Category Archives: Conferences

Write-ups and reflections on conferences I’ve attended; CfP and reflections on conferences I’m running. (Because I now apparently run conferences.)

Free places available at #popsex16 for undergraduate students

We have a limited number of free tickets to Sex & Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives 2016 available for undergraduate students. This is an exciting opportunity to understand current research on sex, sexualities and popular culture and meet researchers and cultural practitioners in the field. Whether you’re considering a final year project in this area or wondering if a research career might be for you, #popsex16 will be an exciting day offering a friendly atmosphere to explore ideas in. We are allocating undergraduate tickets based on Expressions of Interest. (See below for more details on the conference and the current draft programme.)

What should I include in my Expression of Interest?

Please include your name, what you are studying and where, and what year you are in. Additionally, let us know a little bit about why you are interested in attending the conference and what you hope to get out of it. Please keep Expressions of Interest to max. 300 words.

Where should I sent my Expression of Interest?

Please email expressions of interest to popsex.conference@gmail.com by July 22nd, 2016.

Sex & Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives 2016

The second annual Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives symposium is returning to the Bristol Watershed on September 3rd, 2016. Following an exciting inaugural symposium in 2015, this year’s event will continue our tradition of offering a safe, inclusive space for postgraduate students and creative practitioners to meet peers, share work and learn from each other.

We are delighted to welcome Cheryl Morgan as the keynote speaker for PopSex16. Cheryl is a Hugo award-winning science fiction critic and publisher. She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press and the Wizard’s Tower Books ebook store. Previously she edited the Hugo Award winning magazine, Emerald City (Best Fanzine, 2004). She also won a Hugo for Best Fan Writer in 2009. She is a Co-Chair of Out Stories Bristol and lectures regularly on both trans history and science fiction and fantasy literature.

We continue to be interested in how representations of sex and sexualities in popular culture shape feminist – and anti-feminist – issues and discourses. Since our 2015 event, we have seen both the box office success and backlash against films such as Mad Max Fury Road(noted for strong feminist themes and female leads in a traditionally male-dominated franchise) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which upset “Men’s Rights Activists” through its failure to feature a straight, white, male hero). MRAs have also made abortive attempts to organise away from the keyboard. Eddie Redmayne, the cisgender male actor cast as the lead in The Danish Girl, has drawn criticism for his claims that the movie has brought trans issues to the mainstream. Fanfiction has received even more mainstream coverage with speculation that pressure from fans may move Disney to make one of the leads in the latest Star Wars trilogy canonically gay. And of course many aspects of sex and sexualities remain silenced and unrepresented in popular culture. We are pleased to feature, among others, papers which examine these trends and take the (mis/under)representations of sex and sexualities in popular culture as a starting point to theorise the links between popular culture and real-world feminist issues and activism.

Draft Programme

09:30 – 10:00: REGISTRATION

10:00 – 11:00: KEYNOTE

Cheryl Morgan (Wizard’s Tower Press)

11:00 – 11:15: BREAK

PRACTICE SHOWCASE: Judith Rifeser: Thinking feminine subjectivity with and through film: When theory meets practice

11:15 – 12:45: PANEL A: (A)SEXUALITIES, ROMANCE AND PATRIARCHY

  • Maggie Jackson: Getting ‘Out of the Woords’ and Coming ‘Clearn’: Paradoxical Happiness and Self-Actualization in the Music of Taylor Swift
  • Hannah Charnock: Teen magazines and the perils of petting in the long 1960s
  • Ada Cable: Illegible or Invisible: (not) understanding contemporary narratives of asexuality

12:45 – 13:30: LUNCH

13:30 – 15:00: PANEL B: NARRATIVES AND PERFORMANCES

  • Katarina Birkedal: The Loki Project: Gender, performance, and the aesthetics of cosplay
  • Petra Baumann: Fanfiction as feminist porn

15:00 – 15:15: BREAK

15:15 – 16:45: PANEL C: GENDER AND SEXUALITY ON SCREEN AND PAGE

  • Amy Walker: From the Nuclear Family to Nuclear War: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Fallout 4
  • Fiona Reidy: Sexbox – an assault on British sensibilities or a lens into a nation’s long-standing tension with sexual pleasure?
  • Bronwen Edwards: Sleeping with the Enemy: SOE female agents and German officers in popular fiction

16:45 – 17:00: BREAK

17:00 – 18:00: WORKSHOP

18:00: CLOSING REMARKS

Milena Popova, Bethan Jones and Monika Drzewiecka

18:00 – 20:00: DRINKS AT THE WATERSHED BAR

Call for Papers: Sex & Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives 2016

So you may remember #popsex15 (and if you don’t, here’s what I took away from it). The great news is that we’re doing it again!

Full CfP below. (And just in case you need abstract-writing tips,  here’s what I learned about abstracts from running #popsex15.)

Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives 2016

Call for Papers for a 1-day postgraduate symposium hosted by the Digital Cultures Research Centre

Abstract deadline: April 15th, 2016

Conference date and location: September 3rd, 2016, Digital Cultures Research Centre, The Watershed, Bristol

Eligibility: Postgraduate students (MA/MSc onwards) and creative practitioners

Send abstracts to: popsex.conference@gmail.com

Keynote speaker: Cheryl Morgan

The second annual Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives symposium is returning to the Bristol Watershed in September 2016. Following an exciting inaugural symposium in 2015, this year’s event will continue our tradition of offering a safe, inclusive space for postgraduate students and creative practitioners to meet peers, share work and learn from each other.

We are delighted to welcome Cheryl Morgan as the keynote speaker for PopSex16. Cheryl is a Hugo award-winning science fiction critic and publisher. She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press and the Wizard’s Tower Books ebook store. Previously she edited the Hugo Award winning magazine, Emerald City (Best Fanzine, 2004). She also won a Hugo for Best Fan Writer in 2009. She is a Co-Chair of Out Stories Bristol and lectures regularly on both trans history and science fiction and fantasy literature.

We continue to be interested in how representations of sex and sexualities in popular culture shape feminist – and anti-feminist – issues and discourses. Since our 2015 event, we have seen both the box office success and backlash against films such as Mad Max Fury Road (noted for strong feminist themes and female leads in a traditionally male-dominated franchise) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which upset “Men’s Rights Activists” through its failure to feature a straight, white, male hero). MRAs have also made abortive attempts to organise away from the keyboard. Eddie Redmayne, the cisgender male actor cast as the lead in The Danish Girl, has drawn criticism for his claims that the movie has brought trans issues to the mainstream. Fanfiction has received even more mainstream coverage with speculation that pressure from fans may move Disney to make one of the leads in the latest Star Wars trilogy canonically gay. And of course many aspects of sex and sexualities remain silenced and unrepresented in popular culture. We welcome, among others, proposals which examine these trends and take the (mis/under)representations of sex and sexualities in popular culture as a starting point to theorise the links between popular culture and real-world feminist issues and activism.

We aim to create a space safe for experimentation – both with new ideas and with presentation formats. We therefore encourage a range of submissions, including workshops, discussions, pecha kucha, as well as the traditional 20-minute paper format.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Representations of women’s desire and sexualities in popular culture
  • Non-cis- and heteronormative sexualities in popular culture, especially beyond “gay and lesbian”
  • Representations of sex work
  • Infertility and sexual dysfunction
  • Sexual intersections, including race, disability, religion, class and socioeconomic status, gender, etc.
  • Sex and sexualities in gaming
  • Sexual pleasure in popular culture
  • Invisibility: (a)sexualities unrepresented
  • Sex, sexualities and social media
  • Sex and sexualities in fan and transformative works

Please submit a 300-word abstract and a 100-word bio (*) to popsex.conference@gmail.com by April 15th, 2016.

(*) Why do we ask for a bio? One of our aims as a conference is to provide development opportunities specifically for postgraduate students. That means we have to make sure you are not overqualified to present at #popsex16. That’s the only information from the bio we take into account when making decisions on what abstracts we accept.

What I learned from running a conference about writing abstracts

Bethan and I have just sent our acceptances and rejections of abstracts for #PopSex15, and I’ve been thinking about what the process of organising a conference has taught me about pitching to one. So here are a few tips on writing abstracts for academic conferences.

Be very clear what your paper’s contribution is. The argument you’re making and the evidence you’re using should be obvious from your abstract. There are different ways to do this. I tend to structure my abstracts in three paragraphs. The first goes a bit like this: “In this paper I will [show/argue X] using [data set Y] and [methodology Z].” The second gives some context appropriate to the audience I’m pitching to. So if I’m pitching to a gender & sexuality conference and talking about fanfiction, I might explain what fanfiction is. If I’m pitching to a fan studies conference, I might explain why I’m using fanfiction to study sexual consent. The third paragraph then expands on the first while building on the context I’ve provided in the second to give more detail of exactly what my paper will do and how, and maybe why this is interesting. You can provide the context first but the conference organiser may turn out to be familiar with it, in which case you might bore them. You can provide some bullet points titled “Key Points”. Whatever you do, don’t get too bogged down in detail: be clear (and brave) with your argument.

Pitch to the Call for Papers. The CfP will tell you a lot about what the organisers are interested in. Specific keywords and topics, participants at a particular stage of their career (e.g. postgraduates, early-career researchers), types of content and modes of presentation. Do try to work the keywords into your abstract (if your work really is relevant!). Do make sure you’re eligible to present at that particular conference. Do include a sentence along the lines of “My paper fits with conference themes A, B and C”. The more you can help the organiser figure out how your work fits in with their priorities, the better. There is honestly nothing more heartbreaking than having to reject what looks like an awesome paper that I really want to see because it doesn’t quite fit with the conference themes.

Things that are not 20-minute presentations: The standard conference format – for better or for worse – is a 20-minute paper. Having said that, there are conference organisers who would love to loosen things up a bit. If the CfP explicitly encourages proposals for discussion groups, pecha kucha, workshops, posters, practice showcase, or other formats, take the opportunity to experiment! You’ll make the organiser’s day. There are a few things to consider if you do this though:

  • As a rule of thumb, be careful about proposing things that would take more time than the standard 20-minute paper. If I’m going to give you a larger share of time, I expect to get more value from it, and you may need to convince me that that’s the case. If you offer me a workshop or discussion, I’m much more likely to give you the extra time than if you just want another ten minutes for what’s basically a standard paper. And do consider the context when asking for more time: you’re less likely to get it in a one-day symposium than in a four-day conference.
  • If you can offer me options (“I can do this as a paper or a discussion group”), that’s amazing and gives me flexibility to fit you around other content.
  • Be prepared for the organiser to come back and ask you for a different format. I  pitched a poster to a conference once (which had explicitly asked for posters among other things) but it turned out I was the only one. The organisers were kind enough to give me the opportunity to present a paper instead.
  • If you are pitching anything other than a 20-minute paper, make that clear right from the start. Even before you get into “In this paper I argue…” say “This is a proposal for [a poster/a discussion session/an interpretive dance performance].” This makes it much more likely that the organiser will notice you’re proposing something different, and much less likely that you’ll turn up expecting to lead a discussion when the organiser expects a paper.

Stick in the organiser’s mind. As an organiser I have to process a large number of 300-word abstracts, many of which have titles that wouldn’t fit in a tweet. What I found myself doing very quickly was giving papers nicknames: The Tumblr Paper; The Bucky Barnes Paper; The Asexuality Paper. (These are made up, but you get the gist.) The way I pick these nicknames is by latching on to something that is either familiar or interesting/unexpected. Your paper is now forever tied to those one or two concepts in my mind. And yes, there are other bits of processing I’ll do (what media are you talking about, what are the key themes, how might it fit with other papers), but that nickname is still very powerful. It may have an impact on whether your paper gets accepted. It almost certainly will have an impact on what other papers you end up grouped with in a panel, which in turn will have an impact on the quality of questions and engagement you get after you’ve presented.

Now, you don’t know me and therefore it’s very difficult for you to predict what my brain will latch on to in giving your paper its nickname. What you can do is deliberately give me ideas for nicknames. Think about what other papers you would want to be grouped with, and what the key themes and keywords might be that organisers will pick up on for that kind of grouping. Try to think of a catchy nickname that fits with those themes. Now write an abstract that can be easily summed up with that nickname. So if your (totally made up) paper is about how Tumblr as a platform shapes the kind of community that lives on it, and you want to be on a panel with other people talking about different platforms and communities, then The Tumblr Paper is actually quite a good nickname to aim for. If your (still made up, but I kinda wanna write both of these) paper is based on a data set from Tumblr but actually talks about porn gifs and how they differ from the porn videos they’re taken from, then I’d suggest aiming for The Porn Gif Paper instead. That’s much more likely to get you on a porn panel, if that’s where you want to go.

Granted, this feels a bit like stabbing in the dark, and there are many other considerations that go into what panel you end up on, but it’s something I intend to try in order to fix some of my own “I wish they’d put me on that other panel instead” woes.

Oh, and the basics.

  • Stick to the word count. Particularly in the abstract, don’t go over (annoys the organisers), and try not to go significantly under (makes me think there isn’t quite enough substance to your paper). Going under is less of an issue in the bio, but again, try not to go over.
  • Check exactly what the CfP asks for. Abstract and bio? Abstract and CV? Full paper and six academic references? Submit what you’re asked for.
  • Don’t forget to give your paper a title. (I say this as someone who habitually does this, so, you know, do what I say, not what I do.) The absence of title is unlikely to be a deciding factor in acceptance/rejection of a paper, but it will get you a follow-up email from the organisers.

Call for Papers: Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives

Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives

Call for Papers for a 1-day postgraduate symposium hosted by the Digital Cultures Research Centre

Popular culture, as can be seen through the GamerGate controversy for one example, has a profound impact on feminist issues and discourses. Representations of sex and sexualities influence public opinion and individual attitudes and perceptions. Discussions – in both media and academia – are continuing to take place about the impact of Fifty Shades, sexism and misogyny in computer game and comic book fandom, the sexualisation of girls and the sexual desires of both young and adult women. Moral panics abound surrounding Fifty Shades and the “irrational” behaviour of One Direction fans, while LGBTQIA+ identities and sexualities are often represented tokenistically at best. Creative practitioners can easily come under fire for poor representations of sex and sexualities, as evidenced most recently by the reception of Joss Whedon’s treatment of Black Widow in The Avengers: Age of Ultron; equally they can be celebrated for their efforts, as was the case with BioWare’s inclusion of a consent negotiation scene in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

This one-day symposium will open up debates and explore the nuances of sex and sexualities within popular culture and will afford a platform for postgraduate students (MA/MSc onwards) and creative practitioners exploring these areas to meet peers, share work and learn from each other. We aim to create a space safe for experimentation – both with new ideas and with presentation formats. We therefore encourage a range of submissions, including workshops, discussions, pecha kucha, as well as the traditional 20-minute paper format.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Representations of women’s desire and sexualities in popular culture
  • Non-cis- and heteronormative sexualities in popular culture, especially beyond “gay and lesbian”
  • Representations of sex work
  • Infertility and sexual dysfunction
  • Sexual intersections: race, disability, religion, class and socioeconomic status, gender
  • Sex and sexualities in gaming
  • Sexual pleasure in popular culture
  • Invisibility: (a)sexualities unrepresented
  • Sex, sexualities and social media
  • Sex and sexualities in fan and transformative works

Please submit a 300-word abstract and a 100-word bio to milena2.popova@live.uwe.ac.uk and bethanvjones@hotmail.com by September 27th, 2015.

Abstract deadline: September 27th, 2015

Conference date and location: November 7th, 2015, Digital Cultures Research Centre, The Watershed, Bristol

Eligibility: Postgraduate students (MA/MSc onwards) and creative practitioners

Send abstracts to:  milena2.popova@live.uwe.ac.uk and bethanvjones@hotmail.com

[Conference] Five Questions from Researching Sex and Sexualities

I think the five questions format works quite well for conference write-ups and reflections so I’m going to stick with it for now. I spent the last couple of days at Researching Sex and Sexualities at Sussex University, and my brain is absolutely exploding with thoughts and questions.

What is the researcher’s relationship with discourses of resistance?

This is a question I brought with me to the conference. It surfaced for me at Theorizing the Web and has only gained prominence in my mind since. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my research methodology recently and reading a lot about Critical Discourse Analysis and Foucauldian Discourse Analysis. When one of my supervisors suggestsed I use discourse analysis in my research about six months ago I felt very uncomfortable with it, for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time. It was only in the last couple of weeks that I finally realised what was bothering me. Both Critical and Foucauldian Discourse Analysis are methods of reading for power. You analyse a text to understand how it constructs certain concepts, how it legitimises some ways of thinking while undermining others. And both methods are more often than not very explicitly and deliberately applied to texts of power, political speeches being the classic example. They very rarely engage with the texts and discourses of the marginalised, and for good reason. The couple of cases where I’ve seen discourse analysis and similar methods applied to marginalised texts and communities, they have tended to question some of the tools these communities use simply to survive, generally with little overt awareness of the potential harm involved in that.

The other issue with discourses of resistance is how quickly they get co-opted and assimilated into the neo-liberal order. You like yarn bombing things? Here, knit some hats for our smoothie bottles and we’ll donate some money to charity! You’re a woman trying to work out and navigate her sexuality in our culture? Have a prettily designed sex shop! So as we analyse discourses of resistance, and as we potentially drag them out of obscurity and into the public eye, what is our responsibility as researchers to the communities we research? How do we become facilitators serving those communities rather than unwelcome prying eyes?

How do we respectfully engage with non-academic knowledge production?

Again, this is a question I brought with me and I am grateful to other conference participants for helping me further tease out some of the complexities here. When I embarked on my PhD research I had a certain expectation that there would be a huge and thorough body of feminist theoretical work on sexual consent, that I could then take and apply to my case study of erotic fanfiction. This has turned out not to be the case, and I have come to realise that knowledges on consent produced in the fanfiction community are both more extensive and more nuanced than feminist academic work. These knowledges are not in a format that academia would necessarily recognise, and there is considerable potential value in finding ways to disseminate them beyond their current context (though, as evidenced by the previous question, there are also significant risks).

This raises huge questions about the role of the researcher in this space, and about the researcher’s relationship with the material and the community producing it. A lot of this material is theoretically rich and robust despite its unconventional (for academia) format. It feels wrong to simply treat it as “data”, to take it and put my own stamp on it. On the other hand, I believe it would also be wrong to treat this material and its authors as equal to theory and analysis published in a peer-reviewed journal and engage with it on that level. I have seen fandom scholars do this and it results in work which ignores the huge power imbalance between academia and the fandom community and holds fans’ work to impossible standards, while also giving it possibly unwanted publicity without the right to reply on an equal platform. A “researcher as curator” approach may have some merit here but is also mired in questions of ethics, co-authorship and what exactly the researcher’s own original contribution is. So how do we reconcile these tensions, and how do we engage with other knowledges?

What happens when we reach the limits of words?

There were a couple of really thought-provoking papers at the conference that have made me question the terminology I am using in my own research. What we choose to call things has immense power: it can open certain avenues of thought and shut down others. Mercedes Poell’s work on “relationships without sex” – which encompasses people who claim the asexual identity for themselves, those who don’t but may not be having sex for other reasons, and the huge grey area in between – is a fantastic example of opening up a space through word choice. Tanya Palmer’s work on sex and sexual violation, and particularly her decision not to use the word “rape” because in a legal context is has a very precise and limited definition, is another. In both cases the word choice opens up a space for experiences not traditionally considered as part of the same category and thereby allows for new questions to be asked.

The word “consent”, which is central to my own research, is a palimpsest of legal, social, cultural and individual meanings layered upon one another, and there is a strong case to be made for kicking it out and starting afresh. I am at this point inclined to stick with it though. While we may not have a single, common definition of consent (and to an extent if we did there would be no point in me conducting this research), it is nonetheless a recognisable cultural placeholder for something. I think it’s worthwhile attempting to tease out the different things it is a placeholder for while also being very aware that in many ways I’m already up against the limits of the meanings of that word. How do I reconcile those two positions, and where do I go when I break through the limits of the word?

How do concepts travel in a globalised environment?

There was a delegation of Chinese scholars at the conference who provided some fascinating perspectives on doing sexualities research in China. I was struck by how well or badly certain concepts travel across cultural contexts. The classic example is the word “queer” which has a very specific geographic and historical origin in the UK and US as a slur which was later reclaimed. I have met a number of older gay men in particular who do not feel comfortable with that word because it was hurled at them in the streets, and I try not to use the word as an umbrella term for the LBGTQIA+ community, and I don’t use it of anyone who doesn’t use it of themselves first. At the same time, through processes of globalisation, cultural imperialism and neo-colonialism (but also to an extent through a pull from the non-English-speaking world), the word “queer” has now crossed national, linguistic and cultural borders. Chinese scholars use it, as do LGBTQIA+ communities in many other countries, often without awareness of the origin and context out of which it arose. And while this original context may be lost when the word travels, it acquires new layers of contexts and meanings.

This is very much a half-formed thought for me at this point, but I do think it’s something worth being mindful of. What contexts and meanings are lost as concepts travel? What new ones are gained? Are we still speaking of the same thing?

How do we salvage academic conferences?

There was a somewhat snarky though some ways useful piece in the New York Times recently complaining about all the shortcomings of the traditional academic conference format. And while I am rather partial to a good game of conference bingo myself, I also found the tone of the piece deeply unhelpful. I can see how young early-career researcher may be put off by it because so many of the behaviours it criticises are born from inexperience (although the reason a fair chunk of them persist is that established academics perpetuate them and this make them acceptable). In many ways, that piece puts even more pressure on researchers to avoid risks and appear perfect.

This stands in sharp contrast to the format of Researching Sex and Sexualities. We were asked to submit short papers in advance and these were circulated to all participants a few weeks before the conference. (If you’re worried about finding the time for pre-reading, in my experience it takes a minimum of four hours to travel from anywhere in the UK to anywhere else for a conference. I guess the woeful state of infrastructure and public transport in this country does have some uses.) We were then split into discussion groups and used a round robin format (everyone speaks in turn and only speaks when it’s their turn) to pick up on common themes and issues, ask and answer questions, and share thoughts. Combined with the overall theme of the conference, which was very much about the process of researching rather than the results of our research, this created a space where conference participants felt safe enough to be vulnerable, to take risks, to talk about the challenges we were facing, and to admit that there were things we simply didn’t know. There is something incredibly powerful about showing vulnerability. It changes the quality of the discussion, opens up new avenues, and can give people confidence.

This format may not necessarily be appropriate for all conferences. One limitation of it is that it closes off the space to outsiders who are not contributing a paper. Other academics, or even members of the public can’t just drop in to listen. It may also be less suited to conferences which have a strong focus on research results rather than processes. But the approach also has a lot of strengths, and academic conferences really are in dire need of revamping. As I’m about to embark on a conference organising adventure of my very own, how do I challenge traditional formats? How do I encourage participants (and particularly postgraduates and early-career researchers) to take risks, experiment, and still feel safe rather than judged?