"A Key Area of Knowledge Delivered by Someone Knowledgeable": Feminist Expectations and Explorations of a One-Off Economics Lecture on Gender

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper explores the action of attending a visiting academic's one-off lecture, whether in the lecture theatre or on the Internet, in order to gain knowledge from a recognised expert of an unfamiliar but relevant field of research. The actions of entering the theatre and sitting for an hour, or of clicking 'play', appear to be simple gestures for the acquisition of knowledge; this paper explores the complexity of the processes surrounding the lecture, and the way in which the lecture constructs a passive listening position for the audience. The exploration takes place in the frame of one such lecture: the inaugural lecture of the Bocconi annual series at Bocconi University, Italy, entitled "Gender Equality and Economic Development", held in 2010. The author watched this lecture on the Internet in order to gain knowledge of the place of 'gender' in Development Economics; the paper represents in part the author's struggle with expectations of a feminist stance. The paper is an attempt to find an active listening stance, and to interrogate the author's reaction to the lecture.

The first section of the paper addresses the presentation of information in the lecture, how it is established as an Economics lecture on gender. Categories of feminist economics: access feminism, empiricist feminism, difference feminism, and the newer position of gender awareness, are aligned with the lecture. The second section, which analyses the position of the lecturer, situates the lecture in the ongoing processes that establish the lecture as an event, the lecturer as an expert in Economics. Finally, the overt agenda of the lecture, as laid out in the literature on the art of lecturing, is juxtaposed with the covert processes of academic identity construction.

Keywords: Gender Economics, Feminism in Academia, Lecturing

Introduction

"A lecture should be an overview of a key area of knowledge delivered by someone knowledgeable in the field" (Exley and Dennick 10)

"'Lecturing is the transference of the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the student without passing through the brains of either'" (ibid 3, anon.cit.)

The idea of attending a one-off lecture given by a visiting academic, hoping to gain an insight into a domain that is not our home territory, is a familiar temptation for all of us. Attendance involves the simple, low-commitment gesture of entering a theatre, or of clicking 'play' on a podcast, and sitting passively before a speaker in order to gain an "an overview of a key area of knowledge" from "someone knowledgeable in the field" (ibid 10). Equally as familiar as the temptation to attend one of these lectures as an easy means to interdisciplinarity is the discomfort that the one-off lecture can bring. The discomfort can range from frustration at an unengaged speaker, who speaks to the converted of the discipline, boredom if the lecture title was misleading and the lecture completely irrelevant to your interests, anxiety if the lecture engages with your own topics in a way you always should have ... You exit the theatre, or press 'stop', perhaps prematurely, and return to your niche--or you stay, and then perhaps borrow a recommended book from the library to read further. The audience member is positioned in a passive role, where the only active stances are in themselves prescribed: stay or leave. In this paper, I explore the visiting academic's lecture as situated in discourses of power and structures of authority, with the intended effect of resisting the prescribed passive roles and empowering the audience member to engage actively with the processes of knowledge-production and reinforcement. In keeping with the field of feminist research in Higher Education, I aim to harness "creative energy for change and critique, empowering [me] to apply political understanding to methodologies for teaching, learning, research and writing in the academy" (Morley and Walsh, 1995: p. …