Links & reactions

By | October 28, 2009

In the absence of my own content as of yet this week, here is a delicious link buffet.

First: Why Fat Studies (and All Identity Studies) Hurt Higher Education*: The author argues, in a nutshell, that when it comes to identity politics and academia, ne’er the twain shall meet. Or at least that when they do, it’s bad for academia. I don’t actually disagree that identity studies can be (note I did not say “are”) problematic in a higher-level academic context–arguably this is why in many cases while “women’s studies” continues to be an undergraduate major, at the grad level it often morphs into the more theoretical and less real-world-focused gender studies. But I do have a few gripes. For one:

Academics in [English and History] approach their disciplines with differing viewpoints, and from those differing viewpoints come differing intepretations [sic], and from these differing interpretations we get the beautiful intellectual debates we imagine higher education offers, and from these intellectual exercises we move closer to our goal of finding truth and reason in the world.

But Fat Studies, like all identity studies, begins with the end in mind. The conclusions have already been determined: fat people are oppressed and down-trodden, victims of an insert-terrible-adjective-here system and insert-another-terrible-adjective-here society.

I won’t debate that there are folks working in fat studies for whom this is true, though in my experience there are as many for whom it isn’t. My gripe here is that this sort of presumptive approach is by no means restricted to identity studies–it’s rife within pretty much every academic discipline to varying degrees. It is, frankly, a central part of the culture of academia.

The difference that the author is missing here is that identity studies by their nature are not invested in finding “truth and reason”. They are invested, rather, in the deconstruction and dismantling of what is popularly assumed to be “truth and reason”. It’s true that folks in traditional single-discipline fields (Hi historians! Y’all know I love you) may think this is, at best, a stupid waste of time, and, at worst, offensive to their entire worldview. And that’s fine; they don’t have to participate in it. There’s a reason why historians scoff at Foucault’s pretenses to historical study. But to blame the rise of more interdisciplinary and activist-influenced fields for causing a future Collapse of Academe is probably a little short sighted and alarmist.

Says the author:

Analysis of the ways in which fat people are portrayed in the media or represented in history, literature, and the arts is a fine intellectual pursuit if that’s what interests you. I do not intend to suggest I’m wise enough to decree what should and should not be discussed and debated in college classrooms. In the best world, anything would be fair game.

I’m left to wonder if she understands what “fat studies” even is, if not a field in which the “analysis of the ways in which fat people are portrayed in the media or represented in history, literature, and the arts” is recognized as a legitimate pursuit and is actively supported. The unfortunate reality–as true now, I’m sure, as it was when I was a grad student attempting to look at fat through a theoretical lens years ago–is that the majority of these traditional single-discipline fields energetically oppose the study of fatness within their disciplines. It’s easy enough to say “just do history and focus on fat!” but without some seriously open-minded colleagues that’s going to be a difficult proposition at least.

…Open inquiry and higher education are destroyed when pursuits like Fat Studies are enshrined. They are political movements operating under the guise of intellectual departments.

Because politics and intellectualism have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Outrage!

Next: Protect us from abuse, says woman beaten for being fat. Last year, a London woman was physically attacked during her commute, while her attackers called her “fatty” and asserted she was too fat to be on the train. This has inspired some to label the attack a hate crime, and a new movement in the UK to speak up in favor of size-related discrimination laws like those passed in San Francisco a few years ago.

As I don’t live in San Francisco I can’t speak to the efficacy of the laws there, but I’d love to hear from readers who can, and from anyone familiar with the growing demand in London for action on this front.

Lastly: Nightclubs for the plus-size begin to weigh in. This is an AP article about fat-friendly nightclubs, specifically Club Bounce in Long Beach, CA. It’s filled with the standard conflicts between the fear of fat people being enabled to not hate themselves, and the begrudging acknowledgment that feeling badly about oneself is not a good motivator for weight loss (which is, naturally, the life’s goal of every fat person… isn’t it?).

My clubbing days, long behind me, were limited to subcultural punk and goth spaces at which the only folks turned away at the door were those wearing (intact) jeans or baseball caps, and in which there were fat folks aplenty mixing with thinner ones, so I’ve never experienced this kind of appearance-based discrimination on a night out. Have any of y’all been to one of these specifically plus-size friendly clubs, and if so, what did you think of the experience?

Honorable mentions (to which I have nothing to add except Hell Yes):

Nick from Axis of Fat and Hayley from Fashion Hayley talk fat fashion on Australian TV.

From Racialicious, Et tu, Amy Poehler? What’s so funny about desiring a big, black woman?

Gabi at YFF has an interview with Amber Riley of Glee, and I’m really jealous.

*Note: I am aware that this is a conservative-leaning website, but I’m not one to dismiss ideas out of hand just because they come from a different political perspective (especially when they provide so many more specific reasons for rejecting them). I frankly wish more folks on the conservative side of things felt this way .

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