Disciplining Our Disciplines

If anyone follows my posts (does that happen?), you’ll know I took a class last year called “Feminism and Colorblindness in the Disciplines.” Colorblind ideology is today’s insidious form of racism that paradoxically proliferates White supremacy while celebrating its so-called institutional eradication, effectively denying structural forms of racism while conceding strawmen like the KKK as exceptions to the new multicultural order. It was one of the best seminars I’ve taken in grad school and really got me thinking about what it means to be part of a discipline, how our discipline’s methodologies can function as tools of hegemony, and, most importantly, how we can (and must) hold each other accountable for these problematic strategies. We investigated how pervasive colorblind ideology is in academia, looked at examples of how it unfolds in specific disciplines, and brainstormed different tactics for countering its effects within our own disciplines.

As a part of that class, I wrote my Pledge of Allegiance to Video Game Studies and Declaration of Independence from Video Game Studies, two documents that were immensely helpful in thinking through some of the trends in game studies that I found to encourage colorblind (and genderblind) ways of thinking. Our upcoming HASTAC forum on video games will be a great place for those of us in the game studies community to start working through some of the specific things that are problematic within the discipline. As my Pledge and Declaration show, I am utterly devoted to my field but a bit concerned about it.

As feminist, critical race, queer, and other anti-oppression scholars have always known, it is uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst to try to point out ways in which your well-intentioned colleagues might contribute to White supremacist patriarchy. Those of us in support of the #transformDH movement are bumping up against this as junior scholars trying to convince people that not all of the ways in which DH is run right now are totally cool. And I’ll be frank, there are parts of the game studies discourse that deeply unsettle me as someone interested in anti-oppression scholarship. But how to say that in a dissertation that (I hope) will get me a job one day?

Ultimately, I was inspired by Clare Hemmings’ Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, which untangles some of the grand narratives of feminist theory and picks apart how they influence the way we think. Why Stories Matter is a great read for anyone interested in the history and future of academic feminist discourse, but what I’d like to highlight here is the non-traditional citation style that Hemmings uses. Her approach is twofold: 1) to stick to conversations occurring in and through journals and 2) to cite the journal rather than the author of a text. This promotes a “non-corrective” approach to engaging the community, avoids framing the conversation in terms of “good” and “bad” authors, and, I feel, makes a really useful intervention for those of us struggling with how to enter into these conversations.

I am fascinated by this emphasis on the collaborative authorship process and the community as the site of knowledge production. What I love about Hemmings’ non-corrective approach is that it lays the responsibility on the scholarly community rather than individual authors for problematic discourse. This has its limitations which maybe some folks would like to discuss in the comments (and I’m aware that it is too non-confrontational for some tastes), but this approach, at the very least, recognizes that no scholar emerges in a vacuum. Every single one of us was raised in a culture that keeps whiteness and maleness at the top of the hierarchy. We were all brought up to maintain hegemony and it is difficult to break out of that. But Hemmings goes the extra step of implicating every single member of a disciplinary community for intervening in the problematic discourses of the field.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and would love to hear from other HASTACers on how they feel about it.

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