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July 1, 2014

CRonEM Annual Conference – Reflections and Thoughts

by Jess Guth

I have spent the last two days at the Centre for Research on the European Matrix Annual Conference in Surrey. The conference was titled Sex Gender and Europe and was run in conjunction with the ESRC International Network: Unintended Gender Consequences of EU Policies. The programme is online here

I am writing this on the train home as I reflect on the last two days and just let my – rather full – mind wander. It might therefore be the case that I change my mind about the thoughts captured here, that I think differently in a few day’s time when I have slept, processed ideas and reflected further. For that I make no apologies, it’s all part of the process!

Day one was long and intense but at the same time inspiring and encouraging in the sense that it created a really productive environment for sharing ideas. As Roberta Guerrina introduced the Gender network and the work it had been doing over the last two years it struck me (not for the first time recently!) how creative, innovative and productive a bunch of people with similar interests can be when given the time and space to talk to each other, to think, to challenge and to support. The work that comes out of these collaborations have had the benefit of feedback at all levels – from basic idea to finished paper and it is amazing work for it. What that means is that the network is significantly more than the sum of its parts and this is something to really think about in research funding. Academics, or at least this bunch of academics and I suspect many others too, need to be able to engage with each other in a meaningful way over a sustained period of time to be able to produce their best work

The papers on day 1 were all great, many given by PhD students who are engaging in some really interesting work which made me more hopeful that there is a bright future for gender and EU studies. I really enjoyed Muireann O’Dwyer (University College Dublin) speaking on the EU democratic deficit and although I am still grappling with her use of some of the concepts (like intersectionality) I am sure she has tapped into something which can push our understanding forward – I am looking forward to reading the full paper. I also enjoyed Gill Allwood on the prostitution debates and whether we should construe prostitution as sex work or violence against women. While I have on occasion picked this theme up in discussions in my Law and Society module, I hadn’t particularly thought about this in an EU context but I think it might be worth re-visiting some of the worker case law involving prostitutes in the light of the discussions we had. Koen Slootmaeckers spoke about Pride in Serbia which made me think about Pride and what it means – this will continue to whirl through my head for a while because here the personal does turn into the political. I can so absolutely see the political and symbolic importance of Pride in some contexts and yet Pride is not something that I have ever particularly engaged with. On day 2 the panels related mostly to gendering the economic crisis and I found Rosalind Cavaghan and Emanuela Lombardo’s paper helpful because it pointed me in the direction of literature which will help me get my head round some of these issues more. Denise Amram presented from Italy via Skype and by outlining the legal position of married couples where one spouse changes their sex in several European Countries, she made me think about what a European Union response might be and how this might then play out in a free movement context. Wow!

The highlight for me however was Carl Stychin who gave the plenary paper on Day 1: Status Symbols: European Same-Sex Couples on the Move. The absurdity that can arise where people marry in one state, live in another, move to a third, potentially divorce…. It’s complex for heterosexual couples who usually do not have to worry about their marriages being accepted as valid (although of course, these issues could also come up!) For same sex couples these questions are even more complex. I started trying to reason this out in a paper published in 2011 but Carl’s reasoning takes this debate further and is rather more sophisticated than I managed!

So, here I am on the train reflecting on a really packed but great 2 days which were full of conversations, excitement and a mutual belief that the work we are doing is important and worth persevering with and that is something to hold on to as we all go back to the everyday grind of the academic job.

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