Frances Bell

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Personal is Political – a frame for thinking about Open Educational Practice

The OER17 Call for Contributions is about to be released but we already know something the theme of the 2017 conference, entitled The Politics of Open, chaired by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski. OER16 was my first OER conference and I loved its friendly atmosphere, and of course I learned a lot too.  The theme and chairs of OER17 were announced at the end of OER16, and I was thrilled at the boldness of the topic.  From what I know of the OER community, we will rise to the challenge.

I have been thinking for some time about the topic of my own submission to OER17, and in preparation for writing it, I started to think of the different flavours of ‘political’ that are important to Open Educational Practice (a concept explored so well by Catherine Cronin, in her 2016 keynote).  The theme of the conference is broad enough to welcome many different perspectives in policy, organisational and societal contexts, and is sure to include fun too.

My first thought was about openness in politics, and I found , and from there to . I wonder if there will be submissions  that are specifically about political systems but it’s not really where I think I can best contribute.  The conference themes include policy and practice in local and wider contexts, organisational politics, and issues of equality  and participation.  I think my contribution will look at digital literacies but I am starting by looking at how I can frame my thinking.

I am interested in approaches to openness that are contextual, and don’t expect openness to automatically remove existing structural inequalities. For the Networked Learning Conference this year, my contribution to a symposium with Catherine Cronin and Laura Gogia included this digital story that hopefully illustrates my approach.

A Door Half Closed from Frances Bell on Vimeo.

As I develop my abstract for OER17, my challenge is to present my ideas in a meaningful way for the audience (assuming it gets accepted). The phrase ‘the personal is political’ popped into my mind and I decided to refresh my memory of what it meant.  Carol Hanish wrote an article originally published in 1970 in Notes from the Second Year: Women’s  Liberation. Carol’s article was  renamed by the book editors as “The Personal Is Political”, and it has had widespread traction over the last 46 years. Reflecting in 2006, Carol said

It challenged the old anti-woman line that used spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, and pseudo-historical explanations for women’s oppression with a real, materialist analysis for why women do what we do. ” from 2006 Introduction

A materialist analysis of Open Educational Practice seems important to me, revealing lived experiences and informing possible collective responses,  beyond an idea that the political is personal. I am still homing in on my specific topic for my abstract but I feel sure that the feminist perspective of ‘the personal is political’ can help me explore the politics of Open Educational Practice.

I’d love any feedback or discussion of this.


Hanisch, C. (2006, original article 1970) ‘The Personal Is Political’, Carol, (January), pp. 1–5, [online] Available from:

Check out:

Twitter – conference hashtag #OER17, Chairs @josiefraser, @atarkowski , Conference Committee list

Web site

#OER17feminismgenderOERopenopen educational practiceopen educational resourcespersonal is political

francesbell • October 16, 2016

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  1. caroline Kuhn October 17, 2016 - 9:42 am Reply

    Loving the idea of writing out loud to think about your presentation for OER17 🙂
    My understanding about ‘politics’ is still very naive and I am learning from all of you. I was reading an article in aeon magazine about innovation and how innovation is not only about making new things but also about the background and less exciting or sexy issues such as like standards, maintenance, infrastructure and so on. I came across Langdon Winner’s article Do Artifacts have Politics? I started to read it and I’m seeing interesting ideas that might resonate with yours. I am looking forward seeing you in April if not before 🙂

  2. francesbell October 17, 2016 - 10:45 am Reply

    Thanks so much for your comment Caroline. Good point about ‘innovation’ – a loaded term beloved by the snake oil salespeople 🙂 I knew of Langdon Winner – I find him a great antidote to my social shaping leanings when they overly dominate my thinking. He makes a good that looking at the politics of technology helps us take technological artefacts seriously.
    Audrey Watters has very recently demonstrated evidence and background to the politics of technology with her stunning analysis of Peter Thiel’s donation to the Trump campaign
    I guess I am thinking out loud and I am not at all sure exactly what my topic will be so I had better keep on thinking.

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  4. Leo Havemann October 19, 2016 - 10:05 am Reply

    Thanks for the background to the slogan ‘the personal is political’ Frances, one I often think about too which is a useful antidote to thinking about politics as something done by politicians. I tend to think the personal is political, and the political is personal. At least, at the moment, it is quite hard not to take politics personally. I think this is definitely an interesting angle to consider open/ness from, looking forward to more.

    • francesbell October 19, 2016 - 12:13 pm Reply

      Thanks Leo. I’m not so sure about the political is personal (see what Carol Hanisch has to say about this) but look forward to discussing it with you before and at the conference 🙂

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