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Modules

This page has examples of modules from around the University of Warwick that present evidence of queer pedagogy and support for trans and gender-diverse students.

Sexualities, Ethnicity, Class: Reinterpreting the Holocaust (HI31Z)

Department of History

Contact: Dr Anna Hájková (anna dot hajkova at warwick dot ac dot uk)

I am a Holocaust historian, and HI31Z is a course with which I applied to Warwick. The course seeks to offer an introduction to the Holocaust per se, but it also tried to do that from partly new angles, especially cultural history and history of sexuality. 

Jennifer Evans’ reminder that to queer the past is to view it sceptically, taking nothing for granted, is really helpful here. The course seeks to invite the participants to question their established assumptions (which particularly for the Holocaust are quite deep-set), and to bring about a more open, less judgemental, more inclusive history.  

I have also found, to a considerable shock, that some of the students could be quite ethically challenged. This was demonstrated in their problematic positions in the course, and in their conduct. So, I have started including ethics as an issue into the course, which means that students, often for the first time, learn the concept and its importance. It makes them think about the ethical responsibility of a historian, and protagonists in history. Queer history is quite useful here in helping to move beyond the usual beaten path. That brought about some excellent long essays and BA dissertations, including Jo-Ann Owusu’s work on menstruation in the Holocaust, which was subsequently published in History Today.  

Then there is the important aspect that I myself am a lesbian woman and a queer activist. When I studied, there was no queer faculty, I only had my first queer professor as a grad student, and that was really important to me. I thematize my queerness frequently, to make clear to the students that there are ways of life beyond heteronormativity. I am told by some of my queer students that this is pretty important to them, but it’s also crucial for the straight ones, because it normalizes non-heteronormative lifestyles in their world. 

With queer pedagogy and ethics, I find it useful to pose many questions to wake up students from their assumptions – on gender roles, racism, class, right and wrong and the British role in WWII.  

Ways of Knowing: Gender, Bodies, Power (IL902)

Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL)

Contact: Dr Cath Lambert (Cath dot Lambert at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you provide a brief description of the module?  

Ways of Knowing is an IATL based interdisciplinary MA module. It is concerned with different ways of knowing about gender and sexuality. Underpinned by an interdisciplinary feminist literature and pedagogy that understands us all as ‘epistemic agents’ or knowledge producers, the module will range widely across diverse disciplinary fields in order to discover the constructed and contested status of many of the things we ‘know’. Central to our enquiry will be the ways we know. Each week we explore a different way of knowing, dedicating time not just to thinking about the research methods typical of academic knowledge production, but also inviting students to push the boundaries of what they recognise as ‘knowledge’ and explore ways of knowing that are marginal in academia but central to everyday social life, such as embodied experience, political activity or artistic practice. The module takes an experimental, practice-based approach to finding out, giving participants the opportunity to experience and develop both familiar and unfamiliar approached and techniques. The module incorporates participatory and active learning. Teaching and learning takes the form of doing, making, playing and experimenting, as well as reading, talking and listening.  

How did the module come about?  

The module came out of an IATL funded strategic project called Gendered Knowledges, an interdisciplinary project that explored radical interdisciplinary pedagogies in relation to gender and sexuality (see https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/funding/fundedprojects/strategic/genderedknowledges/).  

In what ways do you queer the learning experience of students?  

The module takes an expansive notion of queer as a disruptive, questioning and troubling force. From the outset all participants are encouraged to reflect on their location/s as producer of knowledge in relation to gender and sexuality and like queer methods, the module values embodied, experiential and emotional ways of knowing. We teach in an open space classroom to facilitate these modes of learning and teaching. Assessment reflects this, with small reflexive and practice-based assessments and a negotiated piece which has, in previous years, included performance, presentation, film, poetry and other forms of writing alongside more traditional essays. We also address queer and trans ways of knowing as topics in their own right. 

What kind of a response has the module provoked? 

This year, in addition to the 7 students taking the module for credit, a further 12 audited: this testifies to the benefits many students feel by taking it. External examiners commented favourably on the module and the assessments. Students have found the module to be inclusive of a wide range of differences and sometimes to introduce students to new ways of thinking about themselves and the gendered world. 

Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy? 

I don’t think I would offer advice, but it is good to share practice and keep an open dialogue about what it means to ‘implement queer pedagogy’ as this means a whole range of different (and ever changing) things!  

Queer Sociology (SO358)

Department of Sociology

Contact: Dr Cath Lambert (Cath dot Lambert at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Queering Sociology is an optional module primarily for final year undergraduate or postgraduate Sociology students, but it is available to others as an outside option. It aims to introduce students to, or enhance their existing knowledge of, queer theory and praxis. Queer has emerged as a form of activism, a sexual identity, a deconstructive theory and methodological approach. This module enables us to evaluate critically the benefits and limitations of queer as a scholarly resource. In order to do this the module brings a queer analysis to key sociological concerns. By the end of the module students should understand:  

    • The history of queer as a scholarly and political approach, including its (contested) relationship to sociology.  
    • What might be meant by queer method and how, when and why such methods might be deployed in sociological contexts.  
    • The challenges, rewards and potential problems of queer approaches in relation to a range of sociological themes and empirical concerns.  

The module addresses the question ‘what does taking a queer approach tell us about…?’ by exploring different substantive areas, including: queer history and activism; embodiments, identities and performativities; dis/ability; sex/ualities; race and nation; ‘heteronormative’ institutions such as education and family; time and space.  

How did the module come about?  

Critical approaches to gender and sexuality are an important part of our undergraduate and postgraduate curricular in Sociology but we did not have a module directly dealing with queer theory and method, so I designed this module to fill the gap. 

In what ways do you queer the learning experience of students? 

The module aims to both enable students to understand the history and politics of queer as a theory, method, form of activism, (anti-)identity and culture as well to explore queer ways of knowing by being critical and reflexive about ‘normal’ modes of academic knowledge production and teaching and learning. For example, the module has a dedicated soundtrack, utilises open spaces where more active and embodied forms of learning are possible and supports open and inclusive methods for learning from each other and utilising our experiences in scholarly ways, where appropriate.  

What kind of a response has the module provoked?  

The module ran for the first time this year. It was popular and students appeared to enjoy it and performed well in assessments.  

Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy?  

I don’t think I would offer advice, but it is good to share practice and keep an open dialogue about what it means to ‘implement queer pedagogy’ as this means a whole range of different (and ever changing) things!  

Modes of Reading (EN122)

English and Comparative Literary Studies

Contact: Professor Emma Mason (emma dot mason at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you give a brief description of the case study? 

For the past 10 years, I have taught a unit on our core first-year module, Modes of Reading, which involves 4 lectures called ‘Shocks and Sympathies’ designed to introduce students to interpretative practices related to authorship, structuralism, and what it means to be a ‘reader’. While many literary texts are discussed during these lectures, the primary focus is Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’. Ginsberg’s relationship with the model and writer Peter Orlovsky was widely known and influential on the composition of ‘Howl’. The two visited Warwick together in 1979 to present and perform their work (https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/archive/writers/ginsbergallen/061179/). The poem is an experimental reflection on the McCarthyite terror of 1950s America and engages, sometimes controversially and problematically, with the politics of sexuality, gender, race, and religion. I introduce the poem via the artistic relationship between Ginsberg and Orlovsky (using this image: http://ginsbergblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/gay-pride-2011.html) as a way into the text’s frank reading of the male body and its queering of spirituality and relationship.  

In what ways do you think that you queer the learning experience of students?  

Introducing a major American poet like Ginsberg as a gay figure engaging with sexuality via predecessors like William Blake and Walt Whitman helps historicise queerness and shift preconceptions of queer literature as only ‘modern’.  

If relevant, what kind of response has the case study provoked?  

From my experience of teaching Ginsberg, but also other queer poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Audre Lorde, C. P. Cavafy, Eileen Myles, James Baldwin, and F. G. Lorca, I see students feel empowered to speak with confidence and clarity about broad questions of identity, inclusion, and equality.  

Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy? 

Invite the students to introduce queer writers whom you have not read and offer them space to discuss why they have found this work interesting.  

Family Law (LA359) and Child Law (LA358)

School of Law

Contact: Dr Maebh Harding (maebh dot harding at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you give a brief description of the case study? 

I am conscious of the need to decentre the hetero-normative experience and challenge the gender roles imposed by English law when teaching on my two undergraduate modules – Family Law and Child Law  

In what ways do you think that you queer the learning experience of students?  

On Family Law we directly engage with and challenge the assumptions in English Family law that centre the hetero-normative experiences of family life. We interrogate legal reinforcement of gender roles in marriage and the importance of sexual identity. We evaluate issues of equality both in the way that the law treats different types of couples and the roles that the law expects within marriage. We look at the role that queer activists have played in the shaping of English family law and students are exposed to video footage of campaigners such as Celia Kitzinger explaining their viewpoint. We also deconstruct fundamentalist right wing rhetoric from various campaign groups about the need for children to have a mother and a father and the need for marriage to be for heterosexuals only.  

On Child Law, we proceed on the assumption that children may have 2 parents of the same sex or different sexes, or have one parent of either sex or be cared for by a wider and more diverse family. In our examination of how the law establishes what is in the best interests of children, we directly examine and critique how the law constructs parenthood and the relevance of gender and sexual identity.  

In both modules, students are presented with different family scenarios both in seminars and in their assessments. An effort is made to present a diverse picture of family life in these scenarios and the families presented are often queer families. This is done deliberately to decentre the hetero-normative experience but also so we can discuss the kinds of legal issues that particularly affect such families.  

If relevant, what kind of response has the case study provoked? 

I have occasionally had students ask to change from the Child Law module onto other options because they find this portrayal of family life morally unacceptable. In general thought, students are very open minded and supportive of the idea that the law should accommodate all family types equally. They are optional modules so my cohorts are self-selecting. 

Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy? 

Some students do find the de-centring of the hetero-normative experience a little disorientating. It is helpful at the beginning of the module to explain why you are taking the approach.  

European World 1500-1700 (2017/2018 Core Module)

Faculty of Arts

Contact: Dr Kathryn Woods (k dot woods at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Could you give a brief description of the case study?  

As a Teaching Fellow in the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick, I always integrated analysis of different historical attitudes to gender and sexuality into my teaching. For example, in my seminars for the second-year core module ‘European World 1500-1700’ in 2017/18, I taught my students about, and got them to critically engage with, different early modern conceptions of gender and sexuality. This was a period when gender was understood to exist along a fluid spectrum that could change over the course of a person’s lifecycle, and when men and women were not understood as biologically distinct sexes. It was also a time when engaging in different sexual acts was not necessarily defining of sexuality (which didn’t necessarily exist as a concept), and where gender was determined more by dress and hair than by sexual body parts. In the second-year module I convened on health and the lifecycle in modern Britain, I also introduced students to the changing attitudes of homosexuality, including its de-medicalisation, with the rise of sexology and an increasingly sexually permissive society since the 1960s and 70s. This course also introduced students to how important gay theorists of the 20th century, like Michel Foucault, transformed how scholars see the world, and their central role in the establishment of post modernism, post structuralism and the history of sexuality. Collectively through my teaching, I have attempted to show that understandings of gender, sexuality and sex vary considerably over time and place and must be understood as socially constructed phenomenon.  

If relevant, how did this case study come about? 

Whilst I was a student at the University of Edinburgh, I took a course called ‘Sex and Society in Britain since c. 1830’. This course opened my eyes – and my mind – to the different ways gender, sex and sexuality have been historically understood, and the varying and often challenging lived experiences of queer people. It also brought my attention to the different ways sexual practices have been categorised as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, and that these are not consistent and are often tied to larger social phenomenon. This course was so influential for me in terms of my thinking about the body – the main topic of my research – and how I understand myself and engage with others, that I have always tried to bring insights from it into my own teaching for my students.  

In what ways do you think that you queer the learning experience of students?  

For me, I think I queer the learning experience of students in two main ways. Firstly, I start with the assumption that within my classrooms that all of the students there have different understandings, ideas about, and experiences of, gender and sexuality. I also assume that for some students, university will have been transformational in terms of exposing them to attitudes about gender, sex and sexuality that are quite different to those they have encountered previously, or those held by their families, friends, and communities. I think starting from this point is important for inclusivity for everyone, as it inspire deliberate efforts on my part to be sensitive to how I introduce and discuss certain topics. At the same time, I consider teaching students to be considerate to others and reflective of their own words and actions as one of the most important things I can teach them, and something that can only be taught through engaging in issues like queerness. Secondly, I queer the learning experiences of students – as I have already noted – by integrating discussion and critical consideration of gender, sex and sexuality into all my teaching, whether it be early modern Europe or twentieth-century Britain.  

If relevant, what kind of response has the case study provoked? 

I think my students have very much welcomed the opportunity to discuss and learn how to discuss issues of gender, sex and sexuality from my classes, as well as the opportunities I provide them to research these issues independently through essays and presentations. Many of them have remarked how surprised they are about how different historical attitudes towards gender, sex and sexuality are from today. Many have also commented upon how much they welcome the opportunities to talk about some of the issues we approach, from menstruation and menopause, to different forms of sex education in schools (including their sex education)! Talking about these issues openly and sensitively, and creating a positive learning environment through which to do this, has also helped students feel comfortable in contributing in seminars more broadly. For example, all of the students I taught for From Cradle to Grave 2015-2018, agreed or strongly agreed that it was easy to participate in seminars. The students also commented: ‘Discussions are very easy going and enjoyable. Varied discussions’; ‘Good participation from everyone’; ‘Feel relaxed in seminar’; Everyone talks, yay!’ 

Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy?  

Approach your teaching with the assumption that there are students with mixed gender and sexual identities, views and experiences in the classroom. Critically ask yourself how inclusive your teaching is, with different possibly identities in mind, in the design of its curriculum each week and as a whole, the reading you set, and the issues you choose to focus on.  

Watch your language and the way you express yourself (both verbally and in writing i.e. through use of pronouns, labelling of groups, or off hand comments) in respects to the above. You will probably not get this right all the time so don’t feel bad if you make an error – apologise, correct yourself and move on.  

Try to create a positive and relaxed learning environment. A big part of this is being warm and friendly to the students as individuals and as a group, but it is also about varying the dynamics of discussion in the classroom through a mix of pair, small group and large group activities.  

Include discussion of gender and sexuality where you can, and if you find it difficult to talk about then admit it, don’t shy away from it (many of the students probably feel the same)! Be open to being questioned.  

Make sure to correct students in moments where they say something others might find offensive, but be kind about it and understand it as an important learning moment both for the student and the group as a whole.