20 November 2012

I got a PhD for fat activism

Charlotte's hard-bound thesis on her desk
Just over four years ago, I got picked to be the recipient of one of a handful of fully funded PhDs at the University of Limerick, courtesy of the Irish Social Sciences Platform. The money that paid for this came from a fantastic initiative in Irish education to make research available and applicable beyond the academy, and to raise the profile of Irish research in a global setting. I got chosen because of my publishing history and my involvement with activism. Getting a PhD was a long-held ambition of mine, but I never thought I would have the resources to embark on such a thing. I don't know if anyone else in my family has one, very few of us have had the privilege of going to university at all. I'd heard that some PhDs were funded, but again, never thought that fat could be the focus of such work. I punched the air when I heard I'd got the scholarship, I knew it would change my life, and it has.

Just over a week ago, I went to Ireland to sit the final oral exam for the PhD. I passed. Today I went to get my thesis bound and sent it off to meet the deadline for the Winter Exam Board at Limerick. There are a couple of formalities to go, and a graduation ceremony in January, but from about now onwards people can start to think about calling me Dr Charlotte. Dr Fat will do too.

Over four years I have worked really hard. As well as producing a 100,000 word thesis, an original argument based in original research, I have published peer-reviewed journal articles, chapters in edited books, and lots of other kinds of articles. I have given many conference papers, a handful of keynotes, and was proud to talk about my work at a fantastic gathering in Toronto earlier this year. I've produced and guested at workshops, made films that have shown at film festivals around the world, organised events, done a couple of artist residencies and a visiting scholarship. I've collaborated on projects with people, been involved with academic publishing in various ways, been the subject of quite a bit of media coverage, and maintained this blog. I can't count the number of conversations and emails that have happened because of this research, and I have been amazingly supported by people who want to see it out there in the world.

By the way, the work that I have produced is, as far as I know, the first publicly-funded, community based, major research project into fat activism. I am proud of that.

I'm sure I'll write more about the study as time passes. I'm looking for a publisher at the moment too, and would appreciate leads relating to that, if you have them to share. I have some plans for the future as well, but I'm not ready to explain them yet.

Meanwhile, here's the abstract for the thesis, to give you more of an idea of what I've been up to.

Fat Activism: A Queer Autoethnography
Charlotte Cooper

Over my 20 year involvement with the movement, I have come to notice that scant attention is paid to fat activism. Despite intensified interest in fat in 21st century Western culture, the richness of fat activism is not reflected in a somewhat meagre literature, and fat activists themselves have offered few reflective or analytic accounts that deal with the depth and breadth of what they do.

Fat activism offers tools with which marginalised people can adapt and develop agency, community and capital, and contribute to social change. It has the potential to transform obesity policy from that which further entrenches fat people's abjection expensively, to that which builds on resources more compassionately and dynamically. This research project, therefore, represents one such attempt to hasten its development and overturn the trend in which fat activism is routinely assumed, taken for granted, and dismissed by activists, researchers, and institutions.

I begin by situating the research within the existing literature and go on to clarify what fat activism is, to relate it to discourse, and to build on existing theoretical work. I argue against creating universal definitions of fat activism, and invite appreciation for its more ambiguous forms. I produce an assemblage of fat feminist origins and travels, arguing that as well as being an unlimited phenomenon, it is plural, hybrid and evolving, yet suffers from stagnation. I propose that, instead of reproducing collateral damage through discourse, queering fat activism includes many communities of interest, questions binaries, and welcomes multiple interventions.

I use a scavenged autoethnography, bringing myself and the communities of fat activists to which I belong, into this work. This methodology draws attention to standpoint in the construction of fat narratives, expresses my frustration at reproductions of fat people as lifeless and passive empirical subjects, and synthesises activism and research.


Stefanie said...

In terms of US-based publication, NYU is apparently the leader in fat studies right now. After the FSR was published by them, they have taken off as the target for fat research work; I don't know if they are worried about oversaturation at all, but I would definitely check with them.

Congrats Dr. C!

Charlotte Cooper said...


Nine said...

You are fabulous, Dr Charlotte! Congratulations on your achievements!

Charlotte Cooper said...

! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! You've earned it! Good luck on what comes next..

Francesca said...

Congratulations on your achievement!

Well-Rounded Mama said...

Awesome! Congratulations, Doctor Charlotte!

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks all!