Women Studies 526

The Study of Lives in Feminist Research:
Narrative and Visual Approaches

Instructor: Sasha Welland
Email: swelland@u.washington.edu
Office: Padelford B-110P   
Office Hours: T 3:30-5:00 & by appt.

Winter 2010
Time: TTh 1:30-3:20
Classroom: Savery 139

Class email: women526a_wi10@u.washington.edu
This address is linked to the UW email addresses of all students enrolled in the course. I will use it to distribute announcements related to class. To receive these announcements, you must check your UW email account.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still | Zoe Leonard, Fae Richards | Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet

Course Description
Feminist research, when it uses the methods of ethnography, oral history, biography, photography, or documentary film, often involves the representation of people’s lives, as a way of giving voice to or making visible those on the underside of power, and of intervening in dominant paradigms of representation. Yet, even and arguably especially scholarship done in the name of social justice involves intertwined interpretive and ethical questions: who has the right to represent whom, using what representational strategies, and for what purposes and audiences? This graduate-level course examines the study of others’ (and sometimes the researcher’s own) lives through narrative and visual forms of representation that feminist researchers and cultural producers have used in their work. We will explore the craft, goals, and ethics involved this work: what does it mean to represent someone’s life as part of a feminist research project; and how does one do it effectively and responsibly? Students should come to class with a research project in development; part of the class will involve a workshop critique of students’ own work-in-progress. This course asks students to analyze and critique feminist texts, films, and visual materials, not as an end in itself, but as a preliminary to their own attempt at “telling a life” as part of their ongoing or proposed research.

Course Objectives
  • To examine how feminist scholars, writers, activists, and artists have researched and represented lives in their work to challenge dominant paradigms of representation and ways of knowing. 
  • To analyze the politics of representation involved in feminist efforts to convey the life of another (or one’s self) for intellectual or activist purposes. 
  • To understand debates about life histories—written, oral, and visual—within Women Studies and related disciplines in which this qualitative method has been used by researchers, often as a way of shifting previous modes of knowledge production.
  • To explore the relationship between narrative and visual forms of representation, as well as the different ways in which they communicate and circulate.
  • To explore the relationship between academic, activist, and artistic forms of knowledge production: what is the difference between primary documentation or cultural production and critical analysis of it, and when is the line between the two blurre
  • To hone your own research methodology: how and why will the study of lives, through narrative and/or visual methods, be part of your research?
  • To reflect on all of the above through practice in “telling a life” and the craft and technique of writing or image-making that this process entails. 
Course Texts
All course texts are available at the University Book Store and on 4-hour reserve at Odegaard.
  • Course Reader—Electronic files of articles are available for download on the course website.
  • Ruth Behar, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story
  • Coco Fusco, A Field Guide for Female Interrogators
  • Sangtin Writers and Richa Nagar, Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India
  • Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives
  • Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity
Course Films
These films will be shown in class. Available on reserve at Odegaard Media Center.
  • Veronica Barrera, Lo que Me Tocó Vivir - The Life I Got to Live
  • Cheryl Dunye, The Watermelon Woman
  • Coco Fusco, Operation Atropos
  • Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet, Given Name Nam
Course Slides & Videos
Slides and videos by the following artists will be available through the course website and/or shown in class.
  • Laura Aguilar, slides
  • Claude Cahun, slides
  • Imelda Cajipe-Endya, slides
  • Lyle Ashton Harris, slides
  • Todd Haynes, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (online video)
  • He Chengyao, slides
  • E. Patrick Johnson, Sweet Tea (online performance clips)
  • Zoe Leonard, slides
  • Amalia Mesa-Bains, slides
  • Cindy Sherman, slides
  • Lorna Simpson, slides
  • Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (online performance clips)
  • Hannah Wilke, slides
Adobe Acrobat file icon WOMEN 526 syllabus.pdf77K Download View


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