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Intimate Pedagogy: The Practice of Embodiment in University Classrooms

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Abstract

In this article, I examine the intimacy of university classrooms, especially in the context of gender, sex, and sexuality. I suggest that students and professors constantly battle the intimacy that arises in pedagogical relationships. Despite our best efforts, these moments of intimacy intrude upon students' relationships with one another and professors' relationships with students. These intrusions are often unexpected and uncontrollable, and are inextricably tied to gender and sexuality. These moments when the facade breaks down, moments of embodiment, are when the greatest teaching can occur. In order to be great professors, we must attain a level of intimacy with our students. Intimacy, for the purposes of this article, means simply this: setting aside an assumed genderless, sexless professorial facade, and standing beside our students, embodied. In this article I build upon the work of pedagogical theorist Jonathan Alexander, putting forward the idea of a 'rhetoric of the body' to help understand the ways professorial bodies perform in the classroom. I then turn to the work of theorists bell hooks and Jane Gallop and their work on eros in the classroom, to discover connections between what I call embodiment – moments when professors lose the facade of a bodiless identity – eros, and pedagogy. Lastly, I take these ideas and examine a course in which I taught the U.S. Supreme Court opinion Lawrence v. Texas (2003), in which the Court declared anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional. In this course, content, pedagogy, intimacy, and embodiment came together in a practical demonstration of the theories I put forward here.

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