Jul 26, 2013

Discussing 'Fairness' with an intersectional approach - the struggles of preparing a school project

It has been a while since our last entry in this blog and although we have been quite busy – our session at the 12thAnnual IAS-STS Conference in Graz was well attended (we are still working on a paper to sum up the discussion) and last week our first joint paper was published in the peer reviewed journal fzg – Freiburger Zeitschrift für GeschlechterStudien – there seems to be little more to be reported here. Most news and recommendations go as short messages on Twitter anyway (thanks to Anita who is a superactive tweep *applauseandhugs*). 

There is a topic, though, that has kept me awake for quite some nights now and I feel like sharing – you are, as always, very welcome to comment and share your thoughts on this! I have started a project with a secondary school where the majority of students are from families with a more or less recent history of immigration. I have learned that most of them are Muslims. The school is located in a less privileged area of the city and it seems that the students, as well, come from families with a lower socio-economic status. In short: I guess this is not exactly a school academic institutions would jump at to work with (maybe to study the kids rather than working WITH them). When asking the headmaster for cooperation we were aware that this might be a new challenge for us but I have been very much looking forward to working with the students. So, I am currently preparing for the first project weeks in September which revolve around the topic FAIRNESS as an umbrella term for social justice/injustice, ahimsa/violence which is a huge field to work in. This is challenge number one. 

The second one is that we want to start off with the 13/14-year-old students’ own experiences with injustice and violence but we also want them to think further, reflect their attitudes in regard to e. g. sexism, homophobia, transphobia (that’s a tough one, right?), elitism/poverty/illiteracy etc. We want to pick them up right where they are, make them aware that all these phenomena are faces of structual and symbolic violence/social injustice. The ultimate goal is not only to make them aware of them in general and maybe, hopefully, create a culture of acceptance of diversity, but also to be capable to identify these instances of injustice in the media – more specifically: in their favourite TV-series. Not exactly an easy objective – and this is challenge number two. 

The third challenge is my own small, prejudiced mind: I have chosen to work with an intersectionality approach because I have not met the students yet and I do not know how the students would define themselves (i. e. I use categorisations when imagining the students and try to answer to as many of these categories but I will probably also miss some). These are bad pre-conditions, I am aware of that. So, I have this idea to give the students portraits of Austrian immigrants with different national/cultural roots, who advocate some of the above mentioned topics, e. g. a gay activist with Turkish roots fighting against homophobia or an intersexual biotech-professor from Iran who founded the Oriental Queer Organisation. But I also choose portraits of inspiring individuals from all over the world – e. g. 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan who advocates the right to education for girls in her home country and for all children in the world. They should serve as role models – especially in regard to the more controversially discussed topics like homosexuality or transidentities. Now, my problem is that I assume that many of these people do not share the same pre-conditions with the students I am working with. I have read somewhere that the cultural or religious background may not have such a huge impact on the biography of a person as the socio-economic status and the educational level of the family they come from (this sounds a bit elitist to me, though). I wonder: Should I rather look for role models who, when growing up, shared EXACTLY the same living conditions of my young fellow researchers or is it ‘enough’ to have a history of immigration and cultural knowledge in common for them to identify to a certain extend with these individuals and their stories. 

My overall concern is that the introduction of controversial topics like non-heterosexualities and transidentities will turn into a disaster because I have made wrong assumptions about the students I will work with. I guess I can only hope for the best, hope for the teachers to give me constructive feedback on my material and hope for openminded teens who will react with couriosity rather than with rejection...

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