Social Science Imagination: Session Five

I found this week’s session to be one of the most interesting and thought provoking sessions we have had so far on the course. The depth and quality of the discussion was no doubt added to by Stephen, who we welcomed back to the SSI, the excellent facilitation of the session by Sarah and, last but not least, Andrew’s delicious and “still warm” cake.

Once again, we focused on the theme of education, but this time we attempted to view it through the lens of Feminism using the work of bell hooks to help shape the discussion. We started the session by discussing some of the themes that came out of Session Four. A common theme we found running through both Friere’s and hooks’ work was the attempt to raise people’s awareness of the struggles they face in everyday life and to try to understand the structural reasons for these struggles. In many ways, I found this theme similar to C. Wright Mills’ invitation to view our personal troubles as public issues and, furthermore, the very nature of the SSI course itself.

We spent some time discussing bell hooks and the chapter we had read. There were some mixed views about bell hooks’ work with one scholar commenting that they found her work to be “individual, egotistical and contradictory”. Another scholar commented that this contrasted with Friere’s work, which was about social change rather than the individual change.

We agreed that some of the more positive aspects of hooks’ work were her ideas about exploring different forms of communication with different groups of people, i.e. television shows, radio programmes, poems, stories etc. hooks had argued that Feminism has been captured by the academy and communicated in a language that only academics understand – for hooks, it is important that Feminism is communicated in a way that everybody can access. Although, one scholar did comment that “changing people’s minds in this way is similar to evangelical Christianity.

In the chapter we read, hooks also makes various comments about structure and systems that shape the way people behave. hooks argues that these structures and systems can be described as ‘white supremacists’, ‘capitalist’, ‘’patriarchal’ and ‘imperialist’. We spent some time discussing these themes and thinking about whether there are structures and systems or just people and their behaviour; agency and structure and how structure, systems and institutions may limit individual agency. It made me think of:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”

– Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

We spent some time discussing the different tendencies within Feminism (Liberal, Radical, Marxist and Black) towards the end of the session. We agreed that we would read an author from within one the tendencies and decided on Kathi Week’s The Problem with Work. This also allows us to move to the next week’s theme, work.

Reading for next week:



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