06 March 2009

Research: why isn't fat activism in the academy?

Susan Stinson's recent post about the fat literature and documented activism that means so much to her has struck a chord in me.

I've been reading a lot of recent publications critiquing the obesity epidemicTM, and calling for recognition of Fat Studies. What strikes me is the absence, in many of these works, of books like Shadow on A Tightrope, Shelley Bovey's earlier pre-diet work, often my book, Fat & Proud, too. This really bothers me because these books changed my life.

I'm wondering if there might be a process of erasure going on now that academics are taking fat experience more seriously. I suspect that scholars, myself included, are trying to make a name for themselves in the early stages of this field, which may involve minimising the substantial body of work that has gone before.

I'm hoping that this apparent erasure of fat women's voices is not because of poor research, or arrogance. I know that my own book is catalogued in libraries under the term "overweight" rather than the more depressingly zeitgeisty "obese," perhaps this is part of the reason it's not getting picked up so much in these new collections, despite being well ahead of the pack when it was published ten years ago.

It's upsetting that these works, and more, are not getting the recognition they deserve. These are important and pioneering books.


Brian said...

Very much agreed. I knew of "Shadow on a Tightrope" early on but its always been very tough to find. I was able to read it one summer while working a Yale University's library. On my breaks, I'd hunt down the library's copy and squirrel away at one of the reading desks. Its such an important work that even then resonated 15 years after it was written.

Its wonderful to expand the library of fat studies, but the seminal works still have a lot to teach us about what fat liberation is and what it can be. My personal vote would be for the writing of the Fat Underground in the Fat Liberation Archives at Largesse. Certainly some overlap there with "Shadow" but utterly indispensable.

LonieMc said...

Some of it may be that we are getting a bigger body of works. In my own work, I focus on those books that critique the medical field (Campos, Kolata, Bacon, Gard, etc.) and just barely touch on the more liberal arts oriented books. The medical critiques are about all I can deal with once you add in the literature from my field that is relevant.

Charlotte Cooper said...

@ LonieMc

Yes, I agree, an expanding body of literature means that not everything will be relevant to the purpose.

I still think that the early Fat Underground and Louderback work is relevant to so much of the later work though, it was their research, as far as I know, which delineated the field.

I suppose my gripe relates to one particular book, which plugs itself as a cultural history of fat, and which makes no mention of activist movements, or fat culture, aside from a cursory half a page about NAAFA. This bums me out a lot, there's so much that's missing and in danger of being overlooked or lost.

Anonymous said...

I would interpret what you're saying a bit differently. I don't think the problem is that they fail to reference any one work but that they fail to position themselves within an activist agenda. As fat studies develops as a field, it can develop in a detached, objective, and scientistic manner, or it can develop along the lines of queer studies/critical race studies with an explicit political agenda. I'd look for the way an author positions her/himself rather than looking for what her/him refers to.

Charlotte Cooper said...

@ Anonymous

Nice points, thanks.

I'm still bummed by the fat culture book that makes no mention of a huge chunk of fat culture. I think the problem is in the scope of the title, which seems impossibly huge (the book itself is pretty skimpy). I think I'm tired of activism being reduced to a page or two that mentions NAAFA, I think this is lazy and reductive. I guess I want some proper attention given to fat activism!