Reflections of a postdoc at the Gender Research and Integrated Training (GRIT) for CGIAR post-doctoral fellows at Pennsylvania State University
Learning takes place when new information is integrated in existing knowledge networks (Spitzer 2007). Information can be departed through many ways – and some of the more effective are those of discussions and group work, as well as informal learning (ibid.).
This is what could be seen happening, not only during the GRIT workshop sessions but also while we walked to class or the cafeteria. Impressions from sessions raised questions which were reflected on, informally beyond the classroom. The longer the time we spent together, the more honest these questions, perspectives and discussions became.
Leland Glenna’s session on “Philosophies and processes of science, neoliberalism, commercialization, GMOs and gender” was one that gave us space to question and re-think our categories of thought. To which extent are our gender research approaches, project approaches and those of the CRPs, driven by technological determinism? Are we sufficiently incorporating and engaging with institutions? Are we in and of ourselves victims of neoliberalist endeavors? How can we identify, extract, and question our own tendency to compromise within the space and context in which we work? Are we, or our colleagues, driven by scientism? Are, and can we be radical enough to refuse technologies and scientific solutions which have great social and environmental trade-offs in the name of agricultural productivity? To which extent do we fall into an ecological fallacy in which we try to make our research results more powerful through generalization which goes beyond the scope of our work?
These questions touch on greater questions of epistemology, which were discussed in the session by Ann Tickamyer on “Research Design: Generating answering salient questions measurement and mixed methods”. We particularly focused on whether we, ourselves use and engage with feminist theories and methodologies to approach our research questions, and whether we question the degree to which our feminist assumptions are derived from Western concepts, e.g. in terms of integrating perspectives on individualism and decision-making in our research design.
During these weeks of training we experienced a recurring theme, or rather tension which gender research is caught amidst. When our task is to bring evidence for the need of contextualizing gender relations, highlighting complexity and diversity of power relations and moving beyond the discussion of “the gender gap”, shall and can we ensure scalability and wider impact? To which degree is it acceptable to generalize before creating “zombie statistics”? Could we not question if, for example, national WEAI data are zombie facts? How can we integrate questions on gendered norms in surveys, and, can we survey the role of perceptions to collect meaningful data? Are we asking the right questions when we wonder “who decides?” – or shall we step back and question the processes of decision-making in the first place? Are we able to see who is not participating and why? Who decides what “women need”?
This brings us to Leif Jensen’s session on “Bridging disciplinary divides in gender and agricultural sciences”. Reflecting on what constitutes our disciplines in gender research and the role of interdisciplinary approaches, our discussion quickly directed towards the hierarchies – and ultimately wider academic and policy recognition of some disciplines over others, and the dominance of English-speaking academics. When we research marginalized voices – how can we ensure that we represent and speak for those as closely as possible without decontextualizing or even misusing such data to expand our own power within academia, or the CGIAR?
The leadership sessions by Ruth Mendum and Ted Alter were inspirational and honest. Are we conscious about our leadership role as gender researchers? With our education, we are responsible to share and publish data which we truly feel is valid, and ethically reflect on our role as researcher. However, we are not only leaders in science, but also in our working environment and, ultimately, society (if we decide to use and display our skills). We also realized that probably some, if not all of us have experienced discrimination at different levels, racism, sexism, ageism. How can we use these experiences and convert them into strength in leadership? It was only whilst experiencing dominance of others that we realized the significance of cultural sensitivity. Not all of us feel comfortable to speak openly about our values, beliefs and heroes in life. Maybe we do not have any heroes in life after all – because it is not of our culture to admire single personalities. We reflected on our skill sets as leaders, and identified several ones that we individually wanted to improve such as – taking time to reflect, being open-minded, realistic or honest, for example.
Reflecting on these takeaways, the GRIT course provided some space for reflection, away from the buzz of our CGIAR lives. We reflected – individually or in small groups – on our identities as post-docs, between being a researcher, a coordinator, a strategist, a development worker, a feminist, an environmentalist, and sometimes possibly even an activist. How can we combine all our multiple identities into our leadership style, and create space for our personal values?
After every session, whether it was in an inspiring, discussion or top-down teaching style, we critically discussed how we could use the input to reflect on why and how we are doing what we are doing. We recognized the challenges of developing a gender research and training course for experienced post-docs, and how much it depends on individual facilitators to be able to connect standard social sciences with feminist methodology and theory. We could also reflect whether we post-docs and facilitators are first, second or third wave feminists (if at all) – and how a discussion of different feminist perspectives could address the tensions many of us feel while conducting gender research within the CGIAR.
Talking about a space to reflect – we balanced GRIT sessions, the readings for sessions, and our other “normal” work load – emails, skype meetings, proposal, concept note and paper deadlines. A welcome break of the classroom sessions was the trip to Washington D.C. which provided the opportunity to explore national monuments, reflect on the depiction of American history, as well as observing and recalling that social inequality is present everywhere. It gave us a much-needed break to spend some time wandering through Georgetown, Smithsonian museums or stores – everyone in their own pace.
After all, what is learning without shared ideas, critical feedback and a break?
Note: This post was submitted by Stephanie Leder, a postdoctoral fellow for gender and poverty at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), based in Nepal, who recently participated in a three week workshop at Penn State University. The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network.