Karen Falconer Al-Hindi is Professor of Geography and Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha where her research, teaching, and collaboration include research methods, urban social geography, philosophy of geography, geography gender and work, and autism. Karen finds herself drawn to projects in which she can investigate the connections among people, institutions, and built environments. Whether it’s Introduction to Human Geography, Introduction to Women’s & Gender Studies, Research Methods (for graduate students), New Urbanism (a planning paradigm) or feminist methodologies, she finds the links and interactions fascinating.
Karen also directs the Women’s & Gender Studies Program. “It’s the students, primarily, who draw us [faculty] in to this program and keep us here,” Karen said. We each have our own research and political commitments to feminism, but the high quality of the students who pursue our major or minor in Women’s & Gender Studies consistently inspires all of us. As Director, Karen hires and supervises instructors, schedules classes, coordinates a governing committee, and advises students. “I’m especially excited about our new Gender & Leadership certificate, which students will be able to complete entirely online,” she said.
Karen is an organizing committee member and invaluable asset for the Feminist Geography Conference.
Karen reveals who she is, what she does, and how she does it as a feminist geographer in this weeks Q&A.
What are you working on right now?
A couple of things. Together with Pamela Moss, Roberta Hawkins and Leslie Kern I’m exploring a feminist methodology called ‘collective biography.’ We’ve used it to investigate joy in academic life and are starting to write about our interpretation and deployment of the method to share with geographers.
Why feminist geography?
I’ve argued elsewhere that many of us are drawn into feminist geography by its questions, praxis, etc. – that is, relatively few of us seem to set out in this direction. This was certainly true for me. As so often happens, people close to me knew that feminism would be important for me before I did. Friends in undergraduate school encouraged me to take a women’s studies class, but I resisted (for all the usual reasons). As a Master’s student, I got involved with a campus organization that organized a yearly “Take Back the Night” march. As I helped to plan the event, questions about college-age women’s fear of assault by a stranger arose for me, and in order to answer those questions I needed to design and conduct research on it. Feminist analyses of rape offered the most cogent ways of thinking about and pursuing these questions. That became my M.A. thesis. As a doctoral student I was persuaded that placing work at the center of gender and spatial analyses could advance women’s – and all peoples’ – lives, and once again turned to feminists and their scholarship for inspiration.
What was the name of the last scholarly article or book you read?
Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” in The Black Feminist Reader, and something for the project with my colleagues that I mentioned earlier. Oh, and yesterday I found an article about the Dave Ramsey phenomenon (Ramsey is a financial planning celebrity) that I couldn’t resist. Carving out time for research and reading has not gotten easier over time; in fact, it’s harder than ever. If I don’t read, I feel as though I lose my grip on the role of “professor.”
What was you favorite class ever?
I fell in love with geography in David Wishart’s Introduction to Human Geography at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. I went to university knowing what I wanted to study, but not knowing that it was called geography. My well-meaning but uninformed advisor sent me all over campus in my search for “how different groups of people live in different places.” I spoke to engineers and biologists, but it wasn’t until I enrolled in David’s class as a sophomore (simply to fulfill a graduation requirement) that I found it. Class began at 8 a.m. three days a week. David wrote the notes for each day on the blackboard before class and I always showed up early to copy them into my notebook. That way his lecture got my full attention – I didn’t want to miss a thing.
What is you must read classic?
Can I pick two? Ed Soja’s “The Socio-Spatial Dialectic” changed my life. It’s such a powerful argument, and so clear. A more recent but also life-changing one is Geraldine Pratt’s Families Apart. She and her collaborators developed a strategy that integrates activism and research, outreach and writing. The book is a model in many ways. It inspires and amazes me anew each time I pick it up.
Do you have any piece of advice for emerging scholars?
Create your own path. If you work at a university, the way you carve out must account for the demands, working conditions, and requirements of the institution. Higher education is changing rapidly, and the dictates of neoliberalism are falling heavily on colleges and universities – although each institution is unique. It’s also good idea to consider what else you’d do if the tenure track doesn’t work out, because this may help you to relax (and so do better work) and because no one should ever feel that she/he/they doesn’t have choices.
What do you hope to get out of the Feminist Geography Conference?
I smile as I think about it! There’s going to be so much energy, so many great ideas and wonderful projects to learn about, so much collegiality and laughter. I’m looking forward to fierce conversations with a few people whom I haven’t even met yet. I can’t wait to be in the midst of it.
Anything else you would like to share about yourself concerning feminist geography?
Feminist geography is a wonderful tradition and group to belong to. We raise important questions that no one else does. As universities and the societies that they are part of change, we must keep asking the questions, researching the problems, and teaching in ways that move us all closer to the lives and worlds that we – and others — dream of.