POWS Conference 2014

After a whirlwind of trains, tubes, taxis and a LOT of sleeping in this weekend, I’m pleased (ish?) to say I’m back from the BPS POWS conference 2014. Three days of fantastic papers, keynotes, workshops and merriment at the beautiful Cumberland Lodge in Windsor? Oh go on then…

BPS POWS Conference

The conference opened on Wednesday afternoon with the first keynote speaker, Katherine Johnson, on the politics of embodiment, looking at gender, “queer bodies” and health. After this I enjoyed the Deconstructing Disability session, with a paper from Rebecca Lawthom on a post human feminist approach to disability studies making my brain melt. I’d been reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer on the train to London, so the talk around the meshing of the “wetware” of bodies and “hardware” of technologies really burrowed into me. The second paper in the session came from Ishba Rehman, who conceptualised gender as a disability for girls in rural Pakistan – an interesting and thought-provoking paper, with some particularly heavy examples from the data used to illustrate her standpoint. All in all, a great session to kick off the conference of the year!

The POWS undergraduate and postgraduate prizes this year went to Jen Tidman and Cathy Ure respectively, who both presented wonderful papers on Wednesday evening. Jen’s in particular stood out to me, as she explored gender and STEM – looking at women physicists in particular. Seems like there’s lots of overlap between physics and technology worlds, with women struggling to negotiate the tightrope of identity management.

Thursday morning brought a good session on Doing Feminism in The Workplace, followed by keynote number two from the brilliant Abigail Locke. Abigail’s presentation explored constructions and resistance around notions of “good parenting”. And of course, by parenting we actually mean mothering…

After lunch on Thursday, I presented my work on Internet memes in a session on Feminism and Humour. You can click here to download my slides as a .pdf file. Here I am, doing my thing – picture courtesy of the lovely @TheCowThatSkis.

POWS 2014

The other papers in the session were very, VERY good, and I found it really interesting to see the parallels between the different types of humour research going on. Thomas Evans presented a paper titled The Big Fat (Hetero)Sexist Quiz of The Year, which exposed the entrenched misogyny and mundane heterosexism in the popular TV quiz show. Rachel Densham’s work on humour in the legal sector seemed to overlap some of the work in the technology sector, showing humour as a means of exerting power over others and (more positively) as a mechanism for coping and resistance. Finally, Lauren Ward’s work on emotions in the fire service showed a unique use of humour as a means of coping with the demands of a gruelling job. It occurred to me that the papers worked well together to show how complex a phenomenon humour actually is, with potential for negative and positive uses in and out of the workplace. I feel like my paper was well received, and I had a great time presenting it. Hopefully I’ll be doing a meme related workshop at POWS next year, so watch this space!

I took the opportunity to attend a (rather brilliantly titled) workshop on taking first steps in academic publishing – Writing The F-word. This session had useful tips from the people at POWSR and Feminism and Psychology, covering everything from deciding where to publish your feminist work to dealing with rejection, revision and resubmission. I think this workshop runs every year, and I would definitely recommend it to students and early career types, as it really did unravel some of the mysteries around academic publishing.

Thursday evening brought the third keynote, from feminist writer Reni Eddo-Lodge. This was another brilliant keynote, considering intersectionalities and questioning who exactly feminism is defending. Reni highlighted the need to critique and challenge feminism, calling on us to explore the diverse identities and politics that make up today’s feminism. I found it interesting to see someone drawing attention to how the Internet seems to be accelerating the splits in feminism, widening the gaps that already exist there. Also – if you don’t engage in eyebrow threading, maybe you shouldn’t have an opinion on it. There are bigger issues to be fighting (reproductive rights? sex work? gendered labour anyone?) so policing other women around issues of “lifestyle feminism” (you know, the stuff that sells papers and books? shaving your legs? eyebrow threading?) Well. Maybe, just maybe, that shouldn’t be a priority…

After dinner on Thursday, we were treated to stand-up comedy from the excellent Ava Vidal. I’ve not laughed so hard in ages – her comedy is so subversive, so disruptive… sheer brilliance. I had a “wild” night in the bar drinking Earl Grey, and gave the basement disco a miss – unlike me I know, but after several weeks of drinking and partying I just couldn’t bring myself to drink all the wine and dance all the things. Needless to say, breakfast on Friday morning was a bit quiet!

Friday’s closing keynote from Jane Callaghan was incredibly powerful, exploring agency and resistance in children who have lived with domestic violence. The paper navigated the children’s use of humour, embodiment and space, leaving many in the audience teary-eyed… there were some very difficult examples in the data, and I imagine many were thankful to be in the supportive environment of POWS. Jane is an excellent speaker, and I really enjoyed this keynote – a perfect end to a wonderful conference.

Throughout the conference, Twitter engagement was absolutely booming. So much so that the conference hashtag, #pows14, actually trended TWICE in London. If you hit the hashtag you’ll see what I mean! Lauren Ward, Donna Peach and I look after the POWS social media presence, so this felt like a massive deal to us – it was really lovely seeing people who couldn’t be there engaging with the conference from afar. Hopefully #pows15 will be even bigger and better for us!

On a final point, Cumberland Lodge is an incredible venue. It’s so warm and hospitable, and it really makes a change from soulless university campuses and grey/beige hotels. It feels more like a retreat than anything else, and I know I came away feeling refreshed and inspired – which is a good job because I really need to crack on with some actual work now… thanks so much everyone who made POWS 2014 such an amazing conference!

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