Our Meet and Greet event was a great success, and we met some fantastic feminist researchers from a range of places, such as Keele, Liverpool, and of course Manchester. From the introductory talks we realised that the range of research and specialisms was brilliantly diverse, including (but not limited to) archival research, architecture, sports education, criminology, zine culture, comedy, and fashion. It was a brilliant opportunity to learn and to form intersecting departures of interests, which we developed more thoroughly during the academic speed dating.
Imagination, collaboration, location
The discussion at the end of the day was especially illuminating. We began by considering what we understand by the term and practice of public engagement. We talked about the importance of imagination and interaction, and the urgent need for public engagement to be more than just a didactic presentation format. We also spoke about the importance of realising the scope and aims of a public engagement event. In particular, we agreed that interpersonal collaboration and knowledge exchange were central to effective engagement, but that location and feasibility may ultimately determine success.
No to jargon!
Similarly, it was highlighted that we ought to be mindful of the easy and ready use of technical jargon. It was obvious even from the initial individual research presentations that researchers are so used to using unusual shorthand/catch all words and phrases to explain research – and this should be avoided when undertaking public engagement.
Fear of feminisms?
We discussed the term ‘feminism’ and agreed that there has often been a reticence to use it for fear of its connotations, but agreed that we might be adding to the problem by avoiding its use through a collusion in negativity. This spurred the idea that feminism is a journey, and one of the problems can be that it is difficult to maintain momentum to carry people along with it. There was discussion over the types of feminist engagement, and it was said that this was the importance of the plural ‘feminisms’ to avoid exclusion and to foster and openness to ideas and opportunity.
Why feminist public engagement is crucial
We talked about the fact that engagement can be tricky, as feminist research can sometimes be viewed as either uncomfortable or even a non-sequitur/irrelevant practice. We may be asking people to confront issues that provoke a negative response and not necessarily the “positive girl power” feminism that is a prominent strand within the media. We asked whether we should be thinking about provoking a response or about communication and disseminating knowledge. But this shouldn’t mean that we forget where feminism comes from – and that we ought to avoid simply calling a practice ‘feminism’ without really challenging an issue. We can do public engagement without watering down the message of where it began and why feminism is still vital.
Challenges and limitations of engagement
Practically, we talked about the importance of personal limitations – we need to be honest about what we can achieve/time commitments and to be frank about what we will be able to realistically follow through on. The role of digital spaces was a recurring theme in which we recognised that engagement doesn’t have to be ‘physical’ as such but also in the form of blogs, social media, online protests or archival work. We should also remember that public engagement shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise within the academy – and that our aim, in conducting engagement, is to effect something substantial.
We thoroughly enjoyed the day, and received great feedback from the people who participated. We are currently planning our next activity as a feminist collective, and look forward to continuing the conversation!