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Power and Reflexivity in a Transnational Feminist Project

by Sheila Meintjes and Paula Banerjee


In this project, we have engaged with the dilemmas of power and reflexivity that face academics working across both disciplinary and transnational boundaries. These power differentials are both spatial and temporal. We have considered how different locations produce differential authoritative power and influence in knowledge production. The debates about north/south relationships that raised key questions about whose knowledge (Harding, 1991), who can be a knower (Code, 1991), who speaks for whom (Mohanty et al, 1991; Alexander and Mohanty, 1997; Oyewumi, 2000) and who interprets whom (Hyne et al. 2014, Landau 2012) were critical for the way that we, as feminist academics, approached one another and the methodology in this project.


We were aware of the power differentials of knowledge bases between the global north and the global south. As a result of historical inequities north/south relationships are often fraught with tensions resulting from power differentials. The Global south is often framed as the source for raw data that is to be used for theoretical knowledge elsewhere. There is a need for recalibrating established positions of intellectual power. As scholars from both the global north and the global south we agreed that we will question these power hierarchies and recognize historical asymmetries and power dynamics (Chimni 2009).  


We agreed that we were not looking for homogeneity, or for a hybridity, in our epistemological approach to the subject matter. Rather, we wanted to adopt a discursive methodology, that would grow out of our mutually respectful relationships developed over many years of collaboration. We wanted to create a safe space to enable both empathy and tolerance for the multiplicity of experience and theoretical perspective that we brought to bear on this pedagogical project.


We wanted to infuse our knowledge with feminist understandings. We questioned whether working on women makes an exercise feminist? We agreed that feminist objectives include some of the following characteristics: it presupposes gender as a central category of analysis; it questions what is recognized as “normal”; it serves as a corrective to andro-centric notions by generating new knowledge; it accepts women’s own interpretation of their identities and experiences. Feminists over the last few decades have feminized multiple discourses and pedagogy in almost every discipline. This was accomplished by formulating an alternative discourse through asking different question and creating a different value system by recognizing women’s agency. We have consciously taken that methodological approach.


This project was conceived as one of a participatory pedagogy, where there would be a large measure of academic/student participation in the development of the curriculum. We hoped that together with our undergraduate students and post-graduate assistants, we would be able to engage in a creative process to build new teaching visual technologies and adopt novel digital platforms for debate and learning. We refused to privilege academic knowledge alone as the acceptable form of knowledge and agreed that all forms of knowledge are value added. In the overall design of the project a study trip to Morocco combined with a student blog was of key importance. It allowed the students and team to participate in a conference organized by Fatima Sadiqi and her Moroccan colleagues, attended by Sheila Meintjes, Sylvia Pritsch and Lydia Potts and a good number of undergraduate and graduate students. To view some elements of the blog click here - students opted not to publish most elements of their critical and reflexive thinking. Some student presentations will also be part of the materials presented in the various modules of this website. Overall - students were invited to contribute to knowledge production and dissemination and we aim to make this visible


In a twist of fate, the Covid19 pandemic made it impossible for us to meet during 2020, and much of the work occurred on-line. Like academics across the world, we very quickly had to learn about what it meant to use digital media in a more concerted fashion. Films, videos, and recorded lectures became our means of communication. The University of Oldenburg’s digital platform enabled a certain amount of experimentation in creating digital class-rooms, collective break-away spaces and chat-rooms with our students. Paradoxically, this had been the substance of our project proposal.


The participatory aspects of designing the curriculum was one that was more difficult to achieve. The curriculum reflects an organic experimental relationship between the five lead academics in Germany, Morocco, South Africa and India. However, we tried to achieve it through multiple interactions virtually working across space and time. In much of this we had our students as our collaborators compatriots. Listening to all these voices without imputing motive or value was a political exercise that we embarked upon consciously.


The Website reflects the outcome of our collective engagement. Without the hard work, creative design and engagement of our senior assistants, this project would not have taken off. The blog, the recorded lectures and power-points developed by the academics, were discussed, improved and co-designed by the assistants.


Alexander, M. J., & Chandra T. Mohanty (1997). Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. London: Routledge


Chimni, B.S. (2009) The birth of a ‘discipline’: From refugee to forced migration studies. Journal of Refugee Studies 22(1): 12–29.


Code, L. (1991). What Can She Know?: Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press. 


Harding, S. (1991). Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: Thinking from Women's Lives. Cornell University Press.


Hyne et al. 2014 (We could not find which text this is)


Landau, L.B. (2012). Communities of Knowledge or Tyrannies of Partnership: Reflections on North–South Research Networks and the Dual Imperative, Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 25, Issue 4, December 2012, Pages 555–570


Mohanty, C. T., Russo, A., & Torres, L. (1991). Third World women and the politics of feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Oyewumi, O. (2000). Family Bonds/Conceptual Binds: African Notes on Feminist Epistemologies. Signs, 25(4), 1093-1098.

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