Questioning Safe Space in the Classroom: Reflections on Pedagogy, Vulnerability, and Sexual Explicitness.

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In recent years, a discourse of injury and vulnerability that posits students as vulnerable and demands to make the classroom safe from the danger of emotional injury and possible traumatization is becoming more and more prevalent in academia. This paper considers the effects of this discourse and the campus and classroom atmosphere it fosters, specifically in the context of courses that deal with sexuality. It draws on my experience of teaching courses on queer theory and pornography in Israeli academia to examine how the spread of a discourse of vulnerability and trauma is redefining the parameters of class interaction, in terms of both subject matter and the acceptable repertoire of attitudes and affects. I question the notion of a safe educational space, both in terms of its feasibility (i.e. is the project of rendering all students equally comfortable practicable or does increased comfort for some groups of students at times entail diminished comfort for others), and in term of its desirability (i.e. should comfort and complete immunity from possible upset be considered educational goals). In particular, in relation to sexuality and sexually explicit materials, I ask not only what impact an optics calibrated to identify harm and an alertness to potential trauma have on the educational process, but also what kind of political and sexual subjectivity they shape and express. I discuss these new forms of feminist and queer subjectivity against the backdrop of past feminist debates about harm and agency in the sexual arena, and underscore their performative dimension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalBorderlands e-journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018


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