Friday, November 29, 2019

Rape Cultures and Loud Pubs

I've been thinking for a while about the relationship between structural oppression, individual actions, and individual responsibility. Today I was having lunch in a loud pub, and it occurred to me that there might be an instructive analogy between a loud pub and a rape culture (or a racist country, or an ableist society, or a patriarchy, etc. etc. etc.).

A rape culture is a society that is conducive to sexual assault. Some of the elements of our society that make it one include: slut-shaming, normalization and valourization of seduction tropes, excessive empathy towards privileged individuals accused of sexual misconduct, 'stranger rape' myths, toleration of abuse against complainants, etc.

Societies don't have features like this ex nihilo; they emerge from individuals' behaviour. But individual behaviour is very much conditioned by the societies in which they exist. When someone focuses on what a rape victim was wearing, or says that if someone was attracted to someone they couldn't have been raped by them, they are both reflecting and contributing to rape culture. Insofar as rape culture is something everyone has to figure out how to live with, it will impact individuals' behaviour — even if they resist it, that will be an action, perhaps a costly one, requiring effort. This complicates the relationship between structural oppression and an individual's responsibility for an action that contributes to it. It also makes actions that further rape culture the default, so that people will often perform them unwittingly. This doesn't always or usually get people off the hook entirely, but it is very relevant contextual background.

Loud pubs are a little bit like rape cultures. The pub's being loud might not be attributable to any one individual's decisions. There are many people in there, and they each feel the need to speak loudly to be heard, because it is a loud bar. But their speaking loudly is also what makes it a loud pub. Each person's raised voice both reflects and contributes to the loudness of the pub.

One can, with some deliberate countercultural decision-making, refuse to contribute to making the pub a loud one, but this has costs. For example, one might not be heard. This might well frustrate one's broader social interests, like having a conversation with one's friends. This complicates the relationship between the loudness of a pub and an individual's responsibility for an action that contributes to it. It also makes actions that further the loudness of the pub the default, so that people will often perform them unwittingly.

My example has been rape culture but I think these issues play out in exactly the same way if you swap out other forms of structural oppression. Racist societies have the same relationship to individual behaviour as rape cultures and loud pubs do too.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Professorial Guidance and Student Autonomy

One of the big-pictures questions I often struggle with when designing my courses is about how much specific guidance I should coerce in my students' study. In favour of a broad exercise of professorial power (i.e., using grading incentives to require attendance, regular homework, etc) is the undeniable fact that students will learn better if they do that work, and that most students are much likelier to do the work if I penalize them for not doing it on a particular schedule. On the other hand, I am also moved by the argument that university students are adults who should be allowed, even encouraged, to make their own decisions about how best to learn. They also often have many more competing obligations than I did when I was an undergraduate, such that requiring a lot of homework, or penalizing missing class, is a significant hardship.

When discussing this issue with colleagues, I find that opinions and practices vary dramatically. Some offer a maximally flexible approach, always accepting work that is completed well after the deadlines (even after the course is complete); others have strict syllabus requirements—treated like laws of nature—that mandate exactly what must be done when.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Welcome 2019

As you'll see below, one of my New Year's Resolutions is to start blogging again. So, first post of the year: New Year's Resolutions. In my line of work September tends to feel more like the start of a year than January does, but there's still something about the turning of the calendar.