Thursday, 22 February 2018

Notes from the eighth session (Adam Ferner)

This Wednesday, the group convened at lunch-time, in the IoE's PC Lab, to discuss:

  • Frances Beale – "Double Jeopardy: To be Black and Female"
  • Linda La Rue (introduction)
  • Patricia Haden, Donna Middleton and Patricia Robinson – "A Historical and Critical Essay for Black Women"
  • The Combahee River Collective – "A Black Feminist Statement"
  • Cheryl Clarke – "Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance"

Laurencia Sáenz Benavides gave an overview of the readings and facilitated the discussion. We were lucky to be joined by members from the Netherlands and Bristol (around 16 people in total), and very lucky, again, to have Kristie Dotson joining us from the States.

Among other things, we spoke about how the different texts articulated and problematised hierarchies of oppression, and about the process and functions of myth-making, as it appears in e.g. 'A Historical and Critical Essay for Black Women'. In relation to myth-making, we split up into break-out groups to discuss how philosophical, intellectual labour can be performed in media other than texts (e.g. films, television, music).

We were also fortunate to be joined by Samia Malik, from the Women of Colour Index, who gave us an insight into the work that WOCI do – focussing on improving the visibility of women of colour artists – and how that bore on the discussions being had.

We were in a new room this week, and had a few technical and practical issues – but Zoom continues to work well (once it's up and running) – and we look forward to the next group, in a fortnight's time (which will be held exclusively on Zoom, because of UCU strike action).

If you would like to contribute your thoughts or comments – on the session, or the readings – please do so below, or email them over to

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Notes from the seventh session (Adam Ferner)

This Wednesday, we restarted our work group at the Institute of Education. Over the last few weeks, Zara Bain has been working with Kristie Dotson to devise a reading list to parallel the course that Kristie's running at Yale, on Black Feminist Philosophy. The readings for this session were primarily taken from Beverly Guy-Sheftall's anthology, Words of Fire:

  • Sojourner Truth – Woman's Rights
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper – Woman's Political Future
  • Anna Julia Cooper – The Status of Woman in America
  • Ida Wells-Barnett – Lynch Law in America
  • Claudia Jones – An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!
  • Lorraine Hansberry – Simone de Beauvoir and The Second Sex: An American Commentary
  • Kristie Dotson – Between Rocks and Hard Places: Introducing Black Feminist Professional Philosophy
Zara and Kristie ran the session, which was well attended (around 22 people). We were particularly lucky to have Kristie joining; many of us (certainly at the IoE) were unfamiliar with the literature and the general intellectual context – and it was incredible to have her input and insight, and generous of her to take the time to help us get our bearings. In relation to this, the point was also made that while the first session may serve as an orientation, there should be greater sharing of intellectual labour in the later ones.

This was also the first time we used '' to live-stream the event (at Kristie and Zara's suggestion). Despite a couple of small, teething issues, it worked very well – and we were joined by a satellite group in Bristol, and a number of individual researchers from the States and the Netherlands, as well as elsewhere in the UK. The system allows for greater participation from online attendees – and also allows us to side-step many of the usual obstacles faced by reading groups and work groups restricted to specific spatial locations. It also has a 'break-out' room function, which we deployed during Wednesday's session to generate questions about Kristie's introductory remarks and the readings.
  • What do you [Kristie] mean when you say everything is reduced to ontology and is there an underlying critique of analytic philosophy?
  • How can we meaningfully engage with Black Feminist thought without appropriating it or flattening it?
  • What is the relationship between Harper's work and current philosophy and thinking about the epistemology of ignorance being (potentially) redundant?
  • Do existing tools for critical engagement – such as ideology critique – contain the resources to provide solutions to the problems black feminists are trying to solve?
  • How do we balance the theoretical virtue of intellectual diversity with the potential political utility of intellectual unity?
If you would like to contribute your thoughts, or comments – on the session, or the readings – please do so below, or email them over to

Monday, 5 February 2018

Webinaring with Zoom!

After a couple of (successful) trial sessions, we've now decided to switch from live-streaming via YouTube, to YouTube worked relatively well last term but didn't really allow the people in the room to interact with virtual attendees. The only means of interaction was via the YouTube live-chat function. offers a variety of ways for online participants to engage with the work-group – either via video, audio, or live-chat. It also has a 'break-out room' function, which will allow online attendees to discuss the readings in smaller groups.

Joining us via is relatively straightforward. You need to have a Zoom account – which you can sign up for free, here: Before every session, I'll send out a unique sign-in number, which you can enter into your Zoom account (having clicked 'Join meeting') – and that should patch you through.

Because we're going to be using the free version of Zoom, our meetings can only be 40 mins – so we're going to set up 3 meetings to run consecutively. I'll email out a list of sign-in numbers.

If you have any issues setting it up, please get in touch (at and I'll see what I can do to help!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Discussion session: Tommie Shelby – ‘Prison Abolition? The Uses and Abuses of Incarceration’ 23/1/2018 (UCL)

The draft of Professor Tommie Shelby’s paper – ‘Prison Abolition? The Uses and Abuses of Incarceration’ – was circulated in advance of the 2 hour meeting.* Professor Shelby gave a five-minute introduction to the paper – in which, in reference to the US prison system, he argues for prison reform rather than abolition (and therefore against the position that Angela Davis advocates). Jeffrey Howard, from the UCL Legal and Political Theory seminar group, chaired the session.

One theme that came up repeatedly was the level of idealisation in the paper. Davis’s position is very sensitive to the current social realities (Shelby's is as well, but in slightly different way) and Davis sees abolition as the only appropriate response to the myriad of injustices perpetrated within and by the US prison system. Shelby's project (here at least) seems to be more a matter of whether or not it's logically possible to have a just and moral prison system – which, he argues, it is – so abolition isn't justified (...though comments on this aspect of the discussion would be gratefully received – it may be an ungenerous rendering).

Another (related) issue, raised by James Wilson, focussed on Shelby’s stated interpretation of Davis’s abolition claim. Wilson suggested that Shelby’s engagement was, in a way too analytic, and perhaps too literal. Davis can be read, said Wilson, as making a rhetorical – strategic – move, with the aim of mobilising people – and prompting invigorated ethical reflection. Shelby’s response was that he believes Davis actually literally actively advocates abolition of prisons (which it seems that she does).

A third point which came up related to the tension – advertised but not fully analysed in the paper – between the prisoner's rights, and the policy of incarcerating individuals because they pose a threat to society. Committing a crime doesn't mean one gives up the rights to be treated justly – and the anticipatory, rather than retrospective incarceration of individuals (as in 'Minority Report'), is unjust treatment.

The event was well attended (90 or so people) – but given the structure of the session – and given that it wasn't (perhaps) sufficiently well sign-posted that Shelby would only be answering questions – a number of people left before the two hours were up. It's also worth noting that in previous colloquia, organised by the LPT group, priority seems to have been given first to BA, then MA, then PhD students (before being open to the floor) – but here, there was no such ordering, and some attendees may well have felt inhibited as a result.

Comments warmly welcomed!

*Let us know if you’d like a copy of the paper and we can send it over.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Moving forward

One thing that we've repeatedly discussed over the last few weeks is how to mobilise what we've learned (in the public sphere, not least) and how to continue this research. We've had a couple of suggestions (below). If you have any other thoughts, please add them to the comments chain.

- We should continue the reading group (Zara has suggested that we turn to look at the work of Charles Mills).

- One issue that came up during the conversation with Barbara Applebaum was how academic language presents an obstacle to public engagement. We've been discussing the possibility of creating short non-academic summaries (of chapters from the book, or related papers) and uploading them to a hosting hub. This could be a helpful resource to which different reading groups can contribute.

Notes from the sixth session (Adam Ferner)

This Monday (20th November) we met at the Institute of Education to discuss the book Being White, Being Good, with the author, Barbara Applebaum. She very kindly joined us via Google Hangouts (from Syracruse, where it was 7.30am) and spoke to us about her reasons for writing the book in the first place, the various reactions to it, and where her research is now. After her talk, she very kindly answered questions from the group – and it was (despite the slightly temperamental online connection) a fantastic opportunity for us to explore the questions and thoughts that have been prompted by reading BWBG.

Among the topics of discussion, we looked at: the extent to which the book itself is – through its primarily white references – an instance of white centrism; how her pedagogical theory plays out in a classroom context; whether it's important to look to non-eurocentric models of moral responsibility in order to discuss these issues; and the degree to which her involvement with these issues differed in philosophy (as a discipline) as opposed to education (as a discipline).

We had a good turn out in the room (12 people) and 6–7 people online. 

Friday, 17 November 2017


Next Monday (Nov 20th) lunch-time – 12.45–2pm – Professor Barbara Applebaum will talk to us online about her book Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. For more information, please get in contact with Adam at

Notes from the eighth session (Adam Ferner)

This Wednesday, the group convened at lunch-time, in the IoE's PC Lab, to discuss: Frances Beale – "Double Jeopardy: To be Bla...