Professor Emma Renold

(Another post in the series on feminist quackademics)

Emma Renold is Professor Childhood studies at Cardiff University. You might then think that her area of interest would include both boys and girls. If so, think again, her output is heavily skewed towards girls. According to her web page (here)…

Working with feminist, queer and post-humanist approaches my research explores gendered and sexual subjectivities across diverse institutional sites and public spaces across the young life course.

In short, standard boilerplate feminism (misandry) dressed up as scholarship.

A representative sample of her academic output would be her most recent paper What More Do Bodies Know? Moving With The Gendered Affects of Place that was published in the journal Body and Society.

The paper was inspired by girls in an ex-mining community who apparently struggled to speak (doesn’t sound like any ex-mining community that I know). The quote below comes from the abstract and appears to be an effort to name drop some post-modernist philosophers (Deleuze and Guattari) in order to gain some sort of authority by association. As for the ‘dance of the not-yet’ I have no idea what that means.

Inspired by the works of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Erin Manning, a series of cameos are presented: room dancing; the hold; the wiggle; the leap and the dance of the not-yet. We speculate about relations between the actual movements we could see, the in-act infused with the history of place, and the virtual potential of movement.

The study began by interviewing school-age boys and girls in a South Wales ex-mining community. Little information is given on the conduct of the interviews. Were they structured or open ended? Were they all conducted by the female researchers? Were the interviews transcribed and analysed by independent workers who were ’blinded’ to the gender of the participants? We are not told, but I doubt it. Suffice it to say that the boys were dismissed from the study because ‘Quite frequently boys talked of roaming far and wide across expanses of territory around the valley on bikes, scooters, skateboards, quads and motorbikes.’ while the girls seemed more ’locked in’.

To uncover the feeling of the girls that had not been disclosed by the interviews the authors went on to analyse their dance moves and suggested (without any evidence) that they indicated a legacy of intergenerational trauma that apparently affected the girls more than the boys. In short, they imposed their worldview on the dance moves of female teenagers. Here are some samples from the paper.

She (the choreographer) used an analogy of drawing to explain her approach. She suggested that our moves look like ‘squiggles on a page’. She referred to these as unintentional movements zigzagged with unconscious ticks. The ticks might have been the remnants of largely unconscious routines such as steps enacted to escape boys’ abusive sexual banter in school corridors.

No evidence whatever is provided to support the notion that ticks were remnants of unconscious routines… to escape boys abusive sexual banter in schools. Also, note the weasel word ‘might,’ The ticks might have indicated a large number of things including too many energy drinks, boredom, or dismay at outcomes of ‘Strictly’ on the television the previous night. The fact that the authors only chose to include that one interpretation of the ticks means that was their preferred explanation.

Iris Marion Young suggests that the lack of intentionality in girls’ movements relates to molar forces of patriarchy and in the valleys this is likely to be amplified by the history of masculine corporeal labour valued in mining communities.

I have no idea what molar forces of patriarchy are but I am sure that the girls ‘lack of intentionality’ could have had a myriad of other explanations. The authors love using highfalutin words when simple ones would be better and when they use the term ‘masculine corporeal labour’ I presume they simply mean manual labour. The authors go on to interpret some wiggle movements that the girls made as follows..

The wiggle’s fluidity signalled a loosening of the stranglehold of tough body repertoires incorporated by girls living in harsh places exemplified by the ‘female masculinity’ of street dance moves. The wiggle gave the first hint of a softening of movement opening up possibilities for other ways to be.

It goes on….

The hall had become a place of experimentation and freedom where girls were liberated from the molar institutional requirements of sedate comportment, hesitations and acquiescent body gestures. Freed up, they experimented with edgy moves by playfully queering the pornified hyper-sexualised moves redolent in contemporary music videos (Lamb et al., 2013Renold and Ivinson, 2015). We contend that the girls needed to feel these violent, provocative, sexualising moves to inhabit their bodies differently by feeling and forming movements that are not publically legitimated, particularly in the sanitised context of the school (Quinlivan, 2018). In these moves, some of their suppressed feelings of oppression might have been re-felt with intentionality enabling their bodies to be less territorialised by patriarchal and valleys’ tropes.

Emma loves that word molar, doesn’t she? Once again the authors project their views onto the dance moves of the girls by claiming that ‘feelings of oppression might have been re-felt with intentionality enabling their bodies to be less territorialised by patriarchal valley tropes.

The authors go on in the same vein..

We feel that widening the purview of what counts as knowledge is critical to tackling all kinds of injustices, and specifically in the valleys, where economic regeneration is not taking place yet where all kinds of educational experiments are happening . In the era of the ‘Capitalocene’, young people’s micro and macro political activisms are becoming vital to ongoing life. To legitimate their embodied and prehensive knowing we, researchers, have to take risks by placing ourselves in the midst of things and develop and communicate a praxis that opens the world to speculative hope.

The authors certainly do widen the purview of what counts as knowledge by including the projection of their own prejudices onto the dance moves of their subjects. Unfortunately, extraordinary claims require extraordinary substantiation and no compelling evidence is provided that it is possible to read the minds of girls through the medium of dance moves. There is a danger that the anything-goes approach to what constitutes knowledge, employed by the authors will result in epistemic anarchy where you can believe pretty much anything. Would other independent workers analysing the dance moves reach similar conclusions? Are the beliefs of the authors falsifiable? If not they belong in the realm of pseudoscientific speculation.

The quote above closes with a piece of breathtaking conceit and grandiosity ‘we, researchers, have to take risks by placing ourselves in the midst of things and develop and communicate a praxis that opens the world to speculative hope.‘ Running an interpretive dance workshop in South Wales is hardly taking risks, neither is it developing a praxis that opens the world to speculative hope – surely all hope is speculative and I doubt if this study will have any worldwide impact.

The paper reads like a parody and could easily have been grouped with publications of the ‘Sokal Squared’ hoax perpetrated by Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay (see here). It is remarkable that this kind of material can find a home in an academic journal and it beggars belief that you can become Professor in a University by trotting out this kind of speculative nonsense.

The paper is more than nonsense, however. Professor Renold and Gabrielle Ivinson are exploiting the children they studied by using them as a template upon which they can project their own prejudices and possibly seeking to indoctrinate girls into believing in their political views. I do not wish, in any way, to dismiss the experience or hardships of the girls who were involved in this study. Neither do I wish to disparage their experience of dance, I hope it was characterised by uninhibited enjoyment. My criticisms are only directed at the two researchers.

Much has been made of grade inflation and there is no doubt that the number of students achieving the highest grades, at all levels of education, has gone up dramatically. Title inflation is seldom commented upon but it is nonetheless real. Perhaps the fact that Emma Renold holds a Chair in the Department of Social Sciences at Cardiff University is evidence of that kind of inflation.

I shall no doubt be coming back to Professor Renold’s output as the (51%) Professor of Childhood studies.

By femgoggles

I was abandoned by my parents in the black mountains and raised by timberwolves. On my return to the 'civilised world' with questionable table manners, I became a detached observer of human behaviour in general and gender relations in particular. This blog is the product of those observations.

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