The main aim of this programme is to build sustainable joint postgraduate research training across the Universities of York and Leeds for Women’s and Gender Studies postgraduate students working in interdisciplinary humanities areas through a series of structured events with a specific focus on humanities-related research training.
The programme is facilitated by a VLE ( Virtual Learning Environment), an online space that brings together students from Leeds and York and provides tools for collaborative learning and networking. Classroom-based sessions will alternate between both Universities and be delivered in four half-day blocks and one whole-day block annually.
In addition to the face-to-face institutional networking, the online network offers an open-access web portal and a password-protected site for participants.
This online activity will enhance the postgraduates’ research training by enabling them to: network with peers; work online as part of a team; practice writing skills and become familiar with sophisticated ICT.
Researching across Cultures:
The aim of this interactive session is to help postgraduates think about the resources available for conducting research in different countries and to raise methodological issues about interpreting data from varied cultural settings. Students will be asked to discuss some aspect of gender relations/women’s lives, initially in relation to their own countries and culture, on the basis of cultural data from or about their country. The latter might be images, short texts, advertisements, propaganda posters, or any cultural artefacts.
Reading Gender + Sexuality Historically:
This session focuses on gender and sexuality as historical and cultural constructions. Students will read excerpts from historical texts from the Middle Ages, 18th and 19th century and discuss the meanings and representations of gender and sexuality expressed within them. Medieval penitential texts, for example, are explored through guided close reading, to examine the ways in which different sexual acts are either sanctioned or forbidden as well as the ways in which differential punishments are meted to differently gendered subjects. In this way the moral responsibility allocated to each gender as well as the sexual acts permitted can tell us much about how medieval religious cultures constructed both gender and sexuality.
Other texts from subsequent centuries, for instance sexological ones, are explored in the same way. This is connected to the theoretical and historiographical ideas of Michel Foucault. In particular this workshop explores how gendered and sexualised identities are created and re-created across time and how historical texts can be mined as a cultural resource to shed light on the continuities and fractures in identities and subjectivities over time. The session draws attention to the idea that gendered and sexualised identities are not teleological - i.e. in ‘progress’ from unenlightened oppressive ideas towards enlightened emancipatory ones, but rather to emphasise the historical specificity of located cultural conceptions and their impacts.
Constructions of the Self:
This session investigates the gendered specificities of the construction of self as both the object and the subject of the research. It will consider auto/biography as text and image in the light of recent theoretical developments that move away from aesthetics (text as ‘art’) and historicity (how reliable/’true’ is the image/text?) towards a concern with how and why constructions of the self are produced, circulated and consumed. What role do they play in the construction of identity? How do they reshape knowledge (e.g. in medicine, law, history)? How do they condition and/or reflect changing understandings of gender, sexuality, race and class?
Students will work with a cluster of texts and images to explore these issues, and to consider the methodological implications of working with texts and images the aim of which is the construction of self. They will also explore how self-reflexivity and the articulation of situated knowledge (Hartsock; Harding), core tenets of Women’s and Gender Studies, impact on both their own selves as researchers and the construction of other selves presented their research and its writing. At the end students will be asked to create a short autobiographical visual text in preparation for their next session.
Interpreting Visual Culture:
This session is designed to link to the previous one on constructions of the self. Whilst the last session examined auto/biography, this one will begin by looking at the autobiographical visual texts that students have created since the last workshop. Students will be set the task of using visual media, such as photography or video, to construct an autobiographical representation which will be briefly examined in the workshop. Students will then explore the analysis of visual texts further by working with their own representations and commercial ones such as advertising images and exploring key differences. They will examine some of the different feminist approaches to the study of images and texts and the ways in which feminist and gender-based criticisms have helped to generate a more interdisciplinary approach to reading texts and pictures.
In particular this session uses the methodological tools of semiotics and deconstruction to explore representations of the self and others. We will examine the proposition that all visual texts are polysemic and what that might mean for feminist epistemologies. We will also explore the appropriation of feminism by cultural producers, and associated concepts such as ‘commodity feminism’. The session is designed to train students to use feminist and queer approaches to explore visual images and the cultural construction of gender.
Designing your PhD - Research Methods in Research Context:
This is an away-day during which 1st year PhD students will present their research-in-progress, centring on the development and elaboration of their research methods and methodologies of their specific projects. 2nd and 3rd year PhD students will act as discussants, enabling 1st year students to engage with and learn from those at a more advanced stage of doctoral research, as well as others at the same stage. The presentations and discussion will further promote understanding of research design and the research process and foster reflexive research practice. The awayday will also facilitate networking among those from the two institutions working in similar fields or with similar methodologies.
These links will also be cemented through the annual postgraduate conference – Thinking Gender: The Next Generation – which is held each year alternately in Leeds and York - attracted over 130 delegates in 2006.