This Year in Grievance Studies: Creepy Collages, Sanitary Napkins, and the Manifested Ecologies of Educational Activism

Welcome to the first annual Grievance Studies Awards! I combed through over a hundred papers in search of the most absurd, pointless, nonsensical, and pathologically postmodern selections. I named a total of 21 winners in seven categories. Buckle up.

Category #1: Most Navel-Gazing

First Place: On Being a Transamorous Man by Geoffrey H. Nicholson in Transgender Studies Quarterly

“By most measures,” the author of this paper begins, “my life would be considered quite unremarkable.” Except he’s not entirely unremarkable:

“I have always considered myself essentially heterosexual, even though bisexual tendencies have emerged over time. I did not lose my virginity until twenty-six, when I forced myself to visit a brothel to satisfy my ever-burgeoning sexual curiosity. My wife was my first true girlfriend, and we married in 1990 and began a family soon afterward. My marriage has worked well at the emotional level, but not as well at the physical level. Sex dried up after our first son was born and disappeared after we had our fourth child. We have not had sex for fourteen years.”

His solution to the problem? Lots more sex. I won’t go into more detail, but unfortunately, the author does. The reminder of the essay details his frequenting of an “adult shop’s” “transsexual magazine section,” his feelings about male genitals and specific components of sexual intercourse, a list of his favorite “trans porn performers,” musings on “whether trans women are a particular sexual preference, or even a fetish, for me,” and his admission that he “would like to be more open about my attraction to trans women.” Mission accomplished, I suppose.

Second Place: Affect, alienation, and awkwardness: Why I sing to my students (a non-representational consideration) by David Lewkowich in Emotion, Space and Society

“As I sing to my students in literacy education, my performance appears to catch them unprepared and unaware, as their immediate physical responses often manifest a palpable sense of doubt, disequilibrium and uncertainty…They shift uncomfortably in their seats, appear to panic with eyes wide open, stare absentmindedly at their computer screens, make fleeting and awkward eye contact (both with me and each other), and unsuccessfully try to stifle nervous and irrepressible laughter…If I look at my fingers, I can see they’re slowly shaking, and already my shirt is damp with sweat.”

One might conclude that there is a very, very simple solution to this problem: don’t sing to your students. But the author chooses a more metaphysical route:

“As I sing, I seem to lose my psychic grounding and take up dizzily, momentarily in flight, which leads me to wonder if the ideal of pedagogic mastery, and its associated qualities of intellectual stability, can ever be said to actually represent the true condition of the teacher. Perhaps the teacher is always in flight and only ever hallucinates ground. Indeed, perhaps the loss of the teacher’s meaning is all we ever had, the awkward glances we share a passing and clumsy recognition of this disheartening (yet also strangely liberating) fact. If this is the case, however, and the song a reminder of the persistence of the incoherencies of teaching, there must be something in my singing that is able to do this dubious work.”

Lack of “intellectual stability” does seem like an apt description. The author goes on to describe his singing as a “slippery text,” a “scandalous device,” an invitation to students “out to the edge of the cliff of the conceptual,” and a disruption of “the very idea of teaching as a self-conscious and self-knowable event.” His poor students…

Third Place: Fighting Gendered Battles: On Being a Woman in a Contemporary Gaming Community by Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

Women across the globe face domestic violence sex trafficking, but equally outrageous injustices occur in the gaming community every day. In this article, the author “discuss[es] the data collected from [her] four years of lived experience playing Magic in competitive tournament settings.” McKinnon-Crowley accomplishes this through a “scholarly personal narrative,” which is apparently a thing these days, offering a number of observations, including an entire paragraph questioning whether she is striking the appropriate balance between pleasantries and ruthlessness (the conclusion: maybe). She ends with the realization that “though I have a vendetta against unfair gender norms, it is not solely my responsibility to prove my skill. If other players assume that my gender is responsible for my losses, that is their–and society’s–fault, not mine.” Everyone hates society!

Category #2: Most Frequent Use of the Adjective “Vampiric”

First (And Only) Place: Drinking and Disappearing: Vampiric Orality and Age As Challenging the Youthful Male Gaze in Let Me In by Kyle Christensen in Women’s Studies in Communication

Like all good academic articles, this paper focuses on a 2010 vampire horror film. The layman viewer might mistake this film for a film, but actually, it’s a work of feminist art, the protagonist of which challenges “Western culture’s tendency to fetishize images of youthful womanhood/girlhood.” She does this by using her vampiric mouth, which is just one example of the general symbol of the vampiric mouth (though not to be confused with the fanged vampiric mouth), the vampiric orality of which enables vampiric drinking and vampiric deconstruction of the patriarchy plus the vampiric symbolic death of beauty standards. Vampirically.

Category #3: Specialest Snowflake

First Place: ‘Where are you from? Your English is so good’: a Korean female scholar’s autoethnography of academic imperialism in U.S. higher education by Hyunjin Jinna Kim in International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education

This paper begins with an anecdote about handing out sandwiches as part of a community service initiative and being hit on by a stranger. This reminded the author not that some men are creeps, but that she is Asian.

Things get worse from there–not in terms of her sandwich-handling career, but in the continued navel-gazing and relentless problematizing. The author is upset that she is complimented for her English. This is a microaggression because it assumes that she isn’t “from here” (America). Here’s the thing, though: she’s Korean. She was born in Korea, spent a significant portion of her childhood in Korea, attended university in Korea, and worked in Korea. But anyone who compliments her English is still an oppressor.

Midway through the paper, the author abruptly changes course: “I am a rape victim: The five most difficult words I have trouble admitting to people in academia.” Some might say that disclosing this personal trauma in a professional context would be inappropriate, but the author disagrees, noting that, “I still occasionally suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and mild depression with a fear of being haunted by my own memories.” (Side note: I’m pretty sure “occasional PTSD” is not a thing.)

The author concludes with a litany of other complaints. Professors tell her that she needs to work on her grammar, which is clearly racist and bigoted, not standard writing feedback. She’s convinced that whenever people ask for her feedback on academic programs, her “input is valuable–as long as it benefits the Whites.” When she taught an ESL class, she had to discipline a student for plagiarism instead of “empathizing with him.” Needless to say, her life is very, very, very hard.

Second Place: The Haunting of Shame: Autoethnography and the Multivalent Stigma of Being Queer, Muslim, and Single by Aliraza Javaid in Symbolic Interaction

If you thought being single was bad, and you realized that being single and queer is even worse, then wait until you meet this triply oppressed author. He’s single, queer, AND–pause for effect–Muslim. So naturally, he wrote an article about it.

As a queer single Muslim, the author “confronts temporal regulations, norms, and values…He is cast as an ‘outsider,’ which reinforces his stigma in everyday social life.” This sounds bad, but don’t worry. He also also “forge[s] a queer pathway in a heterosexual world to acclaim my right to a route of liberation, where the shackles of power and inequality come off.” He accomplishes this by:

  • Complaining about the severity of his victimization in cringe-fully sexual terms: “The Muslim male body is expected to penetrate, not to be penetrated. Male sexual victimization equates to penile‐anal penetration, so notions of disgust and abnormality became infused with my multivalent stigma of being queer, Muslim, and single. I soon realized from my Auntie that I needed to promptly develop mechanisms to manage my multiple stigmas in the realm of being haunted by critical parental voices and questions, just as I am haunted by the ‘marriage time bomb’ that is waiting to go off.”
  • Complaining about his lack of success in finding romantic partners: “the continual rejections I receive from the men position me in a stigmatized category, that of a gay Muslim single.”
  • Complaining about his success in finding romantic partners: “they sexually objectify me through sex, desiring no romance, only to penetrate the terrifying thought in me that I could potentially be alone—forever—I am haunted by the inescapable thought that I could die alone, having not loved.”

Tough luck, bruh. But at least you made a paper out of it.

Third Place: Resisting within the neoliberalising academy: Reflections on doing transformative doctoral research by Sofia Dedotsi and Gorana Panić in Emotion, Space and Society

Remember the Greek government-debt crisis way back when? It didn’t just threaten the viability of the eurozone, cause unemployment to skyrocket, and plunge Greece into a period of grim economic austerity. It also targeted an innocent critical theorist who was already a victim of the neoliberal academy. The researcher in question, Sofia Dedotsi, had to speed up her research process, which she found “challenging” and “painful.” But this wasn’t the worst of it. She also fell prey to the oppressive power of reality and the unfair demands of the peer-review process:

“In some academic conferences, the findings of my research have been questioned as ‘not legitimate’ or ‘dangerous’ reflecting social work education in Greece, whilst in the peer-review process there has been one reviewer who kept asking new major revisions in a paper of mine, openly disagreeing with some of the content as well as questioning the evidence and credibility of my research, despite the fact that other reviewers and journal editors were supportive. Of course, this is a small example, but highlights wider concerns of how transformative research can be blocked from a number of stakeholders, constructing the researcher and the research findings as the sources of the problem.”

Of course, there’s no chance that her research is actually illegitimate. This is just evidence of an unfair “notion of ‘failure’” that “can serve as a useful tool of neoliberal academia to isolate, alienate and consequently, weaken any potential resistance.” (I encountered a similar struggle when I wrote a paper for my high school physics class exploring the possibility of a triangular-shaped Earth. My teacher told me that my work was “spectacularly illogical,” “poorly explained,” and “dangerously removed from reality,” which confirmed my suspicions that he was nothing but a sexist bigot determined to undermine the success of women in STEM.)

Dedotsi’s coauthor, Gorana Panić, experienced similar injustices when her research project was deemed a failure by her loser colleagues. Luckily, Panić realized that failure is just a social construct that can provide a means to resist the dominant neoliberal ideology that pervades the higher education system and demands “success” at all costs. I should send this paper to my physics teacher.

Category #4: Most Expansive Definition of “Research”

First Place: Research Falling Out of Colorful Pages Onto Paper: Collage Inquiry by Maria K.E. Lahman, Christina M. Taylor, Lindsay A. Beddes, and more in Qualitative Inquiry

“As part of an advanced doctoral course on representing qualitative research, the authors used collage to represent either who they were as researcher or the research they were conducting.” Then they collaborated to write a terrible poem, the main redeeming quality of which is that it’s not a slam poem. Toward the beginning of the article, the authors note that “limited attention has been given to collage as a means of data analysis.”

In addition to being of questionable rigor, their research was also moderately creepy. The course instructor, a self-described “qualitative methodology professor,” created a collage by cutting out images of small children and arranging them in the shape of a flower. She prides herself on having “free[d] [a piece of white cardstock] from its rectangular foundation.” She concludes, “Although I do not think the collage process caused me to have any revelations about the data, it was nonetheless a satisfying experience.” Surprise!

In other news, Lindsay, the educational psychologist, created a collage that functioned as a metaphor for the American dream. And not to be outdone, Kim compares herself to Daniel in The Karate Kid: “What actually happened was a great lesson in grounded theory supported by visualization, a succinct way to visually display an alternative representation of a data set, and a great lesson in differentiation for us graduate students.”

Tl;dr – if your research is best conveyed through magazine cut-outs and Elmer’s glue, you’re probably not doing it right.

Second Place: Reclaiming My Sister, Medusa: A Critical Autoethnography About Healing From Sexual Violence Through Solidarity, Doll-Making, and Mending Myth by Rosemary C. Reilly in Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies

You probably haven’t heard of “fiction-based research” for the same reason that people don’t talk much about dissolvable swimsuits or optional taxes: they’re bad and oxymoronic ideas. But that didn’t stop this researcher from embarking on an epic journey to “make dolls and reclaim the myth of Medusa.” The ensuing paper is unabashedly self-indulgent, featuring a section titled “research as me/search” and way too many pictures of ugly dolls. (And not the cute ones that I adored from ages eight to 11.) This “research” had a transformational effect:

“In creating the body of Medusa, I become more in touch with my own body, my roundness, my muscles and sinews, my softness. I begin to embody not what happened then, but how I am now. As Spry (2011) notes, this doll body is assisting epistemology (where my physical body has failed) rather than enacting it. Embodied knowledge is being constructed through performance, but my doll was doing the performing.”

It doesn’t get more science-y than this.

Third Place: Impact of ableist microaggressions on university students with self-identified disabilities by Kayla Lett, Andreea Tamaian, and Bridget Klest in Disability & Society

Authors Kayla Lett, Andreea Tamaian, and Bridget Klest investigated the effect of ableist microaggressions in a study with questionable methodology. First, as the title suggests, the researchers surveyed a sample of 108 Canadians with self-identified disability–with no documentation or any other method of corroborating these claims. Given how trendy self-diagnosis seems to be (at least on Tumblr and other such swamps), I’m guessing this sample varies significantly from a group of people with objectively defined disabilities.

And while I can’t speak to the reliability of their metrics from a truly statistical perspective, I want to point out that the Ableist Microaggression Scale contains some vague language that seems very open to interpretation:

  • “A family member held my disability status against me”
  • “I observed people with my disability status portrayed positively in magazines”
  • “I was given unsolicited encouragement based on my disability status”
  • “Someone assumed I would choose to not have my disability status”

Others hardly seem like evidence of “microaggressions:”

  • “Someone told me they do not see ‘ability’ or ‘disability’”
  • “I was asked personal questions about my disability status”
  • “Someone expressed surprise at my own disclosure of my disability status”

So here’s the kicker: not only is the sample biased and the questionnaire vague, the very foundation of this study is questionable because researchers don’t consider microaggressions a valid scientific concept.

“Microaggressions have not been defined with nearly enough clarity and consensus to allow rigorous scientific investigation. No one has shown that they are interpreted negatively by all or even most minority groups. No one has demonstrated that they reflect implicit prejudice or aggression. And no one has shown that microaggressions exert an adverse impact on mental health.”

Scott Lilienfeld

Category #5: Most Impressive Use of Language to Obscure Meaning

First Place: Making Middles Matter: Intersecting Intersectionality with New Materialisms by Milla Tiainen, Taru Leppänen, Katve Kontturi, and Tara Mehrabi in NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research

“By working with the concept of the middle, we hope to advance, then, an understanding of differences highlighted by intersectionality theories as often somewhat unpredictable processes and as the outcome of interrelationality, or intra-action (Barad, 2007), through which situated embodied subjectivities materialize differentially. While the middle may advance further understanding of intersectional differences, we are keenly aware of the numerous “mappings, revisitings, critiques, unsettlings … challenges, framings, and guides” (Ilmonen, 2019, p. 5) that have been written on intersectionality over the past decades by feminist scholars in a range of disciplines. Hence, we are not claiming that “the middle” would offer something wholly novel to conceptualizations of intersectionality. Nor will it definitively solve the question of how to think of differences as open processes of becoming contingent on material, as well as discursive, relations and actions.”

Second Place: The Cryptographic and Metaphysic Nature of Liberatory Pedagogy by Latashia Harris in Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies

“Cryptographic praxis is something that my body is more familiar with than I initially realized before pursuing this research. The cryptic nature of communication practiced by the marginalized is one that serves a purpose of emphasizing importance, directions of how to take care, how to hold the sacred, instructions of how to navigate, and definitions and imagery of what liberation is and what it seeks to manifest. I, as a person a part of multiple intersectional marginalized communities, have learned these practices from evolving, current and historical responses to exclusion and sacred manifestations of created spaces of relative safety that are fairly indecipherable without embodiment of what exclusion forces bodies to adapt to. Some may understand meanings but not the feeling of these responses and manifestations, to which I posit, meaning without feeling is not meaning—it is definition without spirit or metaphysics which is required as an integral part of liberation.”

“Autoethnographically speaking, in Dillard et al. (2000) terms, my body is a witness of the inarticulable spirit of pedagogy and its kinetics. Through this research, I felt activated, instructed, and more confident in believing in the materialism of futurisms that come from believing in possibility, re/imagining, and posthumanism re/defining of self and community. I thought it best to not share my interpretation of the poems, but to leave this in the hands of the receivers. Without explanation or interpretation, the cryptic methodology remains intact while the spiritual and metaphysical response and actions following the experience of the poems’ exposure take place among individuals and communities of those who are activated, sustained, or find each other to work collaboratively for liberation from found poetry’s fire through the manifested ecologies of educational activism.”

Harry Potter and the Manifested Ecologies of Educational Activism. I’d read that.

Third Place: Nonsense, Play, and Liminality: Putting Postintentionality in Dialogue with De/colonizing Ontoepistemologies by Kakali Bhattacharya in Qualitative Inquiry

“This postintentional framing of phenomenology produces a loosening (Vagle & Hofsess, 2015) of the restrictive bordering of lived experience and knowledge, creating unexpected, unanticipated liminal spaces. Hofsess (2013) explains this liminality as an afterglow that holds ideas together in tension, as we reflexively complicate our understanding of self and its relation to the world. Thus, “meanings run through relations and are constantly being constructed, deconstructed, blurred, and disrupted. Intentionalities, then, run all over the place, all the time—at times with clarity, but most often in the gnarliness of life” (Vagle & Hofsess, 2015, p. 343). These postintentional moves incorporating meanings in messiness are also present in de/colonizing discourses, but understood as given, as always already. In the following section, I place these notions of meaning and postintentionality in dialogue with my recent movements in de/colonizing ontoepistemic and methodological spaces.”

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this paper is literally, explicitly, blatantly about nonsense.

Great. Moving on.

Category #6: Most Unnecessary Paper

First Place: “I Wish I Could Grow a Full Beard”: The Amateur Pogonotropher on the Beardbrand YouTube Channelby Christopher J. Schneider in Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies

This one is best summarized through haiku.

Beards are important
Why don't people study them?
This researcher did.

“Pogonotrophy refers to beard cultivation including growth and grooming practices. This exploratory study contributes to the little-understood role of beard culture on YouTube. Scholarship examining the relationship between social media platforms such as YouTube and beard culture is almost nonexistent. This gap in the research allows us to ask the following: What sorts of content do users circulate about beards on YouTube? And, how does this content contribute to how users interact and learn about beards?”

Once, he had a beard.
He shaved it off completely
But then it grew back.

“The longer my beard grew, the more it seemed that strangers—mostly other men in various social situations—would provide unsolicited approval in the form of verbal compliments—bearded catcalls of sorts—or blatant gestures, such as an affirmative thumbs-up while pointing at my face. Other times, men both with and without facial hair would randomly approach me to discuss beards, sometimes soliciting my personal advice and suggestions on how to grow a full beard. At times, I felt like I had unwittingly become a member of some beard cult.”

Most beards are symbols.
Actually, status symbols.
So yeah. This is deep.

“Consider a more recent and specific cultural example, the “lumbersexual.” The term was coined in late 2014 and is defined somewhat tongue-in-cheek by its creator as “someone who does not try much at all [and] has put great effort into explaining that it is NOT in fact a thing” (Puzak, 2014). The lumbersexual aesthetic consists of the carefully crafted look of a man who appears to live life as an outdoorsman (but doesn’t!) and not as a corporate shill. The lumbersexual wears flannel, boots, and quite often an unkempt beard as the distinguishing feature. The lumbersexual look is intended to symbolize the stereotypical lumberjack aesthetic.”

The researcher chose
To read comments on YouTube
As scholarly work.

“I approached the data seeking to locate themes not necessarily represented in the existent literature and themes beyond those such as masculinity or religion, as these are explored in great detail in the research literature. Having immersed myself in the data for 3 weeks during the data collection phase also helped me discover useful search terms to aid with further review of the data set. These terms were entered into the 8,957-page PDF data set.”

The article’s long
Too long, in my opinion
Like...it's just a beard.

“Although this article contributes to a few preliminary understandings concerning the role of YouTube in fostering contemporary beard culture in online spaces, it merely trims the surface. In this regard, this article provides the basis for future application of QMA not only on YouTube but also on other social media sites where beard enthusiasts interact and learn. For example, future research might explore Facebook group pages catering to gay bear pogonophiles and how these spaces help foster contemporary nonheteronormative beard communities.”

He could study math
Or books. Or philosophy.
Instead, he chose beards.

Second Place: Seasonal Masculinities: The Seasonal Contingencies of Doing Gender by Braden Leap in Men and Masculinities

Have you ever wondered how men in Missouri interact with ducks, geese, squirrels, catfish, other men, and trucks to perform masculinity on a seasonal basis? Me, either. But sometimes in life, we have to learn things that we didn’t want to know:

“Like other works emphasizing the links between (non)human interactions and gender (e.g., Tuana 2008; Jerolmack 2013), the preceding analysis illustrated masculinities complicated by race, class, and sexuality were constructed through mutually affected (non)human interactions. Men’s efforts to do masculinity were influenced by nonhumans who regularly outsmarted and evaded them as well as state regulations that mediated their interactions with nonhumans. Nevertheless, by strategically emphasizing intelligent nonhumans as well as state institutions undermined their abilities to effectively utilize subsistence skills rural men like themselves were expected to have, men in Sumner still constructed respectable masculinities.” Good for them.

Third Place: “Finally, we get to play the doctor”: feminist female fans’ reactions to the first female Doctor Who by Neta Yodovich in Feminist Media Studies

How did self-identified feminist fans of Doctor Who feel about the casting of the first female Doctor Who? They had a variety of opinions. I didn’t get much else out of this article, and I’m not sure you will, either.

Category #7: Most Boundaries Crossed

First Place: Journeying to visibility: An autoethnography of self-harm scars in the therapy room by Fiona J. Stirling in Psychotherapy and Politics International

Some might say that covering your self-harm scars while working as a therapist is a requirement for professionalism. The author, however, sees this expectation as a burden: “The weight of being responsible for another’s wellbeing as a novice counsellor saw me conceal what I felt presented any chance for disruption to the therapeutic relationship, preventing me from viewing my scars in any way as a possible asset.” (Perhaps because, with all due respect, her scars are not an asset?) She frets about the inauthenticity of her “crafted,” “scar-free” self, noting that “being seen as a competent therapist provokes twinges of inauthenticity because my concept of the ‘ideal’ therapist body as unscarred does not match the body I inhabit.” The author then describes “visibility in action” – i.e., working with a patient without covering her self-harm scars. She finishes by noting that she learned about herself while writing this paper. It’s hard to say if she learned about anything else.

Second Place: Material Flows: Patriarchal Structures and the Menstruating Teacher by Kristidel McGregor in Gender and Education

Why worry about low funding, students falling behind, inadequate support for children with disabilities, or achievement gaps when you could be contemplating how menstrual blood fits into patriarchal elementary schools? The article begins with an excruciating vignette describing the author’s…yeah, I’m not even going to summarize it. She continues to discuss menstruation ad nauseam, as “these fleshy intra-actions of teacher and bathroom, hallway and clothing, blood and students can help us understand how the material structures of schools are still based on the patriarchal idea of a male body as normal.” The author notes that by slipping sanitary napkins into their waistbands or up their sleeves, she and the other teachers “acted out our own oppression, a result of this material-discursive intra-action.” (Or just put the pads in your purse?) I sincerely hope that this woman’s students never, ever, ever find their way to this article, because if they do, I am certain that they will be scarred for life.

Third Place: BDSM as trauma play: An autoethnographic investigation by Jeremy N. Thomas in Sexualities

The author of this paper introduces himself in typical woke fashion: “I am a white, predominantly heterosexual, cis-gendered male in my early 40s. I am also married and polyamorous, and a tenured university professor.” Privacy is dead. He then describes childhood trauma, the way he role-played this trauma through BDSM, the physical and emotional impact of these experiences, and their meaning “on a corporeal and an emotional level.” To be honest, I didn’t read the majority of this article for the same reason I don’t drink large glasses of spoiled milk (nauseating, unpleasant, likely to make me sick). I wonder if his wife knows about this?

That’s all for now. If you enjoyed reading about the papers that took the podium, stay tuned for another edition next December! Oh, and happy New Year.



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