‘CONFERENCES’ AND THE ‘GENDER’ QUESTION

The project is an attempt to focus on the on-going debate concerning gender studies in India in the past couple of decades – the question of gender representation in conferences and focusing specifically on the rise and shortcomings of inclusivity in women-centric conferences.

Acknowledgment: We would like to acknowledge the contribution of Megha Dumasya and Ipshita Karmakar in conceptualizing the project and analyzing the research findings.

del.jpg
 
D869_94_602_1200.jpg

Academic pedagogy in the 21st Century has welcomed new forms of discourse, one of them being the form that a Conference takes. Spread over a few days, this form of autodidactic learning mechanism results in the perpetuation of certain ideas in a very condensed format. Feminist pedagogy seems like a contradiction in terms, because feminism refers to an alternative world-view while pedagogy in its conventional sense suggests education for entry into the patriarchal system. (Martel and Peterat 1988). This form that a conference/ symposium takes, particularly while handling a nuanced topic like gender studies, often falters and ends up perpetuating the same differences that it aims to abolish. By recognizing that the forms these conferences take end up ghettoizing the small percentage of practicing gender fluid architects further. They do so by creating cis-gender narratives, where LGBTQ / queer architects do not find a place under the bracket of ‘women’. They also create subsidiary brackets of caste, and class, by denying lower caste representation, and by ensuring that only a certain class of audience can attend by placing high entrance fees. The paper therefore makes the argument asking whether such conferences can be intersectional and inclusive, and further, whether we need to have such conferences at all. Should we be concentrating on agitating for reforms that ensure equal representation of all genders in practice and in discourse, rather than providing a platform for a select few? To evaluate this hypothesis further, the paper aims to build upon the archive of the timeline from 2000-2020 and the discussions that surround these conferences in the 21 st century. The format is deployed to draw the representation and understand how these conferences collectively construct the need for a broader evolving ecology of gender. The cases do not necessarily follow descriptive forms of presentation but highlight ideas, strategies or processes that led to the design and production of a particular conference to build a framework that enables the production of conferences. The paper aims to capture several parameters and expressions that engage with bridging the gap between realities and imaginations that these conferences project. 
The paper is an attempt into focusing on on-going the debate concerning gender studies in India in the past couple of decades – the question of gender representation in conferences, and focusing specifically on the rise and shortcomings of inclusivity in women centric conferences.

 

Conferences of today

Conferences of today, however, have moved away from traditional forms to follow various formats and mediums; some may be panel presentations, some exhibits, research poster presentations and even virtual tours, and various topics of conversations. As an observer and participant in conferences, we feel a disjunction between what conferences aspire to do, and historically did, and the formats that eventually hinder those aspirations in contemporary conferences. Of all the conferences we have observed so far, we have identified a few key variables through which conferences operate. Permutations and combinations of those determine a conference format today. These formats of presentations were analyzed for understanding the relevance of each. In keeping with the trends that we observe in the convening and coalescing of people in order to enable discussions, we define a conference within a ‘discussant, presenter, attendee format’ – which is conducted over a short span of time at a particular geographical location, and may then have various other undertakings, such as organizing exhibitions, publications, intervening in academia and so forth. This allowed us to focus our study from a larger milieu of online webinars, workshops and longer academic fellowships. As architects, we found it prudent to study only architecture and design conferences in India. We mapped a few prominent architectural conferences that we were aware of in India, with significant online or published presence, in order to develop a data set of architectural conferences in the past years and analyse them further. 
The impetus to attend a conference is prevalent even in India, particularly academic conferences. Faculty in colleges are bound to attend Academic Conferences as per diktats set up by the Council of Architecture. For younger presenters, it is an opportunity and platform to present our works and get valuable inputs to further our research. For professionals within the field, it is always a good idea to convene and contribute to furthering the discourse in the field. The conference format has many advantages, but the two setbacks that we focused on are inclusivity and future imaginaries of these conferences.

 
y.jpg

Data Set of Conferences in India

 
e.jpg
 

Women In Conferences

First, the conference format, particularly while handling a nuanced topic like gender studies, and when uncoupled with long term reforms in the educational system, perhaps remains a step too late and too little in the right direction. Second, as Sharmila Rege says, feminist and gender fluid pedagogy in India, in recent times should strive to address questions of caste, class and marginalized perspectives, essentially overcoming the androcentrism embedded within our society (Rege, 1995), but our experience of conferences so far has led us to believe that this goal is not being met within the current format of conducting conferences. In order to analyse this hypothesis, we decided to study contemporary conferences, in order to distill the commonalities and tendencies that are inherent in our imagination of conference making today. 

In order to understand these two shortcomings of conferences, we employed the methodology of Participant Observer Approach as a part of feminist pedagogy, and selected a data set of 5 conferences that we have engaged in ourselves over the last 5 years – State of Architecture, State of Nature, State of Housing, Z Axis and 361 degree. We analyzed them as per the gender ratio, the amount of time each gender speaks on stage, and issues of discussion of each gender. This gave us an idea about gender representation in regular, non-specialized architecture conferences and their consequent formats. State of Architecture took place over 76 days in 2016, and saw 26 men and only 7 women sharing the stage. Consequently, this skewed graph was even evident in the time women and men shared the stage. Due to lack of clear data, we were unable to determine the non-binary gender representation. Issues spoken about by men were more varied, and the ones spoken by women were largely about the practice of women in architecture. Whereas, the State of Nature took place over 3 days in 2018. It saw a roughly equal 49 to 51 percent of women and men representation. However there was lack of data on the non-binary representation. However, the amount of time women spoke on stage was roughly one third of total time. It was notable however that both genders spoke of issues of caste and class, and livelihoods. The State of Housing took place over 3 days in 2018 with 31 speakers, with 74 % men and the rest women. While speaking about housing issues, women took on the added responsibility to talk about gender in practice. However, the 361 degrees is an annual conference, of the 12 speakers, we identified 8 men, 3 women and 1 non binary presenter. The Z Axis conference that took place in Goa in 2018 had a 72 % to 28% men to women ratio. Again, the need for women on stage to speak about their experience with feminist ideologies was identified. 

 
 
Slide10.JPG
 
Slide11.JPG
 
Slide12.JPG
 
Slide13.JPG
 
Slide14.JPG
 

The skewed gender graph is the evidence of the inequalities that are inherent even in urban architecture conferences. That is not to say that this inequality occurs as deliberate manipulations by the part of the organizers and presenters, but it is a reflection of our society and the inherent patriarchy within it, that results in these subliminal differences that occur with regards to the amount of time women speak with respect to men, the amount of time that each gender is represented on stage, and even the ratio of women and men asking questions in the question answer sessions. The fact that these conferences take place in metropolitan regions also add a layer of exclusivity to them.

 
Slide15.JPG
 
Slide17.JPG
 
Slide18.JPG
 
Slide22.JPG
 

Research Methodology

When counting the gender of speakers at conferences, we went by the gender pronouns provided in a speaker’s conference bio, and we cross checked these with the gender pronouns listed on their professional website or social media profiles. We use the umbrella term “nonbinary folk” for those who have designated their preferred pronouns as “they/them.”. As with any data set, this one is not perfect; every effort was made to obtain accurate data. (If you have spoken at one of these conferences and believe we may have made a mistake, please email us at aamchiwork@gmail.com and we will work to correct the data). 
For the purpose of our research, we only counted speaker lineups. We did not include workshop and lab leaders, jury members, or exhibitors, so that our search could be applied across various types of conferences, which often differ in activities. Also, workshops are often sponsored, and speaking at a conference is perceived as the most prestigious role at an event. 
The selection of conferences presents a broad overview of the landscape, yet it’s certainly not exhaustive. Rather, it’s intended as a sample. Our initial ambition was to gather data across different underrepresented groups, in order to produce a fully intersectional survey 
Additionally, we calculated time on stage, the questions of Accessibility, Issues raised within the Conferences, and formats of Conduct, based on the time slots, location and schedule mentioned on the posters and facebook posts/page of these conferences to emphasize that it is not simply an inclusive lineup of speakers that is vital, but also to understand how these determine inclusivity.

 
Slide27.JPG
 
Slide29.JPG
 
15.03.2020 - Gender and Academic leaders
 
15.03.2020 - Gender and Academic yy.jpg
 

Beyond the data

We were unable to collect empirical data in order to understand the implications that these conferences have already created in the academic realm, and to what extent these conferences will help in long term reforms. The data was also not able to contextualize privilege beyond gender. Our data does not reflect the caste,ethnicity, and class of its speakers, all of which are important factors to consider. To create a congress or organization of any kind, particularly in reforming our skewed gender graph within the architectural profession, is a step that will have massive implications. We only posit that this be done sensitively and with great care given to ensuring maximum inclusivity. These can be done by radical measures, by ignoring cis gender constructs at all, or even by softer, more empathetic measures by ensuring that these conferences take place in formats that can be attended by all castes, classes and genders, and represented by all castes, classes, genders, ethnicity etc. We also posit that these conferences attempt to branch out further into academic and societal spaces, the core areas where these gender differences are perpetuating in the first place. Every year, we see an attempt to transcend these constructs of gender, privilege, and profession. To those who attempt to do so, we applaud them and their efforts, and we hope that one day these conferences do what conferences historically have managed to do – bring true reform.

 

References

Anthropocene-curriculum.org. 2020. Anthropocene Curriculum. [online] Available at: https://www.anthropocene-curriculum.org/project/anthropocene-india/conference-state-of-nature-in-india 

Beauvoir, S., n.d. The Second Sex. 

Foundation, W., 2020. Women In Design 2020+ | An International Conference Curated By The HECAR Foundation. [online] Wid2020plus.org. Available at: https://www.wid2020plus.org/ 

The Hecar Foundation.org. 2020. Women In Architecture-2000 Plus: An Event By The Hecar Foundation.. [online] Available at: https://www.thehecarfoundation.org/womeninarchitecture.html 

Rege, S., 1995. Feminist Pedagogy and Sociology for Emancipation in India. Sociological Bulletin, 44(2), pp.223-239. 

URBAN DESIGN RESEARCH INSTITUTE. 2020. The State Of Architecture - URBAN DESIGN RESEARCH INSTITUTE. [online] Available at: <http://www.udri.org/publication/the-state-of-architecture/> [Accessed 29 June 2020]. 

WADE ASIA. 2020. Awards & Conferences For Women Architects,Interior Designers & Artists - Wade Asia. [online] Available at: <https://www.wadeasia.com/>