Issue 1 Autumn/Winter
To whom it may concern,
We are two post-doctoral research fellows who have been working on projects concerned with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at the Institute of Advanced Studies over 2021-22, and are co-editors of this issue of Think Pieces. Working with and from Sara Ahmed’s book Complaint! and focusing on the context of higher education in the UK, we have created a poly-vocal and multimedia space for reflection on the experiences and processes of complaint.
To contend with questions around risk, anonymity, consequence and catharsis when making complaints in and about higher education, we invited:
complaints – anonymous or otherwise – from students and staff involved in delivering EDI-related work, and/or those whom EDI initiatives attempt to reach;
contributions from people who are not normally expected or allowed to complain, who might complain on behalf of someone or something else, who may self-censor because their position in an institution may require anonymity, as well as those whose complaints feel ongoing and unresolved;
ambivalence, delight and discontent, grievance and gratitude, and serious and mischievous impulses;
past reflections, present queries, and future hopes.
Complaint processes, effects, formats and languages reveal consequences and contingencies about who can risk complaining and who is meaningfully heard when they do so. The ethical imperative of our research and editorial work on EDI at the Institute of Advanced Studies has been to knead these knots and attend to their complexity. Time taken with complaint is not to only broach some catharsis or recognition, but to better strategise and strengthen forms of response. What if complaint becomes normalised as an ethics of care? Could the complaint be elevated as the problem, not the complainer?
We thank each contributor for their insight and generosity.
Disgruntled of Bloomsbury
(Alexandra Baybutt and Lo Marshall)
P.S. We are indebted to Sara Ahmed’s work that is present throughout this edition, but we mark her absence. We did not invite a contribution from Ahmed because of the public tweet on 1 February 2022 announcing her decision to ‘boycott UCL’.
ALEXANDRA BAYBUTT with CLEOPATRA GLITHERO
This video clip emphasises the often-sobering repetitiveness of email correspondence with public offices.
WILL DAMARJIAN If these walls could talk they would tell you everything I cannot say, They would groan and protest under the strain, Unlike me, these walls …
WILL DAMARJIAN with EMILY BAKER People can complain, but are they heard? People can raise their voices in anger, but can they truly disrupt institutional procedures which neutralise dissent?
A series of visual accounts showing four encounters with complaints I had in Spring/Summer 2022 through working at a major art gallery and as a resident artist at the Institute of Advanced Studies.
Complaining can be understood as something very broadly defined, sharing your unease with something, or very specifically defined, entering into a formal ‘complaints’ process.
When invited to contribute a piece on hostile environments in higher education, my mind immediately drifted to a scene in the film A Fantastic Woman.
I am not good at being late. This feels like a strange thing to say as a person who is about to enter her sixth year of a normally three-year undergraduate degree in the hopes of graduating for the first time aged 28. But here I am…
I paused by the purple cladded Tour Guides who were showing a small group a picture of the building from a bird’s eye view, The Cruciform, the St George’s cross design.
MATAIO AUSTIN DEAN
I am as brown as brown can be, With the swirling riches high, Piled tightly into my sloe bush eyes –
‘The meeting was bad. We got a meatless lunch with these awful woke sandwiches.’ An innocuous conversation about corporate catering left me contemplating…