It’s party time – all the work is done and now it’s time to play!

Come celebrate the launch of Telling the Flesh: Life Writing, Citizenship, and the Body in the Letters to Samuel Auguste Tissot!


with thanks to Jennifer Roberts at MQUP for the poster and promotional materials!

I first met Samuel Auguste Tissot in 2007. Well. Met is perhaps the wrong word given that he died over 200 years ago. But I made his acquaintance, shall we say, via the woman who was the subject of my doctoral thesis, Suzanne Curchod Necker. Madame Necker, inveterate sufferer, was one of his patients.

And as I was working with archival material related to her life at the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne at the time, and as that collection houses the incredibly rich Fonds Tissot, I decided to go poking around, at least at a superficial level.

What I found were fascinating letters written by people just like Madame Necker. People who lived complicated, messy lives and whose bodies told them complicated, messy stories.

I couldn’t spend much time with them, because Madame Necker was most insistent that I pay attention to her (my supervisory committee and my degree requirements were also most insistent on this point…), but I transcribed a few letters just to play with them when I had time.

Fast forward to 2010.

I’d finished my thesis. I’d just finished my first two whirlwind years as a faculty member in the Department of (what was then) Women’s Studies at Memorial University. My thesis was well on its way to becoming my first book.

I finally had time to play.

And so back to Lausanne I went. The collection was as rich as I remembered. The letters were as intriguing as I recalled. The library staff were just as friendly and helpful as they had been before. And the university, situated within spitting distance of Lake Geneva, was just as spectacular a place to work as it had been in the past.

The view from my window in the Salle des manuscripts, BCUL

The view from my window in the Salle des manuscrits, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne

100 metres away from the library. And yes, it does look like this almost every day during the month of June.....

100 metres away from the library. And yes, it does look like this almost every day during the month of June…..

I spent three glorious weeks reading and thinking and reading some more and thinking some more and then reading and thinking again. I started free writing. And reading and thinking and writing. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And that’s where my research project – and now book – came into being.

Did I mention how beautiful Switzerland is? This is the view from Gruyères, Switzerland. Cheese sampling is also a recognized scholarly method, in case you were wondering.

Did I mention how beautiful Switzerland is? This is the view from Gruyères, Switzerland. Cheese sampling is also a recognized scholarly method, in case you were wondering.

The 'gru' of Gruyères.

The ‘gru’ of Gruyères.

Thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which supported this research project through a Standard Research Grant between 2011 and 2015, I took another two trips to Lausanne. I read letters. I took photos of letters. More reading. More thinking. More writing.


A window box in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland.

The Chateau and Protestant Church in Yverdon-les-Bains early on a Saturday morning. Yverdon-les-Bains, which boasts a proud intellectual heritage (and thermal hot springs!) was home to one of the stars of my book - a young man named Gauteron struggling between his sexual desires and his Protestant faith. His faith won out.

The Chateau and Protestant Church in Yverdon-les-Bains early on a Saturday morning. Yverdon-les-Bains, which boasts a proud intellectual heritage (and thermal hot springs!) was home to one of the stars of my book – a young man named Gauteron struggling between his sexual desires and his Protestant faith. His faith won out.

Along the way, I talked theory with my graduate students. I talked life writing with my undergrads. Grad students and I transcribed letters. I started a blog. I had conversations with Kyla Madden at MQUP. A group of scholars in Lausanne created a web-based archive of the Tissot letters. And everything percolated and simmered and brewed and bubbled.

I filled notebooks with primary source materials and research journaling.

Let's all say it together:

Let’s all say it together: “I love my moleskine notebooks!”

Yes, it's definitely important to check out the health of your husband-to-be.....

Yes, it’s definitely important to check out the health of your husband-to-be…..

I filled excel spreadsheets with quantifiable data.

No, the coloured dots aren't random.

No, the coloured dots aren’t random.

I filled computer files with freewriting.



I filled RefWorks with references. Well, a grad student did that.

And in 5.5 years – between May 2010 and September 2015 – I went from this:


writing through my thinking…

to this.

Fresh from MQUP!

Fresh from MQUP!

To make a long story short: Telling the Flesh: Life Writing, Citizenship, and the Body is finally out! I’m so very delighted! And I’m so thrilled to share it with you!

You can find it at the MQUP website. Or on the Chapters/Indigo website. You can pre-order it on Amazon. You can even pre-order it via Powell’s, my favourite labyrinthine independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon.

To all of you who helped this project at various points along its journey – and you are many – thank you.

St. John’s folks: keep eyes and ears open for a book launch; hopefully once the September crazies have subsided a bit.

How did the colonial gaze represent “Indians” – both those named Indians by Columbus and those who inhabited the Indian subcontinent? That’s the question that Annu Palakunnathu Matthew explores in a series of photos in which she – an Indian American – takes on the poses of colonial era American Indians.

The idea emerged in part because of her accent. Matthew was born in England, moved to India after 10 years, and is now in the United States.

“People can’t place where [my accent] is from,” she wrote in an email to “In the United States, people often ask me ‘What am I?’ and if I say Indian, I often have to clarify that I am an Indian from India and not a Native American.”

Her show plays on this confusion, and also on the perceptions of those not in the majority community.

You can take a look at some of her work here.

A fascinating piece on ethnography, actor network theory, and the extended body of Stephen Hawking. The author, Hélène Mialet,  undertook 10 years of ethnographic study on Hawking, which included interviews and observations of Hawking, his students, his caregivers and his colleagues. In her own words:

traced and made visible the coordination and articulation of complex collective bodies composed of humans and machines that produce—and indeed, are—an individual. Thus, if Hawking has a body, he also has a multiplicity of collective bodies of which he is at once an element and a product: this is why I titled my book Hawking Incorporated.

The idea of a collective body, or, in Mialet’s terms, a distributed-centered subject, fundamentally destabilizes the notion of the autonomous, rational individual. It also destabilizes the notion of individual genius (which apparently got Mialet into some hot water over at the Daily Mail). What would happen, she wonders, if we were to take up this notion? How might we understand ourselves – and others – differently?

What would happen, then, if we began to think about ourselves, or to represent ourselves, not as individualized disincorporated brains, but as subjects materialized and distributed in a series of overlapping and interconnecting collectivities—that is, as “distributed-centered subjects”? What would happen to our conception not only of the scientific genius, but also of the artistic genius, of the political leader, of the entrepreneurial manager, or the CEO? What would be the impact on our ways of presenting ourselves to other cultures, on our ways of rethinking the distinction between the worker and the leader, the chief and the assistant, the humans and the machines? What would be the significance for this way of approaching the individual for thinking about how we establish salaries and distribute rewards; think about authorship and imagine collaboration; design machines; and more prosaically, how we navigate the world? These questions are at the core of a long-term program of research I propose to explore. I believe they can only be answered on the common ground where philosophy, ethnography, and industrial concerns meet.

Slut. It’s not a term that I’ve ever heard directed at me. But I’ve heard it said about others, and so perhaps others have said it about me. A girl I’ll call Gerrie, in junior high. She’s easy, my friend said with confidence. Want sexual experience? Call Gerrie. She’s a slut. Her locker was on the second floor, just outside our science room. We were in grade 7. She was in grade 9. She walked the halls like she owned them, skin tight jeans painted over generous buttocks decades before Kim Kardashian would make them fashionable, streaked hair perfectly feathered, a knowing smile for any boy caught looking just a hair too long. Or that’s what I thought. Slut. Did they ever say it right to her face? Maybe not. But I learned early that there was a problem when girls liked sex.

I’ve heard it many times since. Whispered in hallways. Yelled in anger, frustration. Spoken competitively. Dismissively. With awe and horror. I learned that you can’t get it right if you’re a girl. You either put out and like sex too much, or you don’t put out at all. And then you’re a tease, a cocktease to be exact. And somehow that, too, makes you a slut because you’re asking for it. Somehow.

Fastforward a decade. Now I’m in a residence hall cafeteria deep in America’s heartland. I’m a grad student. I’m sitting in the cafeteria. It’s breakfast. Around me, students peer bleary eyed into watery porridge. Bursts of laughter at other tables. It’s sunny out. Or maybe the fluorescent lights are bright. A couple of days ago we’d been discussing Thelma and Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes. Women’s empowerment, on steroids. The women were enthusiastic. The men, much less so. And this morning – a bright, early, Saturday – all that stuff that was brewing around finally spilled over.

“If you’re going to dress like that,” one of guys said, “you’re just asking for it.” He was talking about someone he’d seen the night before.

“What?” I wasn’t sure I had heard right.

“You’re asking for it. I mean, you saw her last night, right? She was asking for it.”

“She’s not dressing for you.” My voice tight – dangerous, even – but he didn’t pick up on my tone.

“Oh, come on. She knows the score. She dresses like that, she knows what’s going to happen and it isn’t our fault.”

I erupted.

“You are full of shit,” I roared. “Women aren’t asking for it. They can dress however they fucking well please. It’s not about you, asshole. Keep you stuff in your pants and keep it to yourself.”

My voice had risen several decibels. This wasn’t a burst of laughter. This wasn’t the sound of a debate. This was anger. No. This was fury. In less than fifty words, I had let loose more swear words than I had in the previous six months. That alone was telling, I think to myself today. But again, he didn’t notice, or perhaps, he chose not to.

“Calm down. Shhhh. They can hear you.” In other words, I was making a scene.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass, if they can hear me. You are full of shit. No woman asks to be raped. Not. A. Single. Fucking. One.”

He looked shell shocked. Good. The cafeteria was silent. I picked up my tray and marched to over to the trolleys to drop it off.

A couple of months later, a woman was murdered on the fifteenth floor of that residence building by an ex-boyfriend enraged that she’d broken up with him. He’d driven all the way from California, his car filled with a gun and over 2000 rounds of ammunition. He’d planned his trip carefully. Told his supervisor he was going on a holiday. Even sent him a postcard from the Grand Canyon. Told his ex that if he couldn’t have her, nobody could. Shot her – and her new boyfriend – in her residence room. And then ran down the stairs and into the night before turning the gun on himself.

There weren’t any anti-stalking laws. She’d called the police. She’d done all the right things. But they didn’t help. They couldn’t help.

Last year. The year before last. The year before the year before last. And the year before that, too. Students, a parade of them, in my office, in my email, on my phone, the news, in my memories. Student in women’s shelters fleeing abusive partners. Students with court summons’ to appear as witnesses in sexual assault trials. Students told by mental health professionals that their sexuality was the result of their rape. Students raped by family friends. Students abandoned by friends who called them sluts because they were raped. Students working as sex workers to pay for university tuition. Students told they were sluts. Or whores. Or worse. A student whose mother was murdered by her partner.

Everyday violence.
Everyday sluts.
Every. Day.

People don’t like the term SlutWalk. They say it’s offensive. They say it shuts them down. They say it’s not right. They won’t support it. They hate it. But our women and girls are hearing it every day. If the word is so violent that you can’t bear to hear it, then think about the violence of hearing it every day. Think about Gerrie, who was easy. About the girl in my grad dorm who was asking for it. About my friend who wanted me to calm down. About students who had to testify, to flee, to remain silent. Students who were abandoned when it mattered most. Think, too, about how little we trust our boys and young men, and about how much we devalue them when we teach them they can’t possibly be asked to control themselves. Sure, the name SlutWalk is offensive. But that’s the whole point. If you can’t call it out, how on earth can you change it?

Today I walked for all the women. I walked for my sons. I walked in solidarity. I walked in grief. I walked in hope. I walked in pride.

It was cold. June in St. John’s, we all said to each other, nodding. 9 degrees and overcast. Fog over the harbour.

“I refuse to wear my winter jacket.”

We shivered and we laughed. We cheered and we chanted. And we were 300 strong. I saw students, former students, graduate students and colleagues. I saw famous people and not so famous people. Children. Women of all ages. Fierce women. Saucy women. Quiet Women. Noisy women. I saw sex workers. I saw men. I saw posters. I saw costumes. And I saw a dog dressed up as Wonder Woman.

Hey hey, ho ho. Sexual violence has got to go.

SlutWalk Toronto founder, Heather Jarvis, speaking to the crowd at Harbourside Park.

SlutWalk Toronto founder, Heather Jarvis, speaking to the crowd at Harbourside Park.



An intriguing post about the intersections between pedagogy, experiential learning, gardening, and citizenship over on

In Erasmus Schwab’s treatise The school garden: Being a practical contribution to the subject of education (1879), Schwab wrote that a well-planned school garden will cultivate “reflective and active natures, from whom sullenness and indolence stand aloof… because they will have learned thoroughly by their little labours in the school garden to do in an orderly and capable manner whatever they have to do”[1]. A follower of child-centred learning in the spirit of Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of the kindergarten, Schwab here seemed to say that children could be encouraged to pursue a “reflective nature” in the school garden; but the manner in which they did so ought to be “orderly and capable.”

More here:

A year or two after we moved into our house, I created a photo wall at its heart. The photos – all black and white or sepia-toned portraits of (mostly) unsmiling ancestors, greet us as we walk up from the front door.

My grandmother as a baby, brown toes poking out from a lacy white dress, dark hair combed across her head. My other grandmother, relaxing with her beau – my future grandfather – at a picnic with another couple. An anonymous ancestor at her first communion. My mother in law with her family, a stiff but jaunty bow on her head. My great grandfather standing tall and serious. My grandparents in law, in a teaching college class photo. A quintessentially Dutch photo featuring a random (but undoubtedly related to me) couple with a bike between them. All of them clustered together, tracing family lineages that criss cross the hemispheres.

I have more historical photos in digital albums. At Christmas, I created a digital archive of all of my dad’s old family photos. In February, my aunt gave me a jump drive with another collection of photos, this time from my mother’s side of the family. And then there’s the online family tree project my cousin started.

All of these photos function as windows into stories of the past. Not just my stories, but stories of life in general. What did it mean to have one’s photo taken? To whom did one give photos? What kinds of events did photos mark? Who took the photos? And where were they taken?

Given that my grandmother was born in Suriname, along South America’s northern coast, why is my great grandmother holding her daughter in a stiff pose, wearing full formal early twentieth-century European dress while standing in front of an idyllic, if fanciful English-garden-esque backdrop? I start to sweat just looking at the photo. I can’t even begin to imagine how hot they must have been.

Who was the couple holding a bike on a cobbled street? Whose bike was it? Which street was it? What can their clothes tell me? Why aren’t they smiling?

Where was my grandmother picnicking? What did they eat? What was she wearing?

What can these photos tell me about life in the early twentieth century? And what happens when these varied lives come together onto a single wall?

Lots and lots of questions.

Student at the University of Michigan recently embarked on a photo mission of their own. Starting with two nineteenth-century photo albums of an African-American family and then looking at city directories, newspapers and census returns, they developed a social history of everyday African-American life in the late nineteenth century. In the process, they also learned about the history of photography.

You can see the results of their work – and their still unanswered questions – on the project website:

In the early 2000s, Kagan Goh embarked on a different photo dectective project. Armed with a framed photograph of a samurai warrior and a photo album dated 1939, both of which his brother had purchased at a garage sale from a man who had found them in his attic, he decided to find the family to whom these portraits belonged. In Goh’s words:

After the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1942, Japanese Canadians were ordered to turn over property and belongings to the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property as a “protective measure only.”  Caught in the whirlwind of anti-Japanese hysteria and paranoia, all of the Japanese descendents living in Canada at the time were rounded from their homes and herded off to internment camps and declared “enemy aliens.”  They had no choice but to leave everything behind.  The album was left behind when the family was interned and their possessions were either seized by the Canadian government and sold for a pittance, or stolen by looters.  They lost everything.

I remember reading about the story in a Vancouver newspaper. Goh, together with a colleague, contacted the papers and Japanese community organizations in their search. Ultimately, after a few years of searching, they succeeded, and the album and photo went ‘home’ to their original owner, Kay Kamitakahara. Since then, Goh has made a film about this story. Entitled “Stolen Memories,” its premise is simple: “If you had to walk out of your present life in 48 hours, possibly never to return, what would you take with you? What would you leave behind?”

It’s a haunting question.


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