School of Social Sciences

Gender Studies Hosts Writing the Body Workshop

Professor Rozena Maart (fifth left, back row) with her students during the Gender Studies workshop.

The Gender Studies discipline within the School of Social Sciences hosted a Writing Memory, Writing the Body workshop run by Professor Rozena Maart.

The workshop was attended by 60 honours students.

Maart, who is an award-winning writer, has conducted the workshop for the past 25 years in a variety of countries, both within and outside universities.

‘Students who do research need to learn how to observe their environment. They often think they know their environment but soon discover there is much to learn about a place they have lived in their entire lives,’ said Maart.

‘The body is used as a site of knowing, a site that students are supposed to know considering they have inhabited, lived within and through their bodies for their entire lives.’

The main exercise involves students writing down the names of all of their body parts; everything from eyelashes to knuckles to heart and spleen. They examine their lists and look at what they have left out, what that body part absence means to them, and why they have left it off their list. They then write a paragraph or two about each of those absences and their significance.

‘It’s rather like writing a letter to that body part,’ said Maart. ‘They discover all sorts of things about memory, about knowing and being, about the absence of presence and what that absence means, and what that relationship between consciousness and the unconscious suggests. Students were at first very nervous but soon transformed the nervousness into excitement, intrigue, joy and sheer pleasure, as was noted in their reflection papers.’

Student Ms Noxolo Xulu described the workshop as enlightening and liberating. ‘Through this exercise we were able to understand ourselves better and in turn become better researchers. It also developed our writing and observation skills which are vital for research.’

Another student, Mr Yamkela Duze, added: ‘The workshop was a rigorous introspection of self. It made you think differently about the way you approach and evaluate research but also created self-awareness about cultural beliefs, sexuality and backgrounds.’

The students agreed that the workshop not only addressed sexuality but offered a chance for them to tackle issues of society – race, politics and gender – and demystify social discourse.

Dr Cordula Weisskoeppel of the University of Bremen, Germany, was a guest at the workshop.

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