Begin again, with power, relationship, and transitivity

One of your students tells this story:

In our small group there were two college students and one incarcerated woman. When it came time to present our work, that woman said, well I’m the only one in this group so I’ll have to present! I said what do you mean, we’re here, and she said, yeah but you’ll be walking outtahere, we won’t be partying with you tonight.

We develop relationships that occupy the space in between, that holding space of interactional possibility. Inside, one of the women has written a children’s book and seeks our advice, another shares the graphic novel she’s working on, inspired by Persepolis; on the outside, women’s lives take them into nearby neighborhoods, and you catch sight of a familiar shoulder in the Italian market, your student is sure she glimpses someone on the train, meets another in her social work placement. There is joy and connection here, longing, questions.


During the lesson planning class [in the jail] when someone stood up to be the teacher, watching her move around the classroom animatedly made me realize that movement is something we actually may not want to worry about restricting. I get the sense movement/closeness of bodies is so heavily policed already, by specifically shying away from activities involving more free movement, we are perpetuating this body policing. 1

We make decisions about our class sessions–-to include more movement, to bring in poetry or biology, to question the system we are part of–-and yet we hit walls.


In our last week of the book club, we talked more explicitly about the system of mass incarceration than ever before….It was heartening to hear women speak about the system, and exciting to hear a woman ask how we fight the system. However, that question also upset me because I do not know the answer.2

As we “attempt to walk [and live] on the rickety bridge between self and other,”3 sometimes it feels impossible to grasp both awareness of power relations and interactional possibility, and yet knowing this contradiction intimately, again and again, is what we are doing here.

And just as you come to see how power must shape the curriculum, you stop short: don’t join “the church of ‘everything is fucked up, so throw up your hands,” another form of “anesthesia.”4 Ongoing effort that insists on neither abjuration nor absolution is hard to come by. And perhaps requires a different grammar:

More common in romance languages than in English, the verb form of solidarity–to solidarize with–is a transitive verb.….The questions that transitivity suggests have to do with our willingness to act in the world, to use Stuart Hall’s (1986) famous words, “without guarantees.” What unimagined and unimaginable outcomes might become available if we were willing to risk the possibility that we simply do not know where we are going?5

  1. sara.gladwin, “more on the subject of the barometer,” February 25, 2014 (6:11 p.m.), accessed May 20 2016
  2. HCRL, “Final Field Paper,” May 9, 2015 (2: 58 p.m.), accessed May 20, 2016.
  3. Peggy Phelan, qted. in Sweeney, Reading is my Window, 250-251.
  4. Ta-Nehisi Coates, “How I Met Your Mother,” The Atlantic In Paris: Dispatch #12, August 19, 2013, accessed May 20, 2016,
  5. Gaztambide-Fernandez, “Decolonization,” 54-55.