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

A few months back I wrote about a zine-related workshop I was involved in organising. Since that workshop, I have done more work on (and research into) zine practice. Today, that work has resulted in an academic article and Creative Practice piece, published together with Dr Mihaela Brebenel on the Open Access journal MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture. I’m very pleased to have our work up on this journal, and even more excited to be part of an excellent new special issue on ‘Feminist Pedagogies’. Check out the other pieces at this link!

In our article ‘The Carrier Bag of Feminist Pedagogy: Zine-Making as Training in the Neoliberal University’, Mihaela and I build on our experiences at a postgraduate workshop to ‘propose zine-making as a micro-action that offers a potential bridge towards praxis as resistance’. To help us do this, we draw on a number of feminist theorists and theories, including Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘carrier bag theory of fiction’ (Le Guin 1989):

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.

Read the whole thing over at MAI. The zine that resulted from our workshop is also published in MAI, as a separate Creative Practice piece here.

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