Notes from a RWSA conference newbie

By Ann Reed, University of North Dakota

You know that notion about never seeing tourist sites in your town until an out-of-town guest visits and asks, “What is there to do around here?” Part of my reason for attending the RWSA conference was structurally analogous to that. Several individuals at the University of North Dakota had been doing research on the oil boom in the western part of our state, but many of us had not gotten around to formally sharing with one another what we had been doing. When Cindy Prescott invited me to the conference, I thought, “Okay, here’s my chance to learn more about the details of their work.”

So, that’s precisely what I did—learn about the historical framing of sex work in North Dakota boom contexts and gendered violence and structural inequalities in the Bakken oil patch. I was happy to chair a panel with contributions by Nikki Berg Burin, Liz Legerski, and Kristi Rendahl. Also, I was fortunate to share a panel with Leslie Waggener, who presented on Wyoming communities affected by oil and gas development. I appreciated her case studies grounded in oral history that seemed to parallel some of the same patterns in extraction zones in Wyoming that I found in North Dakota.

In addition, I became more acquainted with the work of rural sociologists and historians who have contributed to our understanding of making women’s everyday lives more visible. I really appreciated hearing the perspectives of senior scholars, Cornelia Flora, Joan Jensen, and Carolyn Sachs at the round table on “Connecting Rural Women’s History to Global Development.” It was great to hear about their case studies, for example with women in Guatemala and Honduras, the Pennsylvania women’s agricultural network, or with reviewing Densmore’s work on ethnobotany with the Ojibwe. I was impressed by their ability to move beyond the particular to suggest some of the structural similarities that exist between the local, the national, and the global with respect to issues like food security, women’s agriculture, and gendered divisions of labor.

What I believe set this conference apart from those that I usually attend was that (1) it was dominated by women; and (2) it was an interesting mix of academics and activists. These traits were both novel and a welcome reprieve from the usual academic conferences I frequent (anthropology and heritage/tourism).

I loved hearing about the FarmHer Project and appreciated learning about the stories behind each of Marji Guyler-Alaniz’s photographs. I was the lucky winner of one of her photos from the silent auction, and selected the one featuring the smiling woman and the goat! I also really enjoyed Huma Mustafa Beg’s film, Facing Veils and Walls, about 4 women running for elections (2013) in Pakistan for the first time. I was in awe of these individuals’ courage to take a stand in spite of adversity and move forward; it was truly inspiring to think about all of the challenges Ms. Beg herself must have had to deal with in Pakistan in order to realize her vision of sharing these women’s stories. Finally, I thought it was really great to hear about local advocacy efforts for rural women in Texas. It was fabulous to hear Kate Shaw’s presentation on local resources for victims of domestic violence in the San Marcos area and to hear Ana DeFrates’ presentation on the barriers that rural Latina women face in maintaining reproductive rights.

In my opinion, future conferences should try to include local activism efforts in the schedule. Also, if future RWSA organizers can figure out a way to integrate the scholarly papers and the activist presentations more, that would be an innovative way to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners. Regardless of the future format of the conference, I benefitted from the conference and was glad to have been invited. Thanks to everyone that made it a success!

Editor’s Note:

What are your favorite memories from the 2015 RWSA conference?  What would you like to see at future conferences?  We invite you to comment on this post, or to compose your own post and send it to us at <cy************@gm***.com>.

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