Today in Budapest, RINGS– The International Research Association of Institutions of Advanced Gender Studies – hosts its conference “Forging New Solidarities: Networks of (Academic) Activism and Precarity” co-organized by the TNT Gender Studies Research Group at University of Szeged, CEU Department of Gender Studies, CEU Democracy Institute and RINGS.
Despite political backlash in recent years toward gender studies in Hungary, including the prohibition of formal degrees in the subject, the conference demonstrates the many ways in which researchers continue to do their work in countries with illiberal regimes and stay connected transnationally.
As an international association with the aim of bringing together research institutions engaged in gender and feminist research on a global basis, RINGS is composed of 60 institutional members. The conference is conducted in a hybrid format, convening participants live in Budapest with online access for those unable to travel.
“On the horizon of illiberal democracies, Hungary is taking actions usually referred to as a cultural war, carried out either by the politicians themselves or by their supporters,” comments University of Szeged Associate Professor Erzsebet Barat of the TNT Gender Studies Research Group (who also teaches in CEU’s Department of Gender Studies). As a main organizer of the conference, Barat adds, “The backlash is happening in many places around the world – Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey, the Trump administration and its legacy today, Poland and Bulgaria - in other words, this is a huge iceberg and it is very important to have a forum for transnational dialogues in gender studies to think about the situation and strategies that can build upon the knowledge and lived experience of colleagues.”
By orienting around solidarity, the conference can serve as a forum for building connections against hostile political measures. At the University of Szeged, for example, gender studies courses are taught within the institution of English and American studies, where a specialization in gender studies is housed in the English program oriented toward cultural and literary studies. Additionally, The TNT Gender Studies Research Group edits the only gender and sexuality studies journal in Hungary - an open-access e-journal targeting the humanities and social sciences.
Through such activities, Barat points out that gender studies research can be done not only through a formalized institutionally accredited program, but also through these indirect operations, despite opposition from the government. The RINGS Conference, therefore, makes such strategies more visible and facilitates global networks for those pursuing gender studies.
CEU Professor Jasmina Lukic, one of the conference organizers who serves on the RINGS Executive Committee highlights, “One of the important goals was to react to the situation of gender studies in Hungary. CEU’s Department of Gender Studies was among the first hit in the Lex-CEU situation. We want to uphold gender studies regionally amidst the strong backlash of conservative counter attacks which are strongly affecting academic status and research in this field."
Lukic notes that another main aim of the conference is to promote RINGS regionally and make more Central European institutions aware of the important network and to bring them into the globalized dialog in the field. “With 60 organizations across the globe, our members contribute country reports in which they pinpoint the particular problems of their regions. Through this reporting, the issues become visible, and RINGS can better react.”
In addition to solidarity, the program is organized around concept of precarity, both in terms of gender relations to power in various realms, as well as the historical moment of the pandemic and its effects. “We organized the conference sections in terms of the area of life in which the researchers have seen issues related to precarity,” reflects Barat. She adds, “The context of Covid has intensified and amplified certain aspects of precarity, for example in the labor market and in academia.”
Paper presentations and discussions are organized by the following themes: Theoretical Approaches, Precarity and Gender in Academia, Precarity in the Labor Market, Case Studies of Women Workers, Reflections on Precarity in Literary/Cultural Studies, Precarity Through the Perspective of Body and Sexuality and Precarity and Young Academics in Academia.
Concluding the conference, CEU Gender Studies alum, Rutvica Andrijasevic, now an Associate Professor at the University of Bristol, will speak as keynote speaker with her talk: “Beyond Precarity: ‘Real-Time’ Economy and the Rise of ‘Just-In-Time’ Workers”. A transnational scholar, Andrijasevic is a specialist in feminist approaches to precarity and works on labor migration and cross-border mobility.
Lukic emphasizes how the illiberal turn is affecting gender studies on a very large scale, and points to the Democracy Institute as a place that maintains important presence for CEU in Budapest. Regarding the location of the event, Barat further remarks, “The Democracy Institute is one of the institutional spaces in Budapest that is there against all odds given the current regime. There was a conscious decision made about choosing this location for the conference.” The Democracy Institute’s Co-Director and CEU Gender Studies Associate Professor Eva Fodor will open the conference along with CEU Gender Studies Professor and Co-Director of MATILDA at CEU, Francisca de Haan.