16th April

with really imaginative ways of performing ideas.

The best example I can think of is Heidi Hasbrouck’s ethnography of female waitresses in American diners and restaurants. Heidi presenting her research at the Goldsmiths Graduate Festival. As the audience filed in, they smelt coffee being made and set up on a table at the side of the lecturer theatre. Heidi, dressed in her waitress uniform, greeted the conference delegates. “Can I get you a coffee? Cream? Sugar?” The audience was mildly confused while accepting a gratefully received dose of harsh tasting coffee.

As we settled to listen to Heidi give her paper – still in costume – we realised that she had been embodying her argument. Central to this kind of work is a gendered form of emotional labour. Part of what a waitress does is the performance of a gendered cultural script. This involves tending to the patrons needs but also making them attended to and cared for. Heidi embodied and showed us her argument before she explicated it.

Giving a conference paper requires putting one's ideas forward and by extension putting oneself in peril. Will I seem a fool? Will I be found out? It involves a kind of existential risk evident in the nervous way that speakers ask, "How do you think it went?" I keep trying to stop myself asking this but it is impossible. The sense of exposure breeds uncertainty that can keep you awake at night and haunt you for days afterwards. What did they mean by that question? What was behind the pained expression of the person in the third row? In the context of this private form of academic torture British conference etiquette - and even a bit of nodding - is merciful. The fact is people rarely tell the truth when asked for an assessment on how the paper went and secretly we really always know the answer anyway.


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19 April