I was cleaning out my unposted drafts and found this from March 2014. I think I’ll just leave this here…

the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

from the Latin oikos, meaning home.

The study of home.




Margaret McMillain

I did a guest post! Aren’t I grown up?!
You can read it over on the wonderful Seeking Lost Women blog, alongside great posts about Rosa Parks and Helen Pankhurst.

Do you know any women educators whose messages have been forgotten, ignored or distorted? Kay & I would love to hear about them. Maybe you could be another guest blogger…

A Student Inquiry

This afternoon I am multi-tasking.

I am reading a few texts about militant research and worker inquiry.

I am having a facebook conversation with someone who is finding doing an MA stressful.

I’ve been emailing a group I’ve been doing some action research with.

All these things are connected.

Here is some questions I wrote, inspired by Karl Marx’s ‘A Workers’ Inquiry, by my conversations today and oh, a million other things and people. They, like Karl’s questions exist both to discover the conditions of the people who answer, but also to expand the answerer’s understanding of their own conditions. I think this is a fascinating concept because it implicates everyone in the process of learning. If I had a single goal in life it would be to implicate everyone in the process of learning. Ok here we go… (again these are hurried sketches and aren’t very concise. In my defence, Karl’s questions aren’t exactly brief!).

How much time do you spend reading per week?

How much time do you spend writing per week?

How much time do you spend thinking about the subject matter outside of reading and writing time?

How do these times compare to each other?

Do you feel you have enough time to think through your ideas during the reading to writing process?

If you were designing the course, would you give yourself more, less or the same amount of work?

If you had more or less work, what effect would that have on the quality of your thinking?

Do you think the timetable of deadlines is conducive to your best thinking?

How much time do you spend trying to understand what your lecturers expect from you?

How much time do you spend trying to understand what is most important / useful to you?

How do these compare?

What are your goals for the course? Do they match the expectations of lecturers?

If there is a mismatch, is there anything you can do to remedy that?

What would success on the course look like to you?

What do you need to do now to achieve that?

Is your definition of success related, the same or different to the university grading system?

If there were no grades would you behave differently?

Would you produce different work?

What effect would that have on the efficacy of your work and its broader application?

If there were no deadlines would you behave differently?

Would you produce different work?

What effect would that have on the efficacy of your work and its broader application (beyond the course)?

Do you feel the work you are producing has a broader application?

If yes, please describe

If no, why?

If no, what would you have to do differently to make it so?


I am thinking about the importance of sketches. And in that spirit, I will post this in an hour, regardless of what state its in.

A week or so ago I was in white room full of almost silent, mostly middle aged, mostly white people. I was staring at some brush strokes on a very old piece of paper(?). Heart racing. This was one of JWM Turner’s ‘studies’ of waves and a distant horizon. After he died, hundreds of unfinished pieces were found in his studio. While he worked up his masterpieces, he would experiment. He could be freer outside of the pressures of genius and patron’s expectations. It seems obvious to me that not only were these experimental sketches vital to his polished masterpieces, but that with a few exceptions – Snow Storm is indescribably brilliant – the sketches contained more life. Looking at the simple brush strokes, I could start to imagine his thought process. Could join the dots between human effort and the sea spray he was trying to invoke. In the masterpieces, this humanity is hidden. He wanted us to think he was a magician genius, set apart from us mere mortals.

Maybe this is why I became a teacher not an artist. I am not interested in playing along with the myth of genius. I am only interested in tearing it down.

Virginia Woolf shared JW’s passion for sketching. When writing her most conventional novel Night and Day, partly as a way to contain the chaos of the war swirling round her, she worked on essays and short stories that freed up her thinking. She gathered up those fragments later to write one of my favourite books of all time, itself a collection of fragments of observation, gathered together to form a great sweep of life.

Virginia had a way of exposing her character’s unexamined thoughts, usually extrapolated from her own. JW had a way of painting living things to life in just a couple of brush strokes. These tiny examinations made possible the grand scale and impact of their context but also, if you look twice, give us a chance to see through the show.

Oliver Burkeman reminded us in the Guardian the other day that everyone is totally just winging it, all the time. He quotes Action for Happiness saying “one of the biggest causes of misery is the way we chronically compare our insides with other people’s outsides”.

JW didn’t manage to throw away the last batch of his thousands of hard won experiments and mistakes before he died, allowing us to see some of his insides, stripped of the (equally hard won I’m sure) magic tricks he’s famous for – and love him all the more for it. Through her stories, essays, letters and diaries, we can piece together how Virginia wrote her own swirling insides into her masterpeices. How all she did was look hard, ask questions, then write with unflinching care.

Oooh I think I’m finished. With 22 minutes to spare. See ellie, its not so hard.

I’ll take my spare minutes to do some referencing…

I saw Late Turner – Painting Set Free at Tate Britain in London. GO SEE if you can, its on till Jan 25th 2015. Anything I wrote about him here was learnt in that exhibition. There is a book to accompany the exhibition that I almost bought but didn’t.

My favourite book by Virginia is The Waves, but more and more I’m appreciating the shorter stuff. At the moment I am reading A Haunted House and Other Short Stories. It is delicious.

I just read Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris. That, a talk by Ali Smith at the Portrait Gallery called ‘Getting Virginia Woolf’s Goat’, and the exhibition Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision all helped gather these threads together. As did working on getting over my inverted snobbery that held me back from fully declaring my love for that particular posh woman.

Ok times up. Screw harvard 😉

Changing the world

Personal pronouns purposefully confused.


What do you mean when you say you want to change the world?
(What world-changing project are you working on and why?)

What do you mean by ‘social change’,  ‘social purpose’, ‘social action’?
(what do these buzz-words mean? Do they help to make change (using the given project definition above) possible, are they useful? If so, how, why?)

How do we check that we’re changing the world in the way we intended?

Or (maybe more realistically) how do we know how we are changing the world?


Everyone changes the world. The world changes everyone.

There’s a whole load of intersecting cultural and social bullshit that makes different capacities for world changing deeply problematic. That makes me angry (if I have enough energy).

I am queer, anarchist, feminist. I couldn’t begin to answer those questions without those identities. They are the reason for asking, and will be language of answering.


Complexity. I keep saying that I have so much to say about this. It is still true. It is getting clearer. Maybe my next post will make a start. I just know it will take a while so I’m putting it off. Terrible plan.

And I Am Not Finished.*

For a while recently I spent a lot of time thinking about the question ‘What do I do when I am challenged?’

I’ve been exploring what triggers defensiveness, and how I can stay open to criticism, to let it change me.

Now I am asking the question ‘What do I do when I challenge?’.

When we critique and challenge on social networking websites, we leave a trail. There has been much said about the problems of having complex, charged debates online but I won’t talk about that. I am interested in the opportunity that indelible trace gives us to reflect.

So what do I do when I challenge?

My heart beats really loud in my chest. My skin feels simultaneously hypersensitive and slightly numb. I feel a little bit sick and dizzy and blood rushes to my face. I know I have to act but I really don’t want to.

That feeling is anger, but the most powerful, uncomfortable feeling is responsibility. That heavy feeling I get when I realise that my opinion needs to make itself known to the world whether I feel anywhere close to comfortable or not. Acting from a cocktail of anger and responsibility is a complex thing. We are not supposed to act while angry. Anger is supposed to limit our judgement, make us irrational. While true in some ways, I find that way of framing emotion troubling. Many a damaging thing has been done in the name of rationality, and my anger has given me strength I never knew I had. But I am still questioning that space in which I speak with a pounding heart, when my body is busy.

“Of course some public expressions of hurt can close spaces down. So too, of course, can public expressions of what some might call reason. It is collective work to keep spaces open especially when we are talking about histories that hurt” Sara Ahmed

That feeling of responsibility carries with it a sense of urgency. Because silence means allowing things to continue. But what if something isn’t actively continuing? I think the sense of urgency I feel sometimes is the fear of knowing I am complicit.

“If we realize there is a problem and refuse to participate in its solution, we will become accomplices from that point forward, even if we did not cause it.” Louis E Romero

In those moments, I need to ask what will change if I speak, what will change if I wait.

One of the things that will change if I wait long enough is my heart rate. The physicality of my anger will subside. This might make me more rational, but I will have less energy, less passion. I will have more compassion for the people I am challenging and less empathy for those I am defending (which may or may not include myself).

In anger, I make mistakes. In calm, compassionate rationality I make mistakes. One of the hardest lessons I am trying to teach myself at the moment is to hold my mistakes. If my mistakes take me spinning into anxiety and defensiveness, I will fear my own voice and only hear the harm it can do. I will mistrust my anger, and never present anyone with a challenge. I will be complicit.

When I was a child, I was taught never to say sorry unless I understood what I had done wrong and could honestly say I would change my behaviour as a result of that new understanding. Like many lessons learnt young, I keep that one close to my heart, but it is difficult the more complex my wrongs are. I can never say sorry for my internalised misogyny, or the infinite ways I use my white privilege to navigate and gain from racist society.

I recently said sorry after writing something that challenged. I said sorry because I had said previously that I didn’t have enough information to contribute to the discussion, but after getting only slightly more information I wrote what I thought. I think that apology was in part motivated by my strong desire to apologise for my challenge. Like I said, I really don’t like doing it. I don’t like the fear of losing friends, respect, losing that veneer of rationality and unconditional compassion. I’ve read it over and over and even without a pounding heart I am not sorry for the words I wrote; they are what I think and what I feel. I can’t say sorry for that, but I am still fearful of its power to hurt, divide. There is so much more to say on this, but I haven’t got the words yet.

“The key to get out of this vicious cycle is to take responsibility for solving the problem, not necessarily the problem itself.” Louis E Romero

I can’t say sorry for my complicity in intersecting webs of oppression.
I won’t say sorry for my heartfelt, flawed challenges to the intersecting threads in that web.
I will take responsibility for both, and make change accordingly. No matter how hard my heart pounds.

*”Bad feelings are creative responses to histories that are unfinished. They are not the only responses. And we are not finished.” Sara Ahmed

Intersectionality & Systems Thinking

This is why I think complexity & systems thinking is a good lens to look through when thinking about intersectionality:

If we realize there is a problem and refuse to participate in its solution, we will become accomplices from that point forward, even if we did not cause it. If, in addition to refusing to participate in the solution, we choose to blame others for the problem and demand that they solve it for us, the situation will certainly worsen. Further, if everyone chooses to behave in the same way, the problem will become chronic and cause additional complications. The key to get out of this vicious cycle is to take responsibility for solving the problem, not necessarily the problem itself.

The quote is from Louis E Romero, summarising the 11 Laws of Systems Thinking , originally outlined by Peter Senge in his book The 5th Discipline.

I hope to post a proper blog post on this soon, but I just had to get this out there and its too long to fit in a tweet.

Is anyone out there thinking about intersectionality via complexity? It would make my day to talk to you if you are.