Trouble, an introduction

In my work, I envision social media, particularly blogs and twitter, as important forms of feminist praxis. I believe that blogs can be powerful spaces for radical transformation, critical and creative expression and community building. They can encourage us to connect and collaborate with others and enable us to engage in forms of public education that challenge and transform unjust and ineffective ways of learning and producing knowledge. Since 2007, I have been theorizing about, reflecting on and engaging with blogs inside and outside of my feminist and queer classrooms. In addition to making blogs a central part of my classes (I have created and maintained 19 course blogs), I write on my own research/writing/ thinking blog, TROUBLE.  In this account, originally a digital video posted on my blog in honor of its third anniversary, I offer a history of my online exploration of making, being in and staying in trouble. In addition to posting the video and the transcript of my voice-over narration, I provide links to all of the blog posts mentioned in the account.

a story in blog titles

Here’s an easy reference for blog posts mentioned in the above video:

Story One: An Introduction

here’s a story of a troublemaker…
what is troublemaking?
about this site
is marcia brady guilty of acting badly or badly acting or both?
horton the caring troublemaking elephant who not only makes trouble, but stays in it
feeling trouble and troubled in the classroom, part one
burning up and burning out
oh bother! the today show takes on gender-neutral parenting
being beside oneself with grief
prepping for class: feminist pedagogies, some sources
tracking my troublemaking through the virtues app

Story Two: GRIEF/life

can you ever really have too much trouble?
judith butler wants us to disobey. why? exactly
living and grieving beside J Butler
about the Categories: Grief/Life

Story Three: LIFE/grief

is grief our only resource for how to stay in trouble?
living (not grieving) beside Judith
in praise of puotinen women in this month of many birthdays

Story Four: Troubled in and Troubling the Academy

about this site
tag archives: academic industrial complex
trouble and the academy
in praise of the academic riffraff
some tips on surviving in the academic industrial complex
on bad teaching, burnout, and bell hooks
burning up and burning out

Story Five: More Experimenting

how I’m using social media for troublemaking, part one: pinterest
a dis/infographic: the best and worst types of tweets
how I’m using social media for troublemaking, part 2: twitter
experimenting with digital stories, part 2
what is troublemaking?


In the preface to her most famous book, Gender Trouble, J Butler writes: “trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.”

I remember the first time that I read that passage in 1996, during my first semester of graduate school in my first feminist theory class. Those lines stuck with me, eventually playing a prominent role in my doctoral dissertation. Note: Since first working on this account, I’ve discovered that I didn’t first encounter Butler’s work in the fall of 1996, but the spring of 1997. 

When I began teaching feminist and queer classes at the University of Minnesota, I found myself spending even more time trying to think through how and why trouble was inevitable and what exactly were the best ways in which to make it and be in it.

I think my continued interest in those lines has something to do with how they resonate with my own experiences as a child; I was trouble. Maybe not in the same ways that Butler was, but trouble, nonetheless.

I lacked self-discipline (whatever that means).

I asked too many questions.

I refused to uncritically accept what I was told or to follow rules “just because.”

And I never seemed to be swayed by the dominant logics of competition and success.

Then, when my daughter Rosie, a mini-me in appearance and temperament was born, I felt a strong desire to find ways to value and guide her troublemaking tendencies instead of discouraging them.

In a 2007 presentation on the virtue of troublemaking, I wrote that I wanted to claim troublemaking as a valuable and virtuous practice for her, and for all girls,“so that their questioning and passionate spirit will always remain and will be granted dignity and respect.”

As my son Fletcher, Rosie’s big brother, grew older, I came to realize that finding ways to help him develop his own version of troublemaking, a version that involves a persistent desire to care for and about others, was important too.

So, in different ways I began to incorporate troublemaking into my teaching, my researching and my writing.I even developed and taught a class on feminist and queer explorations in troublemaking.

Then, in the spring of 2009 I decided to start a blog “dedicated to giving serious (careful, intense, playful) attention to what it means to make trouble, be in trouble and stay in trouble.” In it “I planned to explore the ethical and political possibilities for troublemaking in my own work and the work of others.”

In the 3 years that I have written on this blog so far, I’ve covered lots of topics, from the Brady Bunch to Dr. Seuss to feminist pedagogy to queer pedagogy to burning up and out in the academic industrial complex to being bothered to processing my mom’s death from pancreatic cancer to prepping for classes to hacking iPhone apps to much more.

I love writing in this blog. It’s made me a more joyful person, a better writer, a more engaged thinker and a more virtuous troublemaker.

So, what does it mean to be a more virtuous troublemaker? What is the troublemaking and troublestaying that I want to value? And why did I call my blog Making/being in/staying in TROUBLE?

Virtuous troublemaking isn’t just about making trouble (that is, disrupting, challenging, questioning), but also about the material and psychological demands of being in trouble and what resources that we can develop and draw upon in order to continue STAYING in it.

Here’s what I wrote about troublemaking on my “about troublemaking” page, which was also my first entry for the blog:

What would it mean to embrace trouble? To develop strategies for making it and being in it in ways that could produce compelling and potentially transformative ideas and actions?

What would it mean to take troublemaking seriously—as an important way of living life? As a virtue that guides our moral and ethical practices?

What would it mean to encourage the troublemaker and troublemaking within us—to listen to the voice that tells us that something isn’t right and that demands that we challenge the ideas that are being forced upon us? To refuse to merely accept what we are told without question or careful consideration? To perpetually ask why things are the way that are and who benefits from them being so? And, most importantly, always to think and reflect on our lives and our actions and relationships to others?


When I started this blog, I was particularly interested in safeguarding critique and critical thinking. Immersed in academia and feminist and queer theory, I was heavily invested in encouraging myself and others to always critique and ask questions that challenge and disrupt. I think that that investment was also influenced by my own unsettled space of grieving for my still-living, yet slowly-dying mom. Struggling to cope with my mom’s impending death, it was helpful to dwell in those spaces of discomfort and uncertainty and try to make sense of them.

Indeed, my mom’s illness has been a central part of this blog from the very beginning. As I recently wrote in my “about categories” page:

I started this blog back in May of 2009 and wrote most of my first entries during a trip to my parent’s house when my mom was entering the final phase of dying from pancreatic cancer. She died in September of that same year. Not all of my writing on this blog explicitly addresses my painful experiences of living and grieving beside her, but her life and death surely haunts and inspires much of what I write.


Now, 3 years into writing in this blog and over 2.5 years past my mom’s death, I’m still very interested in critique and questioning, discomfort, and grief but I’m more invested in what’s beside these things: being creative, joyful, full of wonder and living, not grieving. I think that this wondering, curious and playful spirit is a key part of virtuous and effective troublemaking; it’s a needed complement to the demanding rigors of always questioning and never accepting ideas or rules or norms.


In experimenting on this blog, I’ve not only reflected on the value of trouble, but I’ve managed to get myself into trouble; I’ve come up against the limits of academic spaces and institutions. When I started my blog, I imagined it would allow me to experiment with connecting my academic self to my experiences and practices outside of the academy. And, in some ways, it has. But, it has also forced me to confront the problems with the academy. And I’ve become troubled by how academic work seems to more often come at the expense of my meaningful engagement with ideas and with others. So, instead of enhancing or complementing my academic work, this blog has made me question its very purpose. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, but it certainly causes trouble for me and my ability/willingness to function within academic spaces.


On my third anniversary of writing in this blog, I’ve continued to stay in my troubled state. And, for the most part, I like it. It’s enabling me to experiment with new ways of using online technologies and digital media to practice and reflect on trouble and encouraging me to push at rethinking how and where I want to practice my queer feminist pedagogy. Along with my continued interest in twitter, I’ve been trying out Pinterest, Tumblr and even creating digital videos like this one on Vimeo.

I’m convinced that none of this experimentation would be happening if I hadn’t started writing in this blog on May 12th, 2009.