How to empower – my 2021 with En-Gender 

by Jessica Albrecht

A few weeks back, we at the En-Gender team had the idea to publish once more end-of-the-year blogposts with our experiences and memories. But why am I only writing this now? This is enigmatic for my 2021: Many ideas, but never enough energy to actually fulfill them. 

Throughout this year I was in the middle of my PhD work: doing fieldwork, travelling to Sri Lanka, reading theory, looking for historical material. I even wrote some hundred-something pages … but it does not feel as if anything really happened this year. This might also be because it is already the second year of the pandemic. But maybe there is also something intrinsic to academia which makes it really hard to see the little achievements we make every month, every week, every day.

Working on every kind of (academic) project is tiresome. It usually takes months, most often even years. Throughout that time span there is very little by which we can mark steps, progress. Meanwhile, there are so many small aspects of academia, working in knowledge producing, colonial institutions that make our lives hard and sometimes even crumbles the very foundations of our research interests. 

Even more, it is hard to hold on to the motivating, affirming moments of finishing a chapter, an interview, finding a source when, the very next day, one might not know anymore what we wanted to say in the first place. During these times, supervisors might be even less reachable, we do not see colleagues as much as we should. 

On August 6, at the end of En-Gender’s this year’s conference, I was thinking: “These were three of the most amazing days I ever had in academia. If I would drop out now, I still would have achieved everything I could have ever hoped for.” 

Don’t get me wrong: our conference was a huge success, we had an amazing time, being able to meet so many fantastic scholars, taking part in great workshops and listening to more than important and challenging keynotes. But why was this so much better than my actual work? 

Let me tell you another story. 

As I said in the beginning, I did not know what to write for this blogpost for a long time. Luckily, every Wednesday my department has a collaborative lecture series on gender & queer theory in religious studies. This week was the second time that I was thankful for this lecture series – I got to meet a great scholar who was able to create a room in which all of us, no matter if student, early career researcher or professor, were treated equally. Still, the topic presented was a challenging one, on decolonizing and feminism(s) of the global south. But because I was able to hear another person speak about their research, only slightly related to my own topic, I got to see my research from another perspective. Instead of being bound by the tiny, tiny aspects of it, I looked at it from a distance and began to see it as a whole again. I got reminded of why I started the project in the first place. 

Both stories are examples of the ways in which scholarly exchange helps us to re-think our own ideas, to look at our work from a different angle – or, as in my case, come back to the original angle. This exchange is more important and more fruitful than any book we read, any article we write on our own.

Sadly, this is not what we are supposed to be doing during our working hours. But shouldn’t this be the very idea of academia? Joint, anti-hierarchical, decolonial, maybe even feminist knowledge production? We are always expected to have the required energy with us or to get it from outside academia. But actually, we should be able to look for it within it! 

So, please: take every (online) coffee break with colleagues that you can get, join every (online) lecture from mentors and scholars whose work you enjoy that you can, talk to as many peers as possible. 

This is what I had imagined En-Gender to be in the first place and I am very proud to see it evolving into that direction. In 2021, we managed to organize our very first conference, despite the challenging task of navigating all the time zones. We established The Network, a platform on which we can find other scholars in our field. We published seven new working papers and a bunch of blogposts. And we were able to invite seven special guests / projects to our new podcast series in whose first season we want to expand on the conference and talk about “feel good academia”. (For more information on what we did this year click here)

So what in academia does actually feel good? It has to be the community – without it, what would our research look like? 

Thank you 2021 for giving me another reason to stay in academia – we need as many as we can get.

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