• Kat Gupta’s research blog

    caution: may contain corpus linguistics, feminism, activism, LGB, queer and trans stuff, parrots, London

on strike and on striking

Just over a year ago, I got my first permanent academic job. It’s been a weird experience – a lower teaching load than I have previously had, but more administration and pastoral work. Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is that I don’t have to move unless I want to. I’m not having to send off endless applications that will inevitably get rejected. I applied for conference funding and got it. These should not be unusual working conditions but they are. I carry something like survivors’ guilt with me: that I landed a permanent job while so many of my brilliant, talented peers didn’t. Years of precarious employment have demonstrated how broken UK universities are: running on the goodwill of their staff who are themselves exhausted and running on fumes, engaged in a corporate project to turn students into consumers and staff as mere learning providers, and moving further and further away from a vision of the university as a public good, for knowledge and enquiry and exchange. Perhaps I am still a starry-eyed idealist but I want to work somewhere with a sense of justice and equality, that values the diversity of everyone in its community, and… Continue reading

Conference scheduling as accessibility

I tweeted about conference programmes and schedules as an access issue and enough people said it was useful that I want to write about it in a less ephemeral way. If this post helps you, please share it and link to it! I’m coming from this from a disability-aware and accessibility perspective. I know that sessions running over is frustrating for most people and causes chaos if there are parallel sessions/tracks. However, I don’t think there’s enough written about how poor scheduling can make a conference inaccessible to people with disabilities, people with caring responsibilities, and people who have needs that are not necessarily thought about, such as people who use gender neutral toilets or people working more than one job. I use the word “maybe” throughout this post to indicate that one cannot know someone’s access needs based on appearance: we cannot assume that no one attending a conference (whether that’s academic, activist, policy, industry or something else) will experience these or similar issues. I have based this post on things that I’ve experienced myself or that I’ve helped others navigate, but I’m inevitably going to miss things. If you feel able, I’d love to hear about your experiences… Continue reading

Hope’s a burden or it sets you free

I tend to keep job talk off this blog; as a precariously employed academic, it is a constant, heart-bruising process of hope and imaginings and trying to pick up institutional knowledge as swiftly as possible. Since 2013, I have not been entirely sure what I’ll be doing the next year – I’ve worked at four universities and taught over fifteen very different modules, and my summers are generally me hustling for work. Last year I was lucky enough to land a full-time ten month position as a teaching fellow at the University of Sussex, my joy tempered by my knowledge that in a matter of months I would be leaving and that time was ticking, speeding, trickling or whatever it does in your movement metaphor of choice. I never bothered to unsubscribe from the jobs.ac.uk emails and was preparing further applications even as I met my students and gave my first lectures. I had a marvellous year living by the sea: storms and sunsets and snow on the beach; reading as I basked on the pebbles on the blazing days of 2018’s glorious summer; pacing along the shore at dawn after another sleepness night, tiny, soft wavelets shushing against the… Continue reading

Learning to fail

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I first encountered these words in my first year as an undergraduate – scrawled on a desk in one of the carrels in Liverpool’s Sydney Jones library. Bruised by two deeply unpleasant years of failure and bullying from a teacher, I found something tender, something hopeful in these words that could help me reconceptualise my failure and turn it into something less painful. I think about them often, and especially as a lecturer. This semester I’ve been officially responsible for the pastoral care of some students and have had even more reason to think about them. The students I am responsible for are, largely, clever and hard-working and driven. They have learnt, very well, to put themselves under enormous pressure – a string of As and A*s at GCSE, As at AS and A-level, and then they find themselves at university where they are surrounded by similarly hard-working, driven young people. They find that they are challenged to think and write differently, and some of them find this transition very difficult. I worry about them, these bright, driven students. The flipside to their ambition is anxiety, and fear… Continue reading

Talking about desire, talking about fucking

I’ve been thinking a lot about erotica recently. Basically, Alon Lischinsky handed me 1.4 billion words of online erotica, and I am helpless to resist a big corpus. I presented some preliminary finding at Corpus Linguistics 2017 (slides available at this link; more stuff available on the project page) in which we try to see how different genres of erotica in our corpus relate to each other. We’re interested in a few angles: there is a lot of work on the historical aspects of porn (for example, how it has been produced and disseminated, the development of genres, its the cultural context and so on), porn that is seen to be somehow transgressive (for example, a recent special issue of Porn Studies was devoted to gonzo porn) and lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer porn. As far as we’re aware – and we’d love to be corrected! – there isn’t a lot of material looking at really straightforward common-or-garden amateur erotica. The corpus is collected from a large, well-established online repository of erotica. We don’t have a huge amount of information on who is creating it as many people decline to state their gender and/or sexuality (and the information they do… Continue reading

Decentring love

[content notes: discussion of sex and relationships including consensual kink and non-monogamy. Some discussion of homophobia and transphobia. Non-detailed discussion of sex acts] I was surprised to find myself so annoyed by Pride in London’s 2017 slogan, “Love Happens Here”. I admit that I am an unromantic grouch, but surely this slogan was harmless? The way in which people engaged with this at a museum LGBT Late during Pride month was rather charming – a map of London with rainbow sticky notes on which they’d written memories of their first kiss, where they met their partner and so on. It was a lovely piece of queer remembering and storytelling. But something troubled, and continues to trouble, me about it. My problem lies with the word “love”. I’ve recently been thinking about Gayle Rubin’s discussion of social values afforded to different kinds of sexual relationships. She identifies types of relationships that are typically viewed as good/natural/desirable, and other kinds of relationships that are typically viewed as bad/unnatural/undesirable. It is important to note that these labels reflect social values and views rather than Rubin herself labelling them as good or bad. These dynamics are binaries: so for example, relationships can be monogamous… Continue reading

Learning and teaching consent with a parrot

There is a new creature living in my house. She communicates through raised and sleek feathers, eye-pinning, a whole range of chuckles, beeps and squawks (at the moment she’s sounding weirdly like R2-D2). She has a beak capable of biting off chunks of wood. Sometimes I jokingly call her a dinosaur or an alien as a way of making sense of her strangeness, but she is a creature of earth and sky and the present day and I feel uncomfortable suggesting that she is of a different time or space. The problem lies with me and with my lack of familiarity. So, a bit about her: she’s a parrot, a Bronze Wing Pionus to be precise. She’s approaching her first birthday and I’ve had her for three months. Before I got her, she was kept with other young Bronze Wings so hopefully she knows she’s a bird rather than being so imprinted on humans it will cause her problems when she hits sexual maturity. It’s a very different experience from dealing with dogs or rats or cats or horses or pretty much any other animal I’ve looked after. I am used to soft fur and touch as comfort. I am… Continue reading

we are here (even when we’re not)

Last month I spoke at GENOVATE’s international conference on diversity within research and universities. I am not thrilled about the term “diversity” and find a lot of the discourse around it really problematic, but I do think it’s important to talk about the phenomenon it describes. It’s what happens when reading lists are full of dead white men and the images on the slides never show people like you. It’s what happens when you’re never taught by someone who looks a little like you, when your mentors don’t experience the things that you do and cannot advise you on dealing with it, when you look at the entity that is the university and cannot see yourself reflected back. From my own experiences and from what others have discussed with me, there’s a lurch as you realise that you’re less welcome in this space that you thought you were, or that your fears are confirmed and that this place isn’t meant for people like you. I drew on Nathaniel Adam Tobias C—‘s “Diversity is a dirty word” to trouble and reject easy ideas about diversity. C— argues that there are four key strands to challenge in diversity: the “what”, the “how”,… Continue reading

Stylistics and grief

[content note: death, especially of loved ones. Descriptions of guts, blood and assorted viscera) Last term I was teaching a literary linguistics module. Literary linguistics, or Stylistics, basically uses concepts and frameworks drawn from linguistics – so stuff about everything from phonology (sounds) to grammar to lexicology to pragmatics – to make sense of (usually, but not always) literary texts. I went to the Dark Side of linguistics pretty early in my undergraduate career because I adored nerding out over language being used to do stuff and create relationships and manipulate people and summon ideas into being. However, I’ve been an avid reader since I was a small child – I once fell down an entire flight of stairs in an ill-fated attempt to combine reading and walking, and was more cross at losing my place than worried about the potential for injury – and it’s rare that I don’t have at least one book on the go. Stylistics is appealing because it’s very text and evidence based, and ultimately I was on the Dark Side of empiricism before I even got to university. Teaching Stylistics was also a superb opportunity to immerse myself in something new. Both my PhD… Continue reading

haunting texts

Last semester I was teaching a History of English module. With little in the way of previous teaching materials, I had considerable scope to develop my own – and woah, did I have fun with that. I grew up in a medieval city, its Anglo-Saxon quarters still somewhat in evidence and traces of its inhabitants and their trades and their prejudices echoed still in the street names. The city itself is a palimpsest, post-war layered on Victorian layered on Georgian layered on Tudor layered on medieval layered on Anglo-Saxon and, crouching in alcoves, the city’s old Roman walls. It’s impossible to live there and not let that somehow soak into your bones, just a quiet awareness that your life is one breath against the city’s dreaming stones. And yet, all of this history is just part of your life. When you grow up playing on castle ruins (destroyed in the English Civil War and never rebuilt) and running around a medieval great hall and there are Roman coins on a table in your primary school because they were dug up in someone’s dad’s field, and you spend your teenage years perched on tombs and ruining tourists’ photos by sprawling messily… Continue reading