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Fat Studies and Health at Every Size

Seminar 4: Researching Fat Studies and HAES: working with/as fat bodies

5th - 6th May 2011, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Bath

Short report on Seminar 4: Researching Fat Studies and HAES

Introduction

The fourth and final seminar for this series took place on 5th and 6th May, 2011 at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Bath. The seminar was focussed on the methodologies and politics of doing fat studies and HAES research and aimed to both reflect on current practice and explore alternative methods for researching and communicating work on fat studies and HAES.

Activities

As with the other three seminars, the seminar aimed to provide a supportive space within which researchers, activists, practitioners and interested individuals could discuss issues surrounding fatness. In particular, this seminar emphasised a range of boundary crossings, with a combination of papers and artistic performances / presentations which explored the possibilities and tensions in doing research which engages outside of disciplinary and academic boundaries. As with the third seminar, the venue was deliberately chosen to be easily accessible and outside of university space to de-centre academia.

A particular theme for this seminar was the role of the arts in relation to work on Fat Studies and HAES. This included work which used arts directly in research on fatness (Vikki Chalkin) and exhibitions and presentations from artists who were involved in collaborative research on the body more broadly who were interested in making connections to fat studies and HAES researcher (Jennie Pedley, Neil Luck, Sally Lemsford, Kerrie O'Connell).

These artistic exhibitions and performances were accompanied by academic presentations reflecting on the challenges of doing research that engages across disciplines (John Evans) and with policy makers (Bethan Evans) and of doing ethnographic research on fat embodiment in the context of cross-channel swimming (Karen Throsby) and club nights out (Rachel Colls). Jacqui Gingras gave an excellent key note presentation on some of the epistemological challenges of Fat Studies and HAES research, particularly in relation to autoethnography. Charlotte Cooper and Lucy Aphramor also talked about their experiences of practicing fat activism and HAES in relation to the production of a queer and trans fat activist timeline (http://obesitytimebomb.blogspot.com/p/queer-and-trans-fat-activist-timeline.html) and running a HAES 'Well Now' course within the NHS. Following the end of the formal sessions, a discussion session allowed other participants to talk about their research (kicked off by Nicole Mixson-Perez who spoke about her work on body image) and allowed further discussion of key questions that have arisen throughout the four seminars.

Presentations

Details of the presentations are shown below. Where possible, we will upload audio recordings and/or video (to show powerpoint slides) of the talks:

  • Keynote: Jacqui Gingras, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University: 'Fleshing Out Knowledges Beyond Bounds'.
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Charlotte Cooper, University of Limerick: 'A Fat / Queer Timeline: An Update'.
    [Obesitytimebomb Blog]
  • Lucy Aphramor, Coventry University and HAES UK: 'Well Now'.
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Jennie Pedley: 'Silhouettes and surroundings - art collaborations inspired by the history of exercise'.*
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Vicky Chalkin, Goldsmiths University of London: 'Shared Narratives / Collective Selves: Queer Performance as a Community of Affect'.*
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Karen Throsby, Warwick University: '"You can't be too vain to gain if you want to swim the Channel": marathon swimming, ethnography and the problem of heroic fatness'.
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • John Evans, Loughborough University: 'Border Crossings: How not to win friends and influence people in obesity research'.
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Bethan Evans, Durham University: 'Juggling Different Hats: negotiating engagements between policy, activism and academia as a critical fat geographer'.
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Rachel Colls, Durham University: 'Big Bodies Dancing: reflections on doing fat research'.
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Neil Luck: (Composer).
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Sally Lemsford: Performance.*
    [ Narrated Slides ]

Please note - for these presentations (marked with*), we do not have a full set of images. A selection of images are shown alongside the audio but these may not directly map onto the discussion.

Participation and Feedback

Approx. 30 people attended the seminar including local and national artists, international and national academics and activists. Feedback (both formal and informal) was overwhelmingly positive, and the combination of art and academic forms of presentation made for a fascinating mix. As with previous seminars, the accessibility of the event was also praised in terms of physical space, bursaries, lack of registration fee, and inclusion of non-academic delegates. The financial support from the ESRC was vital here in enabling the event to be free of charge for attendees and the provision of bursaries ensured participation was possible for those not able to get support from their employers.

Reflection and Conclusion

There was a real sense of sadness that this was the last of the seminar series, but also a celebration of the connections that have been made. People volunteered to host subsequent events and there was discussion of ways to continue conversations both electronically and through applying for further funding. The combination of arts and academic work led to some interesting conversations and potentially productive connections were made between people who otherwise wouldn't have met. The papers on boundary crossings made it clear that doing critical fat studies and HAES work is often fraught with tension and that the safe spaces of the seminars have been really important in allowing people to reflect and develop their practice away from these difficult encounters. The emphasis on arts based and authoethnographic methods as a means to research and disseminate research on fat studies and HAES also opened up possibilities for future events and forms of engagement which might take forward some of the debates which have been had as part of this series.

Other reflections on this seminar

See blog posts on this seminar by Charlotte Cooper: http://obesitytimebomb.blogspot.com/2011/05/reporting-back-on-fourth-and-final-esrc.html