Tag Archives: bodies

Age and Pedagogy

A recent Chronicle article discusses age and teaching through the lens of a magazine article called “Confessions of a formerly hot woman.” The author does a really nice job of pointing out how problematic associations between bodies and knowledge nevertheless manifest in very real ways in the classroom. A single pedagogy may not work forever; pedagogy must shift along with teacher embodiment.

“… in recent years, as I have moved into middle age, the concept of the “formerly hot woman” has returned to me in a different manifestation, one related to my professional identity as a professor of English. . . .  students are beginning to react differently to my pedagogical and advising strategies . . .”

I find this fascinating, and a little troubling. Moreover, I’m  a bit appalled at the lack of research in this area. (Maybe I’m using the wrong search terms.) Aside from this Chronicle piece, my initial searches have turned up only one relevant article on how pedagogy might change as teachers age. Everything else is focused on the age of learners, or turns up sources about the information/digital/internet “age.” The one piece I did find–an article from the journal Feminist Teacher–introduces some fairly insulting stereotypes about female teachers of reproductive age. I refuse to believe that the only way we can value the teaching of older women is by denigrating that of their younger counterparts, and thus I’m left with very little in the way of resources to think about how pedagogy changes with age. Perhaps this is an important direction for future research on teaching and embodiment.


Notes on Isaac West’s Transforming Citizenships, NYUP, 2014.

West offers several case studies of how transgender articulations of law can change our perspectives. He also offers “performative repertoire” as a concept to get beyond acontextual legal rhetorics (see more below). Following are selected quotations and contextualizing notes.

“Academic critique that is limited to official state texts, including legislative debates, statutes, and court opinions, embraces an impoverished sense of the rhetoricity of citizenship and its corresponding agencies” (p. 17)

“an exclusive focus on litigation does not provide an accurate picture of legal subjectivities” (p. 20)

“contextualized critiques of articulations of citizenship are necessary correctives for conceptualizing the law not as an external force acting on culture, but rather as an actually existing set of cultural effectivities” (p. 21)

“agency must be understood as a ‘performative repertoire,’ or as embodied practices enabled by and negotiated through the logics of subjective recognition” (p. 39)

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Notes on Wendy Mitchinson’s Body Failure: Medical Views of Women, 1900-1950. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Mitchinson chronicles the history of how the male body was understood as normal and the female body was understood as abnormal, weak, prone to breakdown in the first half of the twentieth century in Canada. What follows are selected quotations and some contextualizing notes.

The first chapter on “Woman’s Place” takes up historical arguments based in medicine and health (and, implicitly, reproductive capacity and fertility) about women’s employment, eating habits, exercise, fashion. The author points out that female sexual organs are naturally better protected than male sexual organs, and yet physicians only seemed to express concern over female fertility in most of these areas.

“I see medicine as a bedrock of societal norms, sometimes in their creation and more often in their maintenance” (p. 8).

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Notes on Mel Y. Chen’s Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Duke University Press, 2012.

This book “ draws upon recent debates about sexuality, race, environment, and affect to consider how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, deathly or otherwise “wrong” animates cultural life in important ways” (p. 2). In the context of the course on embodiment that I’m currently teaching, this book has helped me to think about expectations of bodies (both human and non-human) and how these expectations shape what is possible for particular kinds of bodies.

Chen begins with a discussion of linguistic’s uptake of this term: “animacy most generally refers to the grammatical effects of the sentience or liveness of nouns” (p. 2). “The hikers that rocks crush” is a phrase that gives us trouble because we expect rocks to be lower on the animacy hierarchy than hikers.

“[S]uch an animating principles avowedly refused a priori divisions between mind and body, the philosophical legacy of Descartes which today remains cumbrous to scholars of material agency” (p. 4). Much of the work in the embodiment class had come back to ways of resisting or subverting the mind-body division.

I also like that Chen allows for multiple ways to take up the key term animacy, and considers it broadly: “It is a generative asset that the word animacy, much like other critical terms, bears no single standard definition” (p. 2).

Finally, the following is from a useful view in Reviews in Cultural Theory, by Melissa Haynes:

“Leaden is a synonym for inert, spiritless, and lifeless, and yet in the third section of Animacies Chen shows us how lead, from the bottom of the animacy hierarchy, came to circulate as a lively figure in the imagination of the American public. In 2007, the United States was gripped by panic that the paint on Chinese-manufactured toys posed a threat of lead poisoning to (mostly white) American children. Chen argues that in this scare, “a new material-semiotic form of lead emerged” (166) that was racialized as Chinese, and animated by anxieties about the porosity of bodily and national borders. This new lead threatened to contaminate the upper echelons of the animacy hierarchy via its associations with ideas about black violence, queer orality, and cognitive disability; Chen contends that lead provoked such intense anxiety because it destabilized race, class, sexuality and ability, performing the vulnerability of these categories of privilege. Lead, having become animate itself, threatened to drag other bodies down on the animacy hierarchy.”

Computers and Writing!

I’m SO excited for the 2015 Computers and Writing Conference. I’m presenting with some super-smart women (Angela Haas, Kristin Arola, Michelle Eble), and I’ll be talking about how aesthetics bridge cognition and sense perception (look u Anne Wysocki’s recent work for more on that) in medical contexts. Some questions I hope to raise include:

  • How do computer-based artifacts such as patient-accessible records or the sonogram image function aesthetically?
  • How does this process influence access to and understanding of  treatments?
  • How do such objects influence diagnoses and/or doctor-patient relationships? 
  • How might we intervene in these perceptions and invent new uses of computerized data to more effectively bridge the cognition and sensory work done by our bodies?