Difficult Women & the Common Good: Activism, Archives, Aesthetics

deadline for submissions: 
May 18, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities
contact email: 

On 29 June, IASH is hosting ‘Difficult Women & the Common Good: Activism, Archives, Aesthetics’, a one-day symposium that reflects on the ‘difficult woman’ in interdisciplinary perspective in order to highlight her importance as a political figure. The keynote speaker is Professor Akwugo Emejulu of the University of Warwick.

In the final American presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton as she responded to a question about social security: ‘Nasty woman’, he said. The reaction on social media was immediate: #NastyWoman began trending on Twitter and within an hour, ‘Nasty Woman’ T-shirts were on sale, proceeds donated to Planned Parenthood. The ‘nasty woman’ became a call for solidarity amongst women, evident in the Women’s Marches that occurred across the globe after Trump’s inauguration as president, and which marked, in the United States, the largest-ever single-day protest. The mobilisation of the nasty woman as an emblem of social activism taps into a contemporary moment in which the figure of the difficult, dangerous or unlikable woman is gaining traction. In 2016, for instance, Huffington Post announced the ‘Rise of the Unlikable Woman’, while a 2017 Fox News headline warned that, ‘Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to love’. The difficult woman is having her moment in the academy, too: Sara Ahmed’s theorisation of the ‘feminist killjoy’ has gained a cultural currency not normally granted to academics. It is the time, in short, of the difficult woman.

In spite of this attention, there remain major questions about how we conceptualise the difficult woman, how we might mobilise the progressive potential of the way she models alternative modes of living in, and telling stories about, society. Recent years have witnessed the continuing rollback of welfare programmes, of healthcare benefits, of pensions; where we have seen the attenuation of trade union power, the casualisation of the workforce and the rise of hideous economic and racial inequality. We have seen the resurgence of a far-right nationalism across Europe and the United States that has resulted in the sealing of borders and xenophobic and punitive immigration policy. This symposium looks to the difficult woman to help answer the questions: how can we conceive of community in the face of such contingency? What does social justice look like under these conditions? How can we look out for the ‘common good’?

Bringing together sociologists, literary scholars, archivists and creative practitioners, this symposium draws on a range of disciplinary expertise and practice to theorise and celebrate the difficult woman. We are pleased to invite proposals for papers (15-20 minutes) on women’s activism, women’s writing, and the archiving of women’s work and/or lives. We particularly welcome proposals for papers that focus on experimental writing and writing by and/or archives of BAME authors, activists and communities. 

To submit, please send a title and a short proposal (max. 250 words), together with a bio, to sarah.bernstein@ed.ac.uk by 5pm on 18 May 2018.