working together, to find ways to say something collectively about aspects of our work that trouble us. From the outset, we have invited in Judith Butler as our helpmate by ‘thinking with’ some conceptual materials from her more recent oeuvre (2014). And this has been a joy. We have immersed ourselves in ‘re-thinking vulnerability and resistance’ (ibid) in ways that speak to dimensions of our own research and writing and our sense of ourselves as researchers. We were supported in this endeavour, initially, by having jointly attended a Connectors Reading Group sessions during which these conceptual materials of Butler were introduced and discussed. Consequently, we understand ourselves to be both ‘acted upon and acting’ (Butler, 2014, 14). This means that we are vulnerable in ways that we never, of our own volition, select, in our ‘going about’ in the day-to-day, embodied, as we are relationally, and constituted within/through discourse. However, at the same time, Butler has suggested to us through her ideas in this text that there are always ways in which we are resistant to vulnerability. We display such resistance both psychically and politically. This capacity forms and re-forms us to shape the ‘forces of history on our embodied lives’ so that vulnerability becomes – crucially – an integral dimension of ‘the very practice of [our] political resistance’ (ibid).
So, vulnerability and resistance are mutually constitutive and go hand-in-hand. Butler posits this conceptual idea of vulnerability as resistance as a means of challenging masculinist ontologies of vulnerability. These always mark it as something that identifies one special group or category, fixing it or those that make up its category, so that they are perceived as ‘less than’, as unagentic and powerless and in constant need of being brought into the fold of normative ways of being and doing that do not trouble and ruffle sovereign powers.
And, in the blog that we will keep over the course of the coming week, we will not only engage with the way in which we are each speaking about how ‘vulnerability and resistance’ illuminate aspects of our own work[i], but we will reflect on the work of others, as this ‘speaks’ to each of us. In the spirit of our preparing together for this summer institute, we will each take a turn in penning a blog during the course of the week to share aspects of it that interest us.
Watch this space and enjoy!
[i] Our symposium (‘Thinking With’ Vulnerability and Resistance as a Dynamic of the research/Researcher Process’) will take place on Thursday 9th July in Room 4.06 between 4.00-5.00. in MMU Business School, Manchester. Do join us if if you are there