Every once in a awhile you return to writing you love by writers you adore, writing that is filled with love for words and the world, and reminds of you why you love writing too. Today I returned to Laurel Richardson https://laurelrichardson.blog/. Laurel is a feminist sociologist well-known for her book Fields of Play: Constructing an Academic Life and her writing about writing sociology which collectively has given permission https://www.amazon.com/Permission-International-Interdisciplinary-Controversies-Interrogating/dp/9463004572 for feminist academics like me to write words in the way that I now do about the things that I love.
Laurel has been exploring alternative academic writing forms for over thirty years in the hope of writing more engaged sociology and to engage a wider readership. I remember laughing out loud (but in secret, at first) when she at once asserted and lamented how boring qualitative research writing had become. There must be another way, she in-sister Ed, and began to ask deeply ethical, theoretical and methodological questions about how we write, who can write, what we write and for whom – for these are never textually innocent. The rest is her-story and her writing is committed to ensuring that the personal is political is privileged through a destabilising of academic privilege in her work. If we could associate a catch cry with Laurel, it would be “writing as a method of inquiry’.
I am preparing a workshop designed and inspired by Laurel called “Three words” to share with doctoral students in the Humanities and Social Sciences at my university and wanted to include a bibliography of her words. I now have a document with over 145 references to works she written and I decide I would like to read the very first and earliest on the list, “The changing door ceremony: Notes on the operation of sex roles in everyday life” published in 1974 in Urban Life and Culture. I’m immediately drawn to this paper because of the reference to doors, gender and institutional rituals. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s walk through the hallowed spaces of “Oxbridge” and her musings about whether it is better to be locked in or locked out in A room of one’s own, Briony Lipton and I began walking in and out of doorways to share our experiences as feminist academics in higher education today. We spoke in much the same way as Laurel, about the ways in which doorways operate as entrances into spaces, as gateways that denote passage and movement between exclusion and belonging. We asked, what happens in these academic entrance ways in neo-liberal times in relation to gender inequalities? Laurel’s paper on changing doors expresses similar sentiments and yet she wrote her work 47 years ago. Has so little changed in universities? Have we really moved anywhere since Virginia Woolf wondered, where is and what would it take for a woman to have a room of her own?