rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance

30 May 2012

Introducing But you've got so much potential!


   What does it mean to be considered to have "potential"? What lack or failing is implied by "potential" not yet realised? Who has the power to position others as having, meeting, or failing to achieve their potential?

   This dialogue project will explore the problematics and limitations posed by ‘potential’ through the lens of body size and fat activism. Within the global context of the "Obesity Epidemic? fat bodies are not only despised, pathologised and ridiculed, but also imbued with the redemptive potential to become thin. This promise of shedding shameful fat in favour of a happier, healthier, slender self contains within it assumptions and impositions that are the focus of this dialogue project. Potential is often bestowed upon us by institutions or individuals bearing supposedly superior knowledge or expertise, be they teachers, parents or health professionals. In such hierarchical encounters, potential becomes a vehicle for a disciplinary command tied up with norms, value judgements and the mentor’s own conception of success. But what knowledges, experience and frameworks of achievement does this obscure?

   Through collaborative research activities, a small group of researchers and activists will creatively investigate these concerns. This carefully chosen group comprises multiple levels of academic and activist engagement and experience between the collaborators: Vikki Chalklin, Dr. Francis Ray White, and Stacy Bias.

   Dr. Francis Ray White gained their doctorate in Sociology from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2006, and is a lecturer based in the Sociology department of the University of Westminster. Their academic work is located primarily within the emerging academic field of fat studies, exploring fat activism through critical and queer theory. Alongside and often crossing over with these academic endeavours, Dr. White has also participated creatively in a broader scene of queer and fat activism: White has been running London’s Unskinny Bop, been a longstanding member of semi-fictitious fat girl gang The Chubsters, and has taken part in various community based fat activist projects and activities such as the 2009 Fat of the Land Queer Chub Harvest Festival and the Big Bum Jumble.

   Stacy Bias has been a queer and fat activist since 1999. Based in Portland, Oregon, Bias founded Technodyke, an online forum facilitating queer women's community building in 2000. FatGirl Speaks, the first of several one-day conferences on body positivity, began in 2003, leading to spin-off events such as the FatGirl Frock Swap, body positive dance parties and the Chunky Dunks, a body positive inclusive swimming club. Bias has complimented this community-based activism with multimedia projects such as and The Fat Experience Project, an expansive multimedia qualitative research project currently in development. She relocated to London in 2011 to embark upon undergraduate studies in Media and Anthropology to compliment and develop her activism.

   The pedagogic relationships between the three collaborators are far more complex than the academic hierarchy would suggest. For instance, Stacy Bias' long-standing history and experience as a fat and queer activist positions her within a field of knowledge and expertise obscured by her position as a student. Similarly, despite being the project's organiser, Vikki Chalklin in fact holds the least experience of fat activism, and as a PhD candidate and part-time associate tutor holds one of academia’s most undervalued and precarious positions. These multiple, complex and ambiguous connections through academia and activism will provide the basis for a broader challenge to pedagogy's hierarchies and the assumption of simple, one-way knowledge transfer.



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