(feminist ethics of) Care of Self (help): some sources

For some time now, I have been interested in thinking through the ethical potential of blogs and blog writing and engaging. For me, this ethical potential is connected to troublestaying and the training of oneself to be curious and pay attention (to care about/for) the world. For this project, I want to bring Foucault (and a care of the self) into conversation with Butler and troublemaking, a feminist ethics of care and many of my own ideas about using blogs to cultivate the virtue of making, being in and staying in trouble. Lately, I have also been interested in bringing this all into conversation with self-help books/blogs/attitudes. This is perhaps partly inspired by Sara Ahmed and her critique of the happiness industry in The Promise of Happiness, but also inspired by my dislike of popular/mass-media self-help books in general and how they seem to discourage critical reflection and curiosity. Here are some preliminary sources on caring for the self that I want to consider when I have more time to write (will that ever happen?):

ONE: Helen O’Grady. Woman’s Relationship with Herself. Gender, Foucault and Therapy. I am particularly interested in O’Grady’s chapters 4 on refusing self-critique, 5 on Foucault and an ethics of care for the self and 6 on whether or not Foucault and therapy are in contradiction with each other. O’Grady uses Foucault’s model of the panopticon and his discussion of self-policing to understand many of the problematic ways in which women (what does she mean by “women” here?) use therapy to shape their relationships to themselves. Then, she looks to Foucault’s later work on the care of the self to point to another model for envisioning and cultivating a relationship to self. Am I heading in the right direction with this source? Not sure, but I am hopeful that it will point to some other useful sources.

TWO: Yashna Maya Padamsee.  Communities of Care, Organizations of Liberation I really like this author’s suggestions to shift away from self-care to community care and healing justice. Here’s a great passage:

We need to move the self-care conversation into community care. We need to move the conversation from individual to collective. From independent to interdependent.

Self-care, as it is framed now, leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing. Isolation of yet another person, another injustice, is a notch in the belt of Oppression. A liberatory care practice is one in which we move beyond self-care into caring for each other.

You shouldn’t have to do this alone.

This great post raises some important questions for me about the tensions between self and community. When does our emphasis on the self encourage us to isolate ourselves from others? To ignore our connections? To refuse to ask for or give care to others? When does our emphasis on self care reinforce (neo) liberal individualism? On another note, I’m so happy to see the great comments to the post. Every comment that I read was productive, respectful and engaged with the post. It’s a great model for how to do online engagement!

THREE: Crunk Feminist Collective. How to Say No: The “B” side to Self-care I like putting this source into conversation with Padamsee’s blog post. In “How to Say No,” the author discusses how/why it is important to not always say yes to all of the demands placed on us. This call to say “no” doesn’t have to come into conflict with Padamsee’s call for healing justice, but it complicates it (and Padamsee’s call for healing justice complicates the need to say “no.”)

6.  Save some “yeses” for yourself.  Women have the tendency to put other people’s needs and priorities above their own.  Self-care is not selfish and even if it were, we deserve self-indulgence every now and then.  Don’t say yes to something that is essentially saying “no” to yourself.  Take care of yourself.

When does care for others come at the expense of care for self? How do we navigate between the need to care for/about others and the need to make sure we aren’t overwhelmed/exhausted/depleted?

Here are two passages, one from Padamsee and one from Crunk Feminist Collective, that I would like to put beside each other:

PADAMSEE: Too often self-care in our organizational cultures gets translated to our individual responsibility to leave work early, go home- alone- and go take a bath, go to the gym, eat some food and go to sleep. So we do all of that “self-care” to return to organizational cultures where we reproduce the systems we are trying to break; where we are continually reminded of our own trauma or exposed and absorb secondary PTSD, and where we then feel guilty or punished for leaving work early the night before to take a bubble bath.

CRUNK: I have a date with my damn self, bubble bath, glass of wine, mellow music and all, and I’m not breaking it.  I have had a long day/week/month and I just want to chill.  I need some personal, one-on-one, just me and the reflection in the mirror time.  No, no, no!

This discussion of taking a bath, reminds me of a commercial that I remember from childhood: Calgon! Take me away!

Important to note: The Crunk Feminist Collective post is written from the perspective of a crunk feminist. In the post, she explicitly discusses how her saying yes too many times connects to her experiences as a Black women and is in direct response to a previous article on Black women and depression. When thinking about how to put these different sources into conversation, it will be important to think through how they speak to different experiences.

How does this all fit together with my larger project? I’m not completely sure, but I am interested in contrasting the language of self-help with: a. a feminist ethics of care, b. Foucault’s care of self and c. virtue and the practice of working on the self. I am also interested in thinking through how to have discussions about caring for self that move outside/beyond “self-help” language but that still take the need for healing/help seriously. While I’m not sure about my first source (because I haven’t had enough time to read it), I believe that my second and third sources do just that.

Another Social Media Source to Check Out

The Young and the Digital: website for book of the same name. I like the author’s (Craig Watkins’) video for his about page:

As I think about how to expand/revamp by blog site this summer, I’m considering adding some sort of podcast to explain the project. Not sure if I would like something as polished as what Watkins offers….

I’m particularly interested in checking out Watkins’ critical interrogation of the “digital divide” and his discussion about youth of color and their use of mobile devices. Great stuff. I especially like this statement:

Some of my work is also trying to explore the creation of applications, platforms, and online experiences that empower young people to use their devices to enhance their heath, self-image, and social networks. In other words, to see their mobile not only as a source of entertainment but also as a tool for personal growth, life-style enrichment, and social engagement.

He also has a category on the site for digital divides.

I found Watkins’ book and site via DMLcentral. Other links/sources to check out:
dannah boyd’s apophenia
Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs (put into conversation with Flash Mobs)
monika hardy and Disrupting and redefining school and learning

Is twitter bad for our souls?

I just finished an abstract for a special issue on online social networks and ethics. I put it together pretty quickly because I found out about the call for papers just a few days ago and the deadline was today (19 june). It’s partly inspired by my recent post on Bill Keller’s The Twitter Trap, more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’. Here it is:

Does twitter turn us into distracted, uncaring, apathetic, disengaged, unethical citizens? Many critics seem to think so. In “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell dismisses twitter as being unable to incite revolution and radical change and as only generating superficial, weak connections between individuals and communities. In “I Tweet, Therefore I Am,” Peggy Orenstein charges that twitter encourages us to become packaged selves who instantly and unthinkingly publicize our experiences and, as a consequence, are alienated from our own humanity. And in “The Twitter Trap,” Bill Keller laments that twitter reduces us to soulless narcissists who care more about spreading information and gaining notoriety than experiencing intimacy and forging authentic connections.

In all three of these articles, twitter is indicted as an online social network that threatens our ability to be ethically and politically engaged citizens. According to these authors, not only does twitter lack any ethical value, but using it can actually do harm to our ethical selves, making it increasingly difficult for us to think deeply and reflectively and to act responsibly and ethically within the world.

Is this an accurate assessment? Does twitter usage lead, in the words of Bill Keller, to the erosion of our souls? Yes and no. While twitter can encourage us to be superficial,apathetic or disengaged, it can also enable us to communicate meaningful narratives about our lives and to share those narratives with each other. And it can enable us to cultivate authenticity through how we express ourselves and document our experiences, how we engage with the world and its inhabitants, and how we create connections and form alliances with each other.

Challenging the claim that twitter is only a threat to our ethical selfhood, this essay explores how twitter participation–through posting tweets, following other twitter users, participating in online twitter conversations, sharing resources, reading others’ tweets to gain social/critical/ethical awareness–might contribute to ethical development and help guide online (and offline) practices in ways that are more engaged, authentic and ethical.

This essay will be divided into two main parts. In the first part, I will offer a brief overview of twitter, some of its key features and who (based on factors like race, class, age, and gender) is using it and how and why. I will also provide some background on four ethical perspectives from which to assess the ethical potential of twitter: the dignity and human rights perspective, the justice perspective, the virtue perspective and the feminist ethics of care perspective. Then, I will describe some general ways in which twitter might contribute to authentic expression, engagement and connection. In the second part of this essay, I will ethically evaluate three current examples of twitter usage, using the four ethical frameworks that I introduced in part one, and raising critical questions about whether or not they contribute to the fostering of ethical selfhood, especially in relation to authenticity. These three examples are: 1. Authentic expression and Angie Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion in February, 2010; 2. Authentic engagement and the use of hashtags, like #WeAreAlabama, to spread awareness and information about the tornados in Alabama in April 2011; and 3. Authentic connection and Joel Johnson’s promotion in Gizmodo of “stalking a sexy black woman” on twitter in order to learn more about people and cultures very different from your own in July, 2010.

Each of these examples raises important and difficult questions about ethics, authenticity and twitter. In live-tweeting her abortion, Angie Jackson claims that her goal was to honestly document her experiences using RU-486 in order to “demystify” abortion for others. Is this live-tweeting an authentic expression of someone striving to grant dignity to her experiences (and the experiences of other women) of having an abortion or is it as an example of someone with “bad manners” whose only interest is in gaining public notoriety?

Hashtags like #WeAreAlabama were used to spread awareness and mobilize individuals and communities who wanted to learn more about how they could help victims of the Alabama tornados. Do these hashtags enable twitter users to have authentic engagement with those communities, allowing them to bear witness to the devastation and to contribute in meaningful ways to the relief effort? Or do these hashtags, and the information they provide, encourage twitter users to remain passive and disengaged as they falsely believe that merely reading stories and donating money via twitter links enables them to think that they are “doing their part”?

Finally, Joel Johnson encourages us to follow the twitter feeds of people who aren’t like us in order to “experience the joy of discovery that can come by weaving a stranger’s life into your own.” Does following a stranger on twitter and reading tweets about their life enable us to learn more about them and care about and for them, thereby resulting in the development of an authentic connection with them? Or does following someone on twitter resemble stalking and only lead to the most superficial of connections?

So, that’s it. Like I said, I put it together pretty quickly. I’m not happy with my abrupt ending, but I like the argument and analysis that I’ve come up with–although I don’t like how the questions I pose about the three twitter “moments” create an either/or binary. In ethically evaluating these moments, I am not interested in drawing such easy conclusions–that they are either good or bad, this or that. Instead, I would like to explore the ethical difficulty of understanding these moments as possibly allowing for authentic and inauthentic expressions, engagements and connections. Oh well, I will change these questions in my extended draft. Whether or not this article is accepted, I will have fun writing it!

Troubling Pedagogy: Another Perspective

This summer I hope to develop a more effective yet succinct articulation of my troublemaking pedagogy. It seems important to be able to describe and explain what I mean when I tell people that my teaching philosophy can be summed up in a few words–“I like to make trouble and to train students how (and why) to stay in trouble.” I need a pithy follow-up description because, as you might imagine, saying “I make trouble and encourage others to stay in trouble” gets me in a lot of trouble. And not always the good kind of trouble. Instead of opening up others to be curious about what I might mean with such a claim, it often shuts them down as they struggle to envision a classroom where trouble doesn’t lead to total chaos and a failure to learn and engage.

As I work to articulate my own vision of a troublemaking pedagogy, I plan to read and engage with some other visions of troublemaking pedagogy (including Kumashiro’s Troubling Education, which I have taught several times and written about on this blog). Here’s one vision that I found yesterday: Amy K. Kilgard’s “Chaos as Praxis: Or, Troubling Performance Pedagogy: Or, You Are Now” in the July 2011 issue of Text and Performance Quarterly.

Here are just a few (somewhat random) reflections, inspired by my reading of this article:

ONE: Kilgard’s article is about how chaos theory might enable us to understand the messiness/unruliness of performative pedagogy. I am intrigued by her focus on unruly bodies–of the teacher and the students–and how they inhabit and move in a variety of classroom spaces. She contrasts her own messy, chaotic embodied experiences in the classroom with the neat, ordered and balanced description of embodiment in several new anthologies on performative pedagogy, writing:

My experience [as an embodied teacher] is not so ordered; my embodied performance in the classroom as I practice troubling performance pedagogy is one of deliberately pushing myself and others off balance (219).

I like this idea of being off balance, especially in terms of how it can generate surprise, wonder, unpredictability and unknowingness. It makes me think of Alison Bailey’s idea of being off-center.

TWO: Shortly after her passage about being off balance, Kilgard writes (emphasis mine):

We have been DISCIPLINED to write in NEAT and TIDY ways because this shows that we have THOUGHT CAREFULLY about our practice, that it’s RIGOROUS and CREDIBLE. How do we write the MESSY, the AMBIGUOUS, the sublime, multilayered, DENSE, complex, GNARLY performative practices of the classroom? And how can we make that ambiguity and messiness ACCESSIBLE to other people? How can we demonstrate theoretical COMPLEXity?

This passage has really got me thinking. I like her contrast between discipline (as neat, tidy, careful thinking, rigor and credibility) and messiness (as ambiguous, dense, gnarly, and complex). She does a good job of describing the problematic binary within the academy between disciplined and undisciplined (yes, another binary to bust for me and KCF over at It’s Diablogical!) Who says that messy can’t be disciplined and undisciplined? That developing complex and gnarly ideas can’t reflect careful and serious thought? Can we imagine making ideas/words/our pedagogical practices accessible and intelligible without reducing them to neat and tidy soundbites? I like this last question. How do we make ambiguity and messiness accessible to others? What is meant by accessible here?

THREE: Kilgard describes the process of moving furniture in the classroom in order to make it a more engaging and productive space:

On the first day of every semester, we assess the classroom for its performative possibilities. Usually we find the space lacking in fluidity and sheer size. However, as budget constraints require small (read: thirty students) classes to use rooms made for thirty desks and no more, we look deeper into the crammed spaces for the possibilities outside of the traditional desk, chair, or table space. We look up and notice the eight-foot ceilings and wonder how we might use this vertical space. We experiment with the furniture to see how it might fit together and take up less space. As I have done this exploration many times before, I encourage some past practices that have proved effective, such as stacking tables two high with their surfaces together around the perimeter of the classroom. No matter how many times I’ve been in a particular classroom, though, I still encourage the exploration. Inevitably someone sees a new way to integrate personal belongings and desks or a new way to utilize the bizarre nook in the front corner where a column obscures sightlines. This exploration is also necessary for us to remake our mental space. Some students grumble about moving things around every day, but most willingly undertake this exercise, freeing themselves from their typical physical constraints (even within these constraints).

The configuration of space in the classroom is always an issue for me in my pedagogical practices. I find the standard classroom set-up, with desks in a row facing the teacher, to be a huge barrier to critical and creative engagement with each other. I have experimented with rearranging the furniture a little (usually this involves finding the best and easiest way to create a “feminist circle”), but I haven’t devoted much attention to thinking through the logistics of this process. Experimenting with moving furniture can take a lot of valuable class time and be met with a lot of resistance from students. Kilgard mentions that she sometimes “encourages past practices that have proved effective.” I wonder if there are any resources out on the interwebz that offer up tips and maps of classroom configurations to try? It would be cool if there were an app for that…(sidenote: just did a very brief search on the app store and couldn’t find anything–anyone else have as much trouble as I do searching for apps?).

In thinking about experimenting with space, I want to throw online space into the mix. How can we use online spaces (through blogs and twitter) to create deeper engagement? Can we connect those online space experiments with physical (offline) experiments to keep pushing at troubling how, why, what and where we learn? When is so much experimenting too much? When does it overwhelm students? When does it become too much of a distraction? These questions remind me of an article I assigned in my feminist pedagogies class last fall, Designing Choreographies for the New Economy of Attention. While I need to re-visit the article, I do remember that they experiment with mixing online and offline space through their use of twitter during conference lectures. These questions also make me think of how it might be possible to put embodied and performative feminist pedagogy into conversation with feminist blogging pedagogy without making the discussion just about how bodies don’t matter in online classroom spaces and without reinforcing a “real” vs. “virtual” binary. Any suggestions?

PEDAGOGY CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: Speaking of experimenting with classroom space, how would you trouble this space? Here’s a picture of the auditorium (from my vantage point up at the podium) that I taught in for an intro class this past spring. While it could seat up to 250 students only 115 were enrolled in the class. In what creative ways could you use this space? (Let me admit upfront that I failed miserably at productively troubling it this past semester.)


Thompson, Nato. ‘‘Introduction.’’ The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. Eds. Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette. North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA, 2004.

I have a lot more to say about this excellent article, but it’s time to wrap it for the day.

Really Rosie! and Really, Rosie?

My daughter, Rosie, started summer camp today. Her preschool class ended two and a half weeks ago. During the in-between time, we spent all of the days together, going to the beach, the grocery store, the newly renovated library, local parks, and biking along the Mississippi River. We made up stories and had great talks about everything from soylent green (she brought it up) to our fifth favorite color to the possibility of life on other planets (prompted after a viewing of A Wrinkle in Time). I was able to bear witness to her (mostly) wonderful troublemaking spirit and was reminded of how she (and her brother FWA) helped to inspire my creation of this blog back in May of 2009.

Being beside Rosie is always very helpful for my own thinking about troublemaking. Much like me, her troublemaking usually comes in the form of an insatiable curiosity and a refusal to merely accept what she is told. Because she asks so many questions and always demands explanations for why she must do this or believe that, she reminds me that engaging in troublemaking (or being around someone who is making trouble) can be exciting, exhilarating and exhausting. Indeed, troublemaking has its limits and shouldn’t be uncritically embraced as that which we should do all of the time. And when it is practiced, we need to remember how it can drain us or those around us. Throughout the past two and a half weeks, Rosie has prompted me to exclaim with joy, “Really Rosie!,” one minute, and then utter in annoyed disbelief, “Really, Rosie?,” the next.

When I was a kid, I loved the show, Really Rosie. My daughter Rosie was (at least partly) named after it. For some time, ever since I saw Spike Jonez’s film of Maurice Sendak’s other kids’ classic, Where the Wild Things Are, I have wanted to write a blog entry, contrasting the gendered representations of the troublemaking girl in Really Rosie and the troublemaking/troubled boy in Where the Wild Things Are. Hopefully I will get to that entry sometime this summer. For now, I want to mark the occasion of the beginning of my summer writing (now that the kids are in their summer camps!), by paying tribute to one of my favorite troublemakers: my five year old daughter, Rosie. In honor of her, I’m including the video for Really Rosie below:

Part one:

Part two: