Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Feminist Snap”

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Feminist snap. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 187-212.


Ahmed puts forward the idea of the snap as a site of feminist work and the creating and maintaining of crises to make the violences of experience visible.

Keywords: embodiment, feminism, feminist theory, queer, queer theory, theory


“We can see how resilience is a technology of will, or even functions as a command: be willing to bear more; be stronger so you can bear more…. Resilience is is the requirement to take more pressure; such that pressure can be gradually increased” (p. 189).

“Feminism: a history of willful tongues. Feminism: that which infects a body with a desire to speak” (p. 191).

“A case for a feminist life can be made in a moment of suspension: we suspend our assumptions about what a life is or should be. Just opening up room for different ways of living a life can be experienced by others as snap” (p. 196).

“We thus learn the need for caution about harm: difference and deviation are often registered as damaging those who are different, those who deviate. So much conservation of power rests on the assumption that not to conserve the familiar forms of an existence would cause damage to what might be or who might be” (p. 197).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Fragile Connections” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Fragile connections. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 163-186.


Ahmed describes how the uneven distribution of diversity work wears and shatters nonnormative bodies and also how diversity work can be a work of breaking. Ahmed offers a different orientation toward breaking, one that holds the tension of nonnormative bodies within institutions as a site of resistance.

Keywords: bodies, critical race theory, disability studies, diversity, embodiment, feminism, feminist theory, queer, queer theory, theory


“It might be that in order to inhabit certain spaces we have to block recognition of just how wearing they are: when the feeling catches us, it might be at the point when it is just too much” (p. 164).

“Clumsiness might provide us with a queer ethics. Such an ethics attends to the bumpiness of living with difference, so often experienced as difference in time; being too slow or too fast, out of time” (p. 166).

“Bumping into each other is a sign that we have not resolved our differences. The resolution of difference is the scene of much injustice. Things might be smoother because some have had to adjust to keep up with others” (p. 166).

“Racism becomes the requirement to think of racism with sympathy, racism as just another view; the racist as the one with feelings, too” (p. 177).

“Perhaps we need to develop a different orientation to breaking. We can value what is deemed broken; we can appreciate those bodies, those things, that are deemed to have bits and pieces missing. Breaking need not be understood only as the loss of integrity of something, but as the acquisition of something else, whatever that else might be” (p. 180).

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).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Willfulness and Feminist Subjectivity” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Willfulness and feminist subjectivity. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 65-88.


Ahmed traces the willfulness as part of feminist subjectivity, as part of how one becomes feminist, and as how one takes up or raises arms in a feminist revolution.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, killjoy, intersectionality


“This perception of feminist subjects as having too much will, or too much subjectivity, or just as being too much, has profound effects on how we experience ourselves as well as the worlds we come up against” (p. 66).

“[T]o suffer the cost of a judgment can be about who you are rather than what you do” (p. 68).

“The willfulness of women relates here not only to disobedience but to desire: the strength of her desire becoming a weakness of her will. In the history of willfulness, women are found wanting” (p. 70).

“Her will becomes a willful will insofar as it is defined against a collective will or general will. Her own will is deemed to get in the way of what the collective wills. A willful will becomes identified as the will to govern others. Her willfulness, in other words, is interpreted as a will to power, as if protesting against something masks a desire for that very thing. And then when she speaks the language of injustice, that speech is heard as just another way she imposes her own will on others. The language of injustice is treated as a screen behind which a will lurks: a will that is wanting” (71).

“When you are assumed to be for others, then not being for others is judged as being for yourself. Perhaps willfulness could be summarized thus: not being willing to be owned. When you are not willing to be owned, you are judged as willing on your own” (p. 74).

“When separation becomes a command, willfulness is what returns; willfulness not as severance but as perseverance” (p. 79).

“Willfulness: a life paradox. You might have to become what you are judged as being” (p. 82).

“A feminist army that gives life and vitality to some women’s arms by taking life and vitality from other women’s arms is reproducing inequality and injustice” (p. 86).

“Willfulness: how some rise up by exercising the very limbs that have been shaped by their subordination. And: it is those women who have to insist on being women, those who have to insist willfully on being part of the feminist movement, sometimes with a show of their arms, who offer the best hope for a feminist revolution” (p. 88).

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

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). On being directed. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 43-64.


Ahmed describes how power and expectation create directions toward conditions of living a certain way and how feminism highlights these lines and provides support for moving differently or toward different lines.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, affect, killjoy


“[P]ower works as a mode of directionality, a way of orientating bodies in particular ways, so they are facing a certain way, heading toward a future that is given a face” (p. 43).

“We can use a path insofar as we do use the path. Can is here a consequence of doing. If we can because we do, then we do can rather than can do” (p. 46).

“To sustain a direction is to support a direction” (p. 46).

“Not giving up: feminism can be experienced or narrated as giving life, or as taking one’s own life back, a life that you might have experienced as what you have given to others or even what has been taken by other people’s expectations” (p. 47).

“Queer and feminist worlds are built through the effort to support those who are not supported because of who they are, what they want, and what they do” (p. 48).

“When you are alienated by virtue of how you are affected, you are an affect alien. A feminist killjoy is an affect alien. We are not made happy by the right things” (p. 57).

“We would understand unhappiness not as the failure to be happy and thus causing yet more unhappiness, but a refusal, a claim, a protest, or even just some ordinary thing, a texture of a life being lived” (p. 58).