Alena Kiel, PhD candidate, School of English, Irish and Communication, University of Limerick, writes about the Sexualities Summer School at the University of Manchester. Their attendance was funded by the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
The twelfth annual Sexualities Summer School was held at the University of Manchester on May 20-24 2019. Having successfully applied in 2018 and been unfortunately unable to attend due to illness, I was greatly looking forward to attending the summer school this year. The theme of this year’s summer school was “On Queer Dialogues” and included addresses and/or performances from such luminaries in the field of queer theory as Elizabeth Freeman, Madhavi Menon, Jackie Stacey, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, and So Meyer.
The group of 30-40 students in attendance ranged from Masters students to PhD students and included a couple of “non-traditional” delegates from various cognate professions (mainly visual art). In keeping with the theme, participants engaged in a variety of dialogues with the group at large or in smaller groups on a variety of queer theory-related topics such as queer temporalities, the ethics of performance and archive, and the radical potentials of vulnerability and embodied queerness.
For me, the most exciting part of the week was the format of the school itself. For example: on Monday evening, we attended a performance of “Retro(per)spective” by the theatre duo Split Britches (Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver) and on Tuesday morning, we attended a workshop facilitated by Shaw and Weaver themselves in which we could ask them any questions or participate in any discussions (dialogues) they suggested we emphasise.
The rest of that Tuesday, then, we were given the opportunity to further discuss how the performance influenced us and our work through self-directed small group discussions. Another result of the excellent formatting of this summer school is that Elizabeth Freeman, whose work I use extensively in my own PhD dissertation, attended the entire week and made it a point to join student discussions whenever possible. Meeting and workshopping with speakers, performers, and theorists truly humanised them and was a welcome deviation from the typical conference format.
Finally, I would note that this summer school was incredibly useful for the development of my own dissertation. Not only was I exposed to new ways of thinking through queer theoretical perspectives, but I was also lucky enough to meet and network with some of the authors of those perspectives. I also cannot overstate the helpfulness, kindness, and insightfulness of the participants with whom I worked and interacted: it was very affirming and inspiring to work with a very diverse group of students in my field, each of whom brought valuable insight to the sometimes dense and overwhelming readings assigned as part of the summer school.
This was truly an ideal experience for me as I finish my PhD dissertation and begin to prepare to enter the workforce.
Alena Kiel is the LGBTQI+ Representative on UL Student Council, and a PhD candidate researching queer theory and Gothic/horror studies. Follow them on Twitter at @AlenaKiel13