The Carrier Bag of Feminist Pedagogy: Zine-Making as Training in the Neoliberal University

by: & Megen de Bruin-Molé , January 27, 2020

With the sad news of the passing of Toni Morrison on 6 August 2019, online spaces were flooded with memories and quotations. Some came from Morrison’s non-fiction writing on race and art, some from her novels and poems. They all felt potently relevant and strikingly kind, something welcomed in these ongoing times of expropriation, racism and violence, misogyny and heteronormative patriarchy. One quotation by Morrison in particular resonates with the concerns of this article, and we picked it up as it made its way through the social media streams of artists, academics and writers, having been originally published in the popular Oprah Magazine. It reads:

I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game’. (Morrison 2003)

Morrison herself used her job as an editor to enable the voices of black writers and activists to be heard in the white-dominated publishing world.

How can we more intentionally practice feminist training and pedagogy in the neoliberal university, particularly at the early stages of our careers, when every new attempt at craft and solidarity seems to be steadily co-opted by productivity and competition? What we do, as educators in the university, is to train students for the job market. We are told and reminded of this far too often, until it is no longer about empowerment or care but instead about metrics and outcomes. What if training was then radically re-thought, over and over again, for as many times as needed in order to ensure that we remind ourselves and our students of our real jobs, as Morrison called on us to do? What steps can we take to more consistently facilitate the empowerment of our students and ourselves in the process of teaching and training or indeed, in that of teacher-training? What are the first steps in making a move from a ‘grab-bag’ to a ‘carrier bag’ mode of training, to borrow from Ursula K. Le Guin’s famous ‘carrier bag theory of fiction’ (Le Guin 1989), as well as Morrison’s call to her students?

In Le Guin’s metaphor, the carrier bag is composed of ‘necessary elements of a whole which itself cannot be characterised either as conflict or as harmony, since its purpose is neither resolution nor stasis but continuing process’. (1989: 153) Le Guin has taught us a strong feminist lesson, appropriating and re-visioning dominant narratives of self-actualisation: the carrier bag, sack, container, bottle is where the story begins, and not with a Hero and his actions; it is the power of this container to hold necessary but discrete items and keep-sakes, seeds and grains that amount to a number of possible stories, rather than tools that inflict or sustain stories of violent conquest and achievement. Such a sack can also be called a feminist ‘killjoy survival kit’ (Ahmed 2017: 235) for those training to teach, research and simply be part of the increasingly pervasive neoliberal university.

Using experiences from a 2019 doctoral training and zine-making workshop, we reflect on the implications of the carrier bag metaphor for teacher training, for the place of zines in the institution, and on the stories we can tell using this zine-making experience. This workshop was for doctoral students at a university in the UK during a training week, and it dealt with issues around precarity, employability, mental health, gender and technology through a practical collective exercise in zine-making. Through this workshop we hoped to create a teacher training space that was not ‘productive’ in the usual sense, with participants operating neither in ‘conflict or … harmony’, but in the ‘continuing process’ (Le Guin 1989: 153) of being together in the university, where the only goal was co-education through craft, support and discussion.

In organising this workshop, we were inspired by the popularity of zines in artistic and activist contexts, as much as by the historical role of zine-making and zine circulation in equality and liberation movements—specifically around feminist and queer activism and mental health. There are a variety of zines collected and archived online, like ‘Grrl Zine Network: Lady, Queer and Trans Folk Zines’ (2001-2019) and the ‘Queer Zine Archive Project’ (2003-now). The U.S.-based ‘People of Colour (POC) Zine Project’ (2010-now) combines outreach and promotion of zine-makers of colour with an archival project and other events. These are just a few examples amongst many illustrating how zines and zine-making have regained their space in activism and organising in recent years; they are re-considered as tools that connect critical thinking with praxis. We propose zine-making as a micro-action that offers a potential bridge towards praxis as resistance. Such bridges can act as a form of critical thinking and an instantiation of community, even if it is only for a moment.

Carrier Bag Pedagogy

What would a carrier bag of teacher training need to contain? First and foremost, it would need to contain many questions: those asked before us by the mothers, non-binary folx, native healers and teachers of colour who have been doing work in and outside of academia. Our training seeds need to be anti-racist, de-colonial, as well as transgender and non-binary inclusive first. This is especially important as we are seeing the continuing exclusion of so many trans and queer voices in the academia by TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and SWERFs (Sex Workers Exclusionary Radical Feminists). Thus, our seeds of training need to be intended to preserve lessons contained in these seeds—lessons from the educators that taught themselves, taught others and learnt with them the nurturing role of Education as the Practice of Freedom (See hooks 1994). What we would hope might grow from these seeds are solidarity and better allyship to those who we train and who we teach.

Our carrier bag of training and teaching should also hold a panoply of examples and accounts of those who stood up, together, against the university as an oppressive institution. These accounts offer instructive examples of how past attempts at creating intersectional feminist education have succeeded and failed. The most recent UK example to be included in our carrier-bag of training is the 137-day anti-racist ‘Black, minority ethnic, Muslim, LGBTQ and Disabled Student-led Occupation’ that took place at Goldsmiths, University of London (GOLDSMITHS ANTI RACIST ACTION ✊🏿✊🏾 [@GoldAntiRacism]), which concluded successfully at the end of July 2019 with the activists’ programme being agreed by the university’s Senior Management Team. The programme of demands included a focus on training on race and ‘race awareness’ for all staff, including Senior Management, and the re-instatement of ‘the two scholarships for Palestinian students, won by a previous student occupation 10 years ago’. (Rawlison 2019) Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action also obtained the agreement that the university would publish a statement, upon approval of the occupation, of the institutions’ ongoing complicity in racism, within the university and in its gentrifying role in New Cross, the area of London where it is located. This occupation acted as both an illustration and reminder of how the university could be a space to engage in local and internationalist solidarity. The lesson was given, as it has been many times before, by Black, Minority Ethnic, Muslim, LGBTQ+ and disabled students. They asked, again: what is the university for, and who does it serve? Could its first duty be to its students and its researchers, rather than its profit margins? Is it more often a liberating and equalising educator, or a colonising, dehumanising oppressor?

Many of those who currently work in universities are not optimistic about the answers to these questions, with 40% of UK academics thinking of leaving the industry in 2019. (Fazackerley 2019) As white, able-bodied, cis and non-binary queer persons respectively, we, the authors of this article, start from an assumption—facilitated by our respective and common privilege of whiteness and education, as much as situated in inspiring and hopeful examples such as those mentioned above—that some form of the University is worth sustaining. We also believe that we (the university’s employees, educators, and students) have some power to mobilise and reclaim it. If that is the case, how can we even begin to go about doing this? The system is designed to regulate and inhibit collective action at every turn. In the neoliberal university, where work is done for ‘pleasure’, and that pleasure is relentlessly quantified, catalogued, and metricised, only specific kinds of labour are privileged as ‘work’ or seen to be ‘professional’. This work is compensated accordingly, while other kinds of labour are framed as vocational and dismissed as less valuable. Teaching, pastoral duties and mentorship too often fall under the latter category, where time is a luxury and measurement and calculability reign supreme in quantity over quality of contact. Academic collaboration and encouragement are seen as a means to an end rather than as core values, and the university is steadily being rebuilt exclusively on relentless professionalisation and hierarchical systems of punitive authority. These systems encourage us to keep hoping, but it is anger and solidarity that we need—and are often denied—the space to foster. In places and communities where the kinds of resistance achieved by the Goldsmiths protestors seem beyond reach, how can we begin to mobilise each other through smaller gestures and efforts, piggybacking onto the productivity mill wherever possible?

Informal organising, unofficial groups, toolboxes and workshops are the main resources in the carrier bag of training for teaching and learning in academia. These make the difference between surviving and thriving, between corporatised skill-based valuation and peer support, and between check-box exercises in equality and validation of personal experience and structurally-induced hardship. One example of a network taking up some of these issues and offering support is the Precarious Workers Brigade, a London-based collective of activists, artists and university educators who have put together a toolbox for teaching, which is meant to address ‘the disconnections between practice, critical thinking and professional development’. (Precarious Workers Brigade 2017: 6) The aim of the publication is to politicise employability and question the very role of training in the university, as essentially training for exploitation, with students often being lured with propositions of creative work in under- or unpaid internships, unlawful contracts and generalised precarity. Previously, as the Carrot Workers’ Collective (2011), they had organised at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London a People’s Tribunal, where anyone (including artists and cultural workers in the so-called creative industries) could share their testimonies of unlawful treatment, unjust pay, and precarious employment.

Zines—as the focus of our current intervention—are uniquely placed within the contemporary university. They are exercises in ‘embodied engagement’ and collaboration that are currently in fashion with funding bodies (See Coffey & Cahill 2019), but also products situated within an explicit tradition of ‘the need to challenge the status quo, acknowledge the structures and institutions of power and privilege, bridge communities of voices and critical ideas of those who experience oppression, and advocate for social change’. (Desyllas & Sinclair 2016: 299) Despite a variety of approaches and definitions, core tenets of feminist pedagogy are also commonly recognised as rooted in resistance to hierarchies, in the use of experience as a resource, and in transformative learning—in particular as they have evolved from the ideas, writing and practices of multiple women and queer educators of colour. (Henderson, 2018) In Talking Back, bell hooks, one of the major influencers in the development of these tenets, describes an ideal feminist pedagogy:

Feminist education—the feminist classroom—is and should be a place where there is a sense of struggle, where there is visible acknowledgment of the union of theory and practice, where we work together as teachers and students to overcome the estrangement and alienation that have become so much the norm in the contemporary university. Most importantly, feminist pedagogy should engage students in a learning process that makes the world ‘more than less real.’ (1988: 51)

Not surprisingly, these are the values that are constantly under attack in the current, corporatised university, which seems to harbour a ‘pathological disdain for community, trust and collaboration’ (Giroux 2015, cited in Fraser and Taylor 2017: 129) unless performatively directed to quantifiable results in income brought in through funding bids or as research outcomes. Unfortunately, this can also be the case in so-called ‘impact case studies,’ the measure of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) for practical impact of research with the audiences and communities addressed or discussed by said research. The research projects that genuinely attempt to reach communities and have real engagement notwithstanding, managerial and measure-based systems are at the core of the university’s metrics-driven culture, which systematically attempts to undermine and to sever ‘the bounds of sociality and social responsibility’ leaving ‘a kind of sordid careerism and the quest for status and some financial crumbs from corporations and defence contractors’. (Giroux 2015, cited in Fraser & Taylor 2017: 129) The aim of working in a resistant manner against (but still from inside of) such a university is to create scholarship based on community—slow work that centres care work and builds on ‘pedagogies of hope,’ themselves rooted in anti-racist activist action and ‘commitment to radical openness and devotion to critical thinking’. (hooks 2003: 22) Furthermore, feminist pedagogies have embedded in them the link between critical thinking and praxis, and the tools we use to forge this link.

Making Together: Zines Against the Neoliberal University

As we theorise zine-making as training for doctoral students in the context of the neoliberal university, we are faced with the following question: what is considered training and how has it become more and more of a standardised, corporatised exercise, rather than a process of community building? Increasingly, ‘training’ seems to stand in for a set of corporate-critical activities, particularly addressed to future university educators and academics, that have been managerially geared to create a disconnect from the practical, needed skills of recognising, calling out, and organising against precarious conditions of work, abusive contracts, gender discrimination and racism.

Zine-making is not a new practice in the neoliberal university, or in the patriarchal one. As Hester Baer has argued, neoliberalism sees the ‘reduction of the political to the personal’. (2016: 30) Under neoliberalism the politics of the personal is not only acknowledged, but moreover mobilised and exploited. In the particular institutional space of the university, the zine’s message that ‘the personal is political is activist’ has already been appropriated into the university’s marketing scheme, visible in the setting up of numerous short courses dedicated to zine-making, like those provided by the University of the Arts London (UAL) in their Graphic Design department. Craft culture can be seen as yet another tool for producing ‘well-rounded’ neoliberal researchers; zine workshops have even been funded by the UK’s South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP), a major and well-established grants programme. (Asker 2019) This is in keeping with a neoliberal ethos of labour, under which, ‘on the one hand, leisure has become the serious work of conscientious consumption; on the other hand, work at its most validated is presented as something leisure-like’. (Elliott 2018: 1291)

We are not trying to make the claim that the formal presence of a tutor-led course on making zines is intrinsically a negative teaching experience or practice, or that zine-making cannot be formally taught. In some cases, though, there is a sense in which zine-making practice is extracted from the community and connected primarily with individual development and employability. In the neoliberal university, zine-making transforms from a community building activity into a selling point, and a core feature of programme and curriculum design. Any efforts to reclaim zine-making within the university need to be aware of and actively resistant to this trend. Craft, collaboration, and ‘Slow Scholarship’ (Bagelman & Bagelman 2016: 370) are not necessarily progressive or feminist by themselves, nor can they begin to expose University biases and power structures without consistent (and constant) implementation. From an intersectional feminist perspective, the zine, ‘in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute a material act of decolonisation’—rather, the potential in zine-making lies with the ways ‘feminist DIY zine tactics politicise the neoliberal branding strategies that conceal the persistence of colonialism on campus’. (Bagelman & Bagelman 2016: 370) In current forms of the academy, intersectional, feminist practices must conscientiously search out ‘new political paradigms, languages, and symbols’ in resistance. (Baer 2016: 30)

Upon reflection on the state of neoliberalisation of universities in Australia, Heather Fraser and Nik Taylor propose that:

One useful response is to laugh at the edicts handed down ‘for our own good.’ Another is to talk to others about it, critically and seriously, with a view to finding allies. Alternatively, or in tandem, writing about the impact of neoliberalism can be a form of alliance building and activism, especially if done in accessible ways. (2016: 124-5)

However, critically writing about ‘it’ does not seem to suffice. Forging solidarity, talking and writing with others in collaboration is a step, yet the more central question becomes one of making the difference between surviving and thriving, as pointed out in the reflections of women, femmes and non-binary Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and doctoral students who are closest to the realities of training and the pressures of academia. Alissa Macoun and Danielle Miller (2014) recount how, for doctoral students and ECRs in Melbourne, an unofficial Feminist Reading Group became the main tool for peer support, resource for personal validation, and space for development of the skills necessary to speak up and resist institutional and industry pressure.

Recent zine-centred teaching and resistance projects within the university have adopted various strategies for sustaining resistance, solidarity and a subversive set of practices in zine-making. Anti-Precarity Cymru, a Welsh campaigning group with links to Cardiff’s University and College Union (UCU), has been active since October 2018 and holds regular zine-making workshops. Each is focused on ‘Creative activism and solidarity with precariously employed HE workers in Wales’ (Anti-Precarity Cymru 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿✊[@CymruPrecarity] n.d.). Contingent, fixed-term, and teaching-only staff are statistically more likely to be made up of women and minorities, as well as those with disabilities. (UCU 2006; TUC 2016: 9) Anti-Precarity Cymru projects to date have included a ‘Solidarity Toolkit’, a collage-based ‘Anti-Precarity Calendar’, and a series of ‘Anti-Precarity zines’, all freely downloadable from a central Google Drive account. These materials serve to build and sustain relationships between members of the workshops, but also to offer solidarity and support with those outside the community, connected through online networks and labour unions.

In 2016 Jen and Carly Bagelman, then employed by the university of Victoria in Canada, conducted an experiment in using zines to ‘politicize everyday spaces and relations’ in the university. (2016: 367, original emphasis) Building on hooks’ work, Bagelman and Bagelman paradoxically sought to return both energy and slowness to the university classroom—energy in the sense of creating a space where experimentation and risk-taking are possible, slowness in the sense that this energy is not immediately or directly mobilised into quantifiable, metrics-friendly ‘knowledge’ or ‘output’. Both energy and slowness are scarce resources in the current university climate, given the ‘reduced state funding, increased precarious labour and an expectation for speedy delivery’. (2016: 365) Zine-making offers one tactic for resisting this system, as part of a larger feminist pedagogical strategy. Speaking on their experiences of using zine-making in the classroom, Bagelman and Bagelman write:

Rather than waiting on dominant media, zines are in fact able to quickly interject multi-sensorial political expression by seizing the means of production. Zines create opportunities to actively take apart hegemonic narratives, refuse elitist authority and knit together intimate relationships that serve to repurpose spaces—such as the neoliberal university. (2016: 370)

Zine-making potentially creates a space where learning and creativity can happen slowly and collaboratively, without firm direction or control, and outside the discourse of ‘outcomes’ and professionalisation in which many students and staff are drowning.

Based on this research, and on work done by initiatives like Anti-Precarity Cymru and Precarious Workers Brigade to raise awareness about casualisation and neoliberalisation in academia and the exploitative cultural industries, on 11 March 2019 the authors of this article organised a PhD zines workshop that aimed to offer another such opportunity for resistance. In the following section, we seek to incorporate reflections from the workshop with a critique of zine-making as feminist pedagogy. We do so in order to begin thinking through the implications of carrier-bag pedagogy, but also in the spirit of ‘kill joy feminism’ (Ahmed 2017: 249) in response to the direct attacks and the slow cancellation of our queer feminist futures, lived in and outside of academia. In this process we are deeply indebted to our co-killjoys, co-conspirators and co-makers, the doctoral candidates at Winchester School of Art (WSA) listed in the Acknowledgements section of this article, and as co-authors of the zine featured in our Creative Response article Undutiful Daughters, also published in this focus issue of MAI.

The ‘Gender, Technology, and Zine-Making in the Neoliberal University’ Workshop (11 March 2019)

For our workshop, we aimed to create an environment of support for staff and postgraduate doctoral colleagues who experience precarity themselves, and/or want to become educated about and resistant to precarious systems. The focus here inevitably came to rest on academics just beginning their careers. At the time of the workshop, both authors of this article were early-career academics—one on a temporary teaching-only contract, one recently transitioned from a temporary teaching-only contract to a permanent Lectureship. We were asked if we would volunteer to hold a session of our choosing for the intensive doctoral training week at Winchester School of Art (WSA), University of Southampton, where we were both employed. The intensive week was broadly designed to provide trainings—some of the kind described by Fraser and Taylor (2016), but also aiming to ‘incorporate a variety of activities/tasks that intend to offer access to equally varied approaches, methods and discussion’, in the words of the initial invitation e-mail from Jo Turney, the Director of Doctoral Research.

We wanted to design a session that would be approved by the organisers of the intensive week as a suitable ‘training’ exercise, and one that doctoral researchers would consider critical and meaningful, but that also avoided the self-improvement focus of many such events. The resulting workshop consisted of two parts. The first was an introduction to zines and zine culture, and to Winchester School of Art’s growing collection of zines and artists’ books, which participants were allowed to handle and read. We were also invited to suggest new zines or books the library should consider purchasing. This session was held in the WSA library and led by Subject Librarian Catherine Polley and with the support of Site Engagement Librarian Donna Ballan. Around fifteen people attended the introduction, which took a little more than an hour. Most were doctoral candidates, but a number of tutors, researchers, and other interested parties also attended.

The second part of the workshop was an informal zine-making session, held around a single table in a larger space which had been pre-prepared with materials (print-outs, magazines, books, glue, scissors, etc.). Zine co-makers were also invited to bring their own materials as desired. This part of the workshop involved nine co-makers, including the organisers, with others dropping in and out during the session. In the context of a feminist pedagogy, Kimberly Creasap (2015) argues that zines have the ability to develop critical thinking, allow for validation of personal experience and fall under the rubric of participatory learning. In the spirit of co-constructing such a rubric, we and the other makers began the second part of the zines workshop by briefly negotiating the aims of the session, while we were laying out collage materials on a large, shared table. We agreed that we wanted to create a space in which we could work without being ‘productive’, to talk to each other about ‘the issues of gender and technology and the role of researcher, educator and artist in the current neoliberal university’ on equal and sympathetic footing, and potentially, if there was sufficient time, to collaborate on a series of collages that could be made into a short zine on the school’s Risograph. The overarching theme of the workshop was also predetermined by a broad annual theme, ‘Gendering Technology’, which was connected to several small teaching and research budgets that enabled the workshop. These budgets also funded an earlier ‘Critical Media Practice’ zines workshop for students on the MA in Global Media Management (GMM), and an interdisciplinary ‘Technologies of Gender’ research symposium at which GMM students also spoke and ran the event publicity. This meant that the PhD zine workshop was part of a larger series of events and workshops designed to stimulate a culture of support, criticality, and collegiality at Winchester School of Art, and to offer ‘neither resolution nor stasis’ but part of the ‘continuing process’ of sustaining a carrier-bag pedagogy. (Le Guin 1989: 153)

Most of the zine co-makers were doctoral candidates, though with a mix of backgrounds: full-time, part-time, funded and unfunded, theoretical and practice-based. Co-makers indicated that they valued this space to work as they liked, to talk freely about practical anxieties and issues, and engage in manual work, in light of their backgrounds in theoretical work. Some had made zines before, and were excited to use zine-making as an opportunity to get to know their fellow researchers better. Despite our best efforts, of course, a number of obvious hierarchies were replicated or persisted in the workshop. Firstly, all participants identified as women or non-binary—there were several other people at the library introduction, but none chose to join the zines workshop. Noticeably, at the beginning of the workshop the other participants also deferred to the workshop organisers, who were the only post-PhD participants in the session. The structure of the session was decided collectively, but we (the two organisers) facilitated this discussion and likely had a disproportionate impact on its eventual course. Large parts of the discussion also focused on the uncertainties and anxieties of the academic job market, and the stresses of the myriad training initiatives targeted at postgraduate researchers. Again, as postdoctoral participants the workshop organisers occupied a hierarchical (if purely symbolic) position of greater knowledge, experience, or security. Usefully, however, this was somewhat balanced by the different age ranges of the co-makers. A handful of the PhD candidates were women with many years of work and making experience, who were thus older and more knowledgeable than the workshop facilitators in these aspects. Most of the makers already had experience as teachers in Higher Education, meaning that our eventual discussions of teaching, training, and pedagogy in the workshop were not focused on workshop facilitators versus PhD ‘students’, but on a wide variety of teaching strategies and methodologies that we as a group had experienced and employed. Without this balance it would have been much more difficult to discuss and collaborate on equal footing.

Efficiency, that persistent spectre of academic neoliberalism and professionalisation discourses, also came into question during the workshop. A little over three hours was allocated for zine-making activity, designed to give the makers time to talk, and to work slowly on one or more panels for the zine. As workshop facilitators, we wanted our co-makers to feel able to do whatever they wanted in a broad context, without the pressures of either under- or over-instruction. Due to the size of the table and focus on discussion while crafting, makers began to work on collage panels individually. Because we were located at an Art school, however, some of those participating in the making had practice-based Fine Arts backgrounds. These individuals were able to work very quickly and professionally, producing three or even four zine panels, while others worked more slowly or felt their work was inadequate in comparison. This experience was discussed and worked through in the workshop, but if we were to repeat the experiment, collaboration on a single, larger piece might have been more inclusive. This would have limited discussion not directly related to the collage, but might also have lessened the element of competitiveness around the number of zine panels produced. Ultimately, though we spoke and collaborated together, working independently on the panels themselves added to stress and performance anxiety rather than reducing it.

In our efforts to emphasise the resistant process of the workshop rather than its products, we have chosen not to engage in close readings of the zine in this article, but you can view the results of our labour in the ‘finished’ zine. Several themes became apparent across individual panels, making up a carrier bag of visual elements, and telling the unheroic survival stories of researchers and educators in the neoliberal university. These themes included embodiment, care, mental health, gender, identity, and migration. Power, institutions, and the dynamic of working within structures and frameworks made up another clear set of themes, illustrating the concept of precarity as lived experience. Some panels are reflections of this experience. These are loosely threaded with the addition of poetry sent by the co-makers as a further contribution towards the zine. We wanted to use zine-making to think not just about our research topics, but also about the processes and hierarchies of our own research. The key tool (and restriction) here was the materials. Materials provided included whatever the co-organisers could recycle or source at minimal cost: arts journals, home decorating magazines, children’s activity books, cloth patches, and professional development policy and support materials from Higher Education organisations, including Vitae’s ‘Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers’. Most of these materials made it into the collages in some form. Of particular interest was the way participants remixed self-improvement metrics like the Vitae Researcher Development Framework with materials from Anti-Precarity Cymru and other resistant groups, using the combination to emphasise how structural issues like precarity, inequality, and prejudice are overlooked in or erased from university support frameworks and policies. In their panels, zine-makers literally pasted these phrases back into the discussion.

Unused materials were tidied by all the participants at the end of the session. Intact books and magazines were reclaimed and stored for future use. Some participants tucked extra copies of HE support materials into their bags to consult rather than cut up, while others took visible joy in binning or shredding said materials for recycling. Perhaps predictably, zine co-makers found it difficult to reconcile the idea of cutting up the hardbound books the facilitators had provided, which provoked some interesting discussions about peripheral vs ‘dominant’ media and labour. In particular, our doctoral colleagues highlighted the disconnect between the training and labour involved in a PhD, in which one is allegedly initiated into the university structures, with the goal of joining these structures as a full and equal colleague, and the ‘labour of love’ that zines (and PhDs themselves) are often categorised under. The hardbound academic book represents authority and permanence. The form of the PhD thesis, in contrast, often soft-bound in the UK and in some instances only persisting as a digital copy, can link it to other ephemeral media that has historically been undervalued. We hope all co-makers left the workshop re-thinking and re-evaluating these and other hierarchies. The experience certainly left a critical impact on us as facilitators, fully embedded in said performance anxieties, the risk of reproducing hierarchies, and questions of ableism and ageism we might have reinforced in our facilitating process.

Concluding Reflections

Both the workshop and this article have sparked reflections on the care we have (or haven’t) managed to show to our co-makers, and the intent we had to temporarily forge a community—in this case one that supported the postgraduate experience from a position of allyship. Embedded in a feminist pedagogy is a politics of care, potentially offering ways in which we can make the care work work, with and for our students and colleagues. Care work is work, and a particularly gendered kind of work, as countless feminist movements have fought to show. Whilst Silvia Federici’s role is most known in the well documented global Wages for Housework campaign (Federici 2012; Federici 2017, Toupin 2018), countless Black women have been instrumental in creating the link between this campaign, the civil rights movement, and the military-industrial complex in the U.S., and in highlighting the intersections of class, race, ecology and health management in both the U.S. and the U.K. The International Black Women for Wages for Housework co-founder, Wilmette Brown, explicitly made a case in the early 1980s about the state of care work in the U.K and how systemic cuts to the NHS in addition to structural racism felt for queer Black working-class women being treated for cancer, as the author was at the time. (Brown 1986) This work centres an intersectional experience at the root of the Wages for Housework movement and thus functions as a lesson in how to consider feminist pedagogy in the neoliberal university today. The reflections we have produced here are meant to continue a long line of discussions through praxis and into our care work around the processes of research, teaching and learning.

There is a question of the ethics of care that comes up with the practical work producing various degrees of performance anxiety for us and our zine co-makers. Some of that was channelled in the zine panels themselves, but there remains a question of engaging in care work for the participants, and finding a variety of ways to address how the anxiety about doing work within and for the academia creeps up on us, even in relative communal and safer spaces. As others concerned with the potential of slow scholarship have argued (Mountz et al. 2015), good research needs time but also a community in which to develop, essentially requiring ways of ‘staying with the trouble’ (Haraway 2016) in a collective, supportive and resistant manner. Slow scholarship cannot exist outside of collective feminist resistant models of work and especially of care work, which need more sustained and extended structures and infiltrations in the university. What if we had left the process open-ended and hadn’t assigned the possibility of printing a zine on the Risograph to emerge as a result? Ironically, only the workshop facilitators were able to be present for the printing process, which coincided with another series of PhD trainings during the intensive week. While the physical zine serves as a material reminder of our co-making experience, it is no substitute for that experience and also stands the risk of being reified as the product of efficiency, as something to ‘show for.’

A concern with image work as opposed to care work also needs to be called out and resisted. Institutions like Goldsmiths, University of London (cited above in the Goldsmiths Anti-Racism Action) have recently received disproportionate coverage for banning beef from the school cafeteria (Walker 2019; Petter 2019; Picheta 2019) compared to the coverage received by the anti-racism occupation itself. Goldsmiths’ initial unwillingness to concede, and the threats posed to the occupation, show how the issues raised by students had potential serious impact on the image of this particular university, even as it prides itself and promotes itself to prospective students as ‘radical.’ Thus, we see how the concern with marketing and promotion have become central for universities and how they revert to green- and pink-washing public relations strategies. Feminist pedagogies can help make visible such attempts at image-making over addressing real change, as they are rooted in teaching and learning that is attached to critical thinking and the devising of practical tools for engaging with a world ‘more than less real’, in local and International solidarity actions and movements, and in addressing the politics of care, structural racism, climate crises, multi-species companionship and potential allyship with non-human others. Feminist pedagogies stand in line with strong resounding calls for de-colonising our minds (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o 1986) and in the university, to de-colonising the curriculum:

Using a feminist pedagogical practice, teaching becomes a site not simply for sharing ideas/topics, but for crucially examining the power dynamics and coloniality of knowledge and knowledge production, for investigating the material and colonial hierarchies of the classroom, the university, the city, and global politics, and for realising a project of decolonial and feminist thought, praxis, and liberation through collectively dismantling and re-building our lifeworlds. (Mehta 2019: 24)

To forge these lifeworlds, we need our carrier bags for teacher (and other) training in the university to also be full of notecards on whiteness and white fragility (DiAngelo 2018), reminding us how some of us are benefiting from the first and manifesting the latter, invalidating experiences and erasing voices. The type of critical thinking that feminist pedagogy in the neoliberal university needs includes constantly revising our citational practices and reviewing our resources for self-education, of which countless are available, not least at the end of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which provides an education pack for white people. (2018: 383)

Given these considerations, it is our ambivalent assessment that neither the labour of love (under which an activity such as zine-making is often categorised) or the labour of release from frustration induced by the university (which we were aiming at in designing the exercise), took over in our zine-making exercise. Sustained release and healing were not possible in this context due to lack of sustained structural conditions and the larger framework of training for ‘audit culture’ (See Gill 2009, 2017), in which any doctoral training programme, scheme, or event is invariably situated. We were also limited by our own relative positions of privilege and the existing hierarchies between us as initiators and our co-makers. Sitting with each others’ anxieties in (dis)comfort, however, is something the workshop effectively showed as necessary. Some of the panels mention working on one’s own and thus reference the promoted individualism inside of universities, which often leaves one in solitary anxiety. Expressing anxiety and discomfort in institutional contexts of the academia is far too often shown as weakness and not as a healthy way to set boundaries. The productive potential of expressing discomfort has been discussed in current reflections on feminist pedagogy in the university. Órla Meadhbh Murray and Lisa Kalayji (2018) write about vulnerability and the forging of queer futures through discomfort in the classroom. Taking a queer intersectional feminist approach to teaching, they use ethnographic accounts of their teaching experience at Edinburgh University to reflect on the productive role of expressing discomfort as a teacher in the classroom, on showing vulnerability and bearing witness to the vulnerability of others motivated by an ethics of care.

The challenge is not only how to sustain feminist pedagogies in an output-driven university culture, but also how to do this in a time of societal and climate crises and emergencies, in which issues of education, access, and equality are often sidelined. Reflections on education in its current state, inspired by these tenets and hooks’ extensive writing on teaching and learning in particular, propose that we engage with feminist pedagogies and transgressive forms of teaching and learning alongside critical theory. This critical theory might include feminist new materialism and critical posthumanist literature, such as the work of Donna Haraway on companion species and crises in the capitalocene (2016) or the work of Karen Barad on entanglement and intra-action (2007) and her more specific writing on feminist teaching in the hard sciences, particularly quantum physics. (Barad 1995) Beatriz Revelez-Benavente and Ana M. Gonzalez-Ramos (2017) have recently edited a collection in this spirit, with the premise of engaging ‘society with theory and teaching with learning, thus producing new forms of organisational practices both intergenerational and interdisciplinary, forms that become radically respons-able (Haraway 2008 & Barad 2010) through a politics of care for each other’ (Revelez-Benavente & Gonzalez-Ramos 2017: 2) In the carrier bag of feminist pedagogy all of these elements—theoretical, practical, personal, and political—are ‘necessary’ and ambivalent ‘elements of a whole’, a ‘continuing process’ of self-reflection, activism, and care. (Le Guin 1989: 153) The embodied act of zine-making can still fulfil a catalysing role in this process, allowing us a time and space to actively remind ourselves what zine-making (and feminism) is actually for, even as it becomes appropriated by the institution.


All reproductions of the zine collages were made by the second author, with permission from participants at the March 2019 zines workshop. We would like to thank our co-makers, without whom this article would literally not exist. Many thanks also to our comrade Roberto Mozzachiodi for the Wilmette Brown reference and the reminder of the crucial place of Black feminist struggle in the Wages for Housework campaign. To the staff at WSA library, particularly Catherine Polley and Donna Ballan: you are the epitome of librarianhood and it was a pleasure to collaborate with you on this workshop. Thanks also to Jo Turney, Director of Doctoral Programmes at WSA, both for your financial support of the workshop and your personal support of the aims behind it.


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Suggested Further Readings

Ahmed, Sara (2012), On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Durham , NC: Duke University Press.

Baer, Hester (2014), ‘Redoing Feminism within and Outside the Neoliberal Academy’, Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 197–208.

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Jaikumar, Priya & Kay Dickinson (eds.) (2018), ‘Teaching Media Against the Global Right’ in Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier, Vol, 5, No. 1, (last accessed 7 August 2019).

Mende, Doreen (2018), ‘Undutiful Daughter’s Concept of Archival Metabolism’, E-Flux Journal, Vol. 93, (last accessed 7 August 2019).

Online Resources

Grrl Zine Network: Lady, Queer and Trans Folk Zines (last accessed 7 August 2019).

Queer Zine Archive Project (last accessed 7 August 2019).

People of Colour (POC) Zine Project (last accessed 7 August 2019).

Precarious Workers Brigade (Resources) (last accessed 7 August 2019).

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