Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Brick Walls” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Brick walls. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 135-160.


Ahmed describes how diversity work is the labor of coming up against institutional walls, sedimented through material histories of which bodies get access to institutional spaces.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, diversity, access, materiality


“[S]o much of what we have to do, because of what or who we are not, is not recognized. When we are diversity workers in both senses this both tends to be obscured as if doing diversity is just about being diversity, or as if being is all we have to do” (p. 135).

“Materiality: if we are hit by something, we become conscious of something” (p. 138).

“You encounter the materiality of resistance to transformation when you try to transform what has become material” (p. 140).

“To think about materiality through institutional brick walls is to offer a different way of thinking the connections between bodies and worlds. Materiality is about what is real; it is something real that blocks movement, which stops a progression” (p. 142).

Walls are how some bodies are not encountered in the first place
Walls are how some bodies are stopped by an encounter
” (p. 145, original emphasis).

A wall comes up to defend something from someone; walls as defense mechanisms.
A wall becomes necessary because the wrong bodies could pass through” (p. 145, original emphasis).

“When citational practices become habits, bricks form walls. I think as feminists we can hope to create a crisis around citation, even just a hesitation, a wondering, that might help us not to follow the well-trodden citational paths. If you aim to create a crisis in citation, you tend to become the cause of a crisis” (p. 148).

“When these words are dismissed, we are witnessing a defense of the status quo: it is a way of saying there is nothing wrong with this; what is wrong is the judgment that there is something wrong with this. There very systematic nature of sexism and racism is obscured because of the systematic nature of sexism and racism” (p. 157).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Being in Question” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Being in question. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 115-134.


Ahmed discusses how bodies that are not accommodated by institutional norms are made to give account of their arrival, to their being, and to their doing.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, intersectionality, diversity, access


“To be questioned, to be questionable, sometimes can feel like a residence: a question becomes something you reside in. To reside in a question can feel like not being where you are at” (p. 116).

“These questions only appear to be questions; they often work as assertions. When you are stopped, a right to stop you is asserted. In being assertive, such speech acts render you questionable, as someone who can be questioned, as someone who should be willing to receive a question. A body can become a question mark” (p. 117).

“For some to be is to become an imposition or restriction on the freedom of others” (p. 122).

“Diversity work: when you have to try to make others comfortable with the fact of your own existence” (p. 131).

“When we do not recede into the background, when we stand out or stand apart, we can bring the background into the front: before we can confront something we have to front up to how much depends on the background” (p. 132).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Trying to Transform” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Trying to transform. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 93-114.


Drawing on her own experiences and with interviews with diversity workers, Ahmed writes how diversity work is willful work, is feminist work, articulating how spaces are shaped by the bodies that can access them and how diversity work is the sustained labor of changing that access.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, killjoy, diversity, access


‘[I]t is through the effort to transform institutions that we generate knowledge about them” (p. 93).

“When we have to think strategically, we also have to accept our complicity: we forgo any illusions of purity; we give up the safety of exteriority” (p. 94).

“Diversity work becomes about diversifying the pathways for information so it is more likely to get to the right destination” (p. 95).

“The mechanical aspect of diversity work is revealed most explicitly when the system is working. In other words, a system is working when an attempt to transform that system is blocked” (p. 96-97).

“Universal = white men. In making this equation, we are showing how a universal not only universalizes from particular bodies, but is an invitation to those very bodies, providing a space in which they can be accommodated” (111).

“[A] fantasy of inclusion is a technique of exclusion” (p. 112).

“In order for some things that have appeared not to disappear, we have to keep up the pressure; we have to become pressure points” (p. 112).