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Complaint!

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In the early years of your academic career—when you focused on postmodernism, postcolonialism, queer phenomenology, affect theory—you were, essentially, producing theory. Following a long lineage of Black feminist and feminist of color critiques of the university, Ahmed delivers a timely consideration of how institutional change becomes possible and why it is necessary. Ahmed] presents a strong argument that power in higher education tends to protect itself, that diversity initiatives are often nothing more than window dressing, and that those who file complaints about a hostile work environment often face accusations of disloyalty or troublemaking.

I was very conscious of how administrators in charge of diversity initiatives would try to maximize the distance between themselves and the complainers. A lot of people talked to me about how when they tried to make complaints, it was often the diversity agenda that would be used against them—as if they weren’t doing this the right way, as if they weren’t being appealing enough, as if by even using certain words they were trying to make life difficult for other people, including other minoritized staff. It is a fundamentally life-affirming task to build institutions that are not dependent on the diminishment of the life-capacities of others.Throughout the book, Ahmed and their collaborators noted plenty of helpful strategies for managing the personal and collective toll that complaining can bring. The potent reminder that Ahmed offers is that we are not the ones with the problem, that a number of voices raised up in complaint can help identify that the problem lies elsewhere. We weren’t sitting around talking about, I don’t know, affect theory—which is not to say it’s not interesting to sit around and talk about affect theory!

This succeeds where many other takes on bullying and harassment are too generic and fail to capture what power means if you are in these situations. I was so compelled by that story of the students in the anonymous collective, how once they recognized that their formal complaints against a particular professor would go unaddressed, they decided to inscribe all the library copies of his books with an acknowledgement that the author had been accused of sexual abuse.Ahmed’s intellectually expansive book achieves two things: it exposes the meaning, experiences, and perceptions of complaint and provides testimony to the courage of those who complain, who fight, who believe justice should not just appear to be done; it must be done. I became interested in “the table” in Husserl’s philosophy, which was only a passing reference for him. Overall this review feels really negative for a three star rating, but the strength of the book's overall substance really made the executional weaknesses more visible. racism and sexism, bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, ableism, precarity, the aftermath of challenging whiteness and the power structures of the university (‘the canon’ is a topic that obviously comes up), the paradox of committees on diversity and equality, silence and bribery (see especially pages 99-100) and lack of support, as evidenced by unkind reference letters for jobs post-graduate life.

Ahmed collects oral and written testimony from dozens of people who have experienced sexual abuse, racist harassment, or bullying within universities, and have chosen either to go through the institutions’ formal grievance procedures or to challenge those procedures altogether. We can sometimes refuse to be positive because it takes too much out of us, and we can decide not to be negative, because that takes too much out of us, as well. Creating Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives does not actually include those who remain opposed to and harmed by the neoliberal university. Could say more about that, the communities or modes of communicating that opened themselves up to you once you made your exit? Through the extensive use of the door metaphor, Sarah Ahmed offers the language and understanding that is needed to tend to the wounds of exclusion and rejection.In On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Sara Ahmed had already begun an institutional ethnography on the language of diversity and how diversity and its initiatives are institutionalised performative acts. from her own experiences (she resigned from an institution after they mishandled a series of complaints), her engagement with a “complaint collective” in the UK, and her decades-long scholarship in feminist, queer, and race studies. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Formal complaints can sound just like the master’s tools—bureaucratic, dry, tedious—but they’re also where you actually come to hear and learn about institutional mechanics, how institutions reproduce themselves.

I was so compelled by your point, in On Being Included, that the term diversity “can be used as a description or affirmation of anything”—that it’s often seen “as a ‘good’ word precisely because it can be used in diverse ways. Sara Ahmed follows the institutional life of complaints within the university, exploring how they begin, how they are processed and how they are ultimately stopped, thereby reproducing systems of whiteness, violence and silencing. If you've never initiated a complaint, this book is really great at laying out the barriers and challenges, and if you have, this book can provide some really great vocabulary for reflecting on the experience.

This accounts for a large portion of the book and while there is sometimes really great insight and analysis, it makes the book feel really bloated.

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