Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world

Gender, Sexuality and the Sensory Symposium

Friday 19 May 2017, 10.00 - 18.00

Grimond Building, Lecture Theatre 3
University of Kent, Canterbury

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Speakers and Abstracts

Glitter: Affectivity, Materiality, Methodology

Rebecca Coleman, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

This paper addresses the topic of gender, sexuality and the sensory through a focus on collaging workshops conducted with teenage girls where they were asked to collage imaginations of their future. Rather than concentrate on the outputs (the collages), the paper examines ‘the sensory’ by unpacking the role of one material that emerged as particularly significant in the workshops: glitter. It suggests that glitter as a material engaged these girls affectively, moving them in ways that enabled them to both imagine their futures and to play with and get carried with its materiality. The paper then places glitter within a wider context, exploring how, while the material and affective qualities moved these girls’ bodies in affirmative and enjoyable ways, they might move other bodies differently. For example, the glitter bombing of right wing, older male politicians seem to generate feelings of frustration and annoyance. The paper then tracks out again to consider the wider implications of a focus on the materiality and affectivity of specific materials within a research project. It asks both what they might indicate methodologically for affective, new materialist research, and for the constitution of gender and sexuality more generally.


Sociological Sewing: sensory encounters with women’s invention in the archive

Kat Jungnickel, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

The bicycle in late nineteenth century Britain is often celebrated as a vehicle of women's liberation. Much less is known about another critical invention that enabled women to embrace public mobile life - cycle wear. This paper discusses ideas around gender, sexuality and the sensory through an archival project into the history of Victorian patenting, women inventors and radical new forms of cycle wear. My research focuses on how some inventive women creatively protested against restrictive ideas of how a female cyclist should act and move in public through their clothing, by patenting new designs that enabled their bodies to ‘fit’ physically and ideologically with new mobile technology. Struck by the absence of existing artefacts in museums, I collaborated with a pattern cutter, weaver, artist and filmmaker to combine archival research with the sewing of a collection of costumes inspired by the patents, complete with digitally printed silk linings illustrating our findings. Together we created multi-layered storytelling devices that I have been wearing and performing to show and tell stories of these inventive women. Throughout this paper I reflect on what emerges from sociological sewing, performing in research and thinking about garments as three-dimensional arguments.


Gender and the senses in the fish business

Dawn Lyon, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent

The buying and selling of fish is a slippery business. Quite literally, and for the ways in which the practice of trade escapes our grasp. It is a socio-economic, cultural and interactive process that relies on multiple judgements, evaluations, performances, skills and senses. This paper is based on research undertaken at Billingsgate, London’s oldest wholesale fish market and the UK’s largest inland market, located, since 1982, on the Isle of Dogs in East London. The paper explores the small everyday judgements that fish merchants make about the fish they buy and sell, and how fish merchants skilfully deploy their sensory and cognitive knowledge around quality and fit, configuring and performing the properties of fish and buyer for a sale. It considers the gendered performances of different actors in the fish business and their gendered relations to the fish itself at three key moments in the life of the market: caring for the fish; practising the sale; and ‘condemned’, fish without value.


Decentering Beauty: Emotions and Internalised Racism and Sexism in Mexico

Monica Moreno Figueroa, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Cambridge

In this paper I rehearse a response to the challenge to decentre beauty studies. Starting from a feminist approach to the study of beauty as a site from which to understand the lived experience of internalised racism and sexism, I am interested in developing a conversation between Black and Mestiza (mixed-race) and Indigenous feminisms. The focus of this conversation are the approaches to beauty that are aiming to decentre the idea that white models of beauty are the goal of all women, that is, that white beauty is iconic (Tate 2010). I draw on empirical material that interrogates the emotional responses to appearance. This allows another entry point to understand the constraints placed on people to both protect and challenge notions of privilege and whiteness, and engage in processes of whitening in particular contexts marked by racial and cultural mixture, like in Mexico. What emerges when we open up the discussion of beauty parameters and when putting brown Mestiza and Indigenous women at the centre? This paper juggles with the tensions generated around concerns with beauty that are present in the everyday and in continued need of sociological attention and, also revealing of the oppressiveness of sexist regimes of racialised femininity.


Mediated Habits: Images, Networked Affect and Social Change

Carolyn Pedwell, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies, University of Kent

Focusing on the role of iconic visual images in debates about the logics of social change, this talk ​will explore the critical links among images, affect, habit and transformation in the digital age. While many people remain hopeful that particular images of injustice will have the power to catalyze progressive transformation, there is also widespread belief in the inevitability of ‘compassion fatigue'. Bringing philosophers of habit into conversation with contemporary scholars of affect, visual culture and digital media, I will argue for a more nuanced understanding of the links between images and change – one in which political feeling and political action are complexly intertwined and repeated sensation does not necessarily lead to disaffection. When affect acts as a ‘binding technique’ compelling us to inhabit our sensorial responses to particular images or visual environments, I will suggest, we may become better attuned to everyday patterns of seeing, feeling, thinking and interacting – and hence to the possibility of change at the level of habit. This talk will thus contend that thinking affect and habit together as imbricated may enable us to better understand the dynamics of both individual and socio-political change today.​

Visualising Absent Bodies in Call Centre Work

Sweta Rajan-Rankin, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Kent

In this paper I problematize prevailing views that call center work, characterized by Tayloristic work control and Foucauldian surveillance systems, are essentially disembodied. Drawing on an ethnomethodological study of two global call centres in India, I systematically bring the absent body back into the research gaze. Behind the layers of surveillance and technology-mediated voice based work, is a fleshy body, performing, regulating, reproducing and resisting gendered and racialized discourses in voice-based call centre work. The body as a site of analysis, interrupts these discourses and shows us the liminal and sensual process by which the Indian call agent transforms into a 'westernised' worker. A new materialist enquiry allows us to see the research assemblages which intersect between the Indian call agents performance and the western clients' consumption of such identity work.

Digital Feminist responses to rape culture: Affect, 'safe space' and platform vernaculars

Jessica Ringrose, Professor of Sociology of Gender and Education, UCL Institute of Education and Kaitlynn Mendes, Associate Professor, School of Media, Communication and Sociology, University of Leicester

In recent years, the public has become familiar with various terms used to describe the online harassment of women – trolling, e-bile (Jane 2012), and cybersexism (Penny 2013) are just some. While many initially envisioned the online world to be a safe space for women, it’s clear that digital spaces and technologies have opened up new avenues for the harassment of women, and for the proliferation of misogyny and rape culture. And while there is a growing body of research interested in digital feminist activism (Dimond et al. 2013; Horeck 2014; Puente 2011; Rapp et al. 2010; Rentschler 2014; Shaw 2011, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c; Thrift 2014), little research has yet to explore girls’ and women’s experiences using digital platforms to challenge on and offline misogynistic practices and dialogue. In response, this paper will provide key findings from a 21-month study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, which interrogates how girls and women negotiate rape culture through their uses of digital platforms. In this presentation, we use the notion of platform vernacular to explore the different types of affective and material relations made possible in various social media platforms including blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to compare relative feelings of safety around speaking out against rape culture online.

Lights of Soho: mapping transgression/gentrification

Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent and Magali Peyrefitte, Lecturer in Sociology/Criminology, Middlesex University

The Soho area of London has often been situated as a space where ‘deviant’ groups could mix in the night-time economy; gay bars, late bars, sex shops, brothels, burlesque, and strip clubs have long been seen as the fabric of this central London area (Simpson, 1999; Wilson, 2011; Walkowitz, 2012). In the past ten years, however, Soho’s deviant personality has become increasingly sanitized; Soho is becoming increasingly gentrified, with pressure from both politicians and developers to ‘clean up’ the area (Proud, 2014; Sanders-McDonagh et al., 2016).

Lights of Soho is part of a larger research ethnographic project conducted by the authors as part of the Baseline Project. The Baseline Project is an interdisciplinary collective where we seek to use a ‘fragment methodology’ to research and explore the intersections between space, place, and change with a view of documenting change and understanding the implications for people who live/work/inhabit in Soho. The Baseline Project adopts an original and innovative expression of the phenomenological and sensuous experience of space and place including our own, more particularly from a queer phenomenological perspective (Ahmed, 2006). In doing so, we collect data using a critical cartographic approach with different types of sensory maps.

This paper will present one of our sensory maps – one that maps is of neon lights in Soho. As in other red light districts in other cities, neon lights are a distinctive aesthetic feature and constitutive of the atmosphere of Soho as place. While some argue that neon lights are empty signifiers of projected fantasies and desires (Begout, 2002), we maintain that they have particular significance for Soho. In this area, significations of neon lights reveal a critical aspect of gentrification processes – as many of the older shops/venues (particularly sex shops) use neon, but newer venues (restaurants and bars) use the same neon ironically, creating a juxtaposition that is literally illuminated. Indeed, a new exhibit (open 2015) called Lights of Soho (c.f. Mullen, 2015) has revealed the contentiousness of lights in this space. This paper will present photographs and a map of different neon lights, and explore how lights in Soho are working to signify processes of gentrification that we are argue serve to exclude many of the ‘transgressive’ spaces, places and people (specifically sex shops and sex workers) who make up part of the social fabric of the area.




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Last Updated: 25/05/2017