From complaint, we learn how institutions work and how power structures are formed by reproduction of patterns. Injustice and violence can be patterns. Complaint can be seen as a necessary tool to stop this reproduction. Even if the complaints are dropped or filed away, they still become part not only of the institutions‘ history, but also of the complainers‘ history. The knowledge we take away from the effort of making a complaint becomes our „institutional wisdom“ (Ahmed, 2021). In a blog entry, Ahmed talks about Complaint as a „Feminist Pedagogy“ or „the pedagogy of the oppressed“ (p. 115) and what complaint teaches us about institutions.
„Complaint as feminist pedagogy: to make a complaint within an institution is to learn about how institutions work, what I call institutional mechanics.“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021)
In chapter one, Mind the gap, she writes about how an institution tells its story is quite different from the story, a complainer tells about the same institution. Ahmed describes it as the gap between what an institution appears to be on the outside and how it actually is experienced. The label of diversity, which many institutions use to present themselves, is more often than not just a word without an action. Written policies that fail to „bring into effect what they name.” (p. 30) are a gap between what is supposed to happen and what is not happening.
In order to get a formal complaint through the system, you need to learn how the system works, you become part of the system. „Policies provide a set of principles and values that are supposed to govern institutions.” (p. 29). They will tell you what to do and point in the direction you need to go, they give you a path. This path can appear lineal, but it is in no way an easy one.
“Complaint as feminist pedagogy: the system is working by stopping those who are trying to stop the system from working.“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021)
Institutional mechanics are designed to make it hard for complainers to even get a formal complaint through, or in other words, are „designed to make it difficult for people to proceed with a complaint.”(p. 78). They are used as tools to stop complaint. Procedures require you to submit certain forms at certain times, to be at certain places and who to talk to. In Strategic Inefficiency, Ahmed describes how the same system, which is supposed to guide complainers to get their complaint through, does the opposite, by wasting their time and resourcess and tiring them out. Slow processes, strict guidelines, administrative failure, constant change of procedures lead to dismissed complaints on procedural grounds. „Power works by making it hard to challenge how power works.” (p. 125)
We learn how institutions work by learning how complaints are stopped. A complaint which is a tool to stop the reproduction of the same oppressive system, is simply nothing more than the flow of information, that is stopped by inefficiency. It becomes clear who those procedures work for when a student can not meet the deadline to submit a form because of chronic illness. Inequality gets reproduced.
“Complaint as feminist pedagogy: what you are told you need to do to progress further and faster in the system is what reproduces the system.“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021)
The structures of a system is about what is reproduced. When you become part of an institution, you are expected to reproduce the structure by agreeing and proceeding in the same cycle of injustice and violence. When you are not „willing to participate“ in this system, the violence gets redirected towards you. „Violence is redirected toward those who identify violence“. To challenge the system, we first need to learn how to survive it. Ahmed writes in her book, how she and others interviewed by her, expressed their complaints in different ways and places to not become a target. For Ahmed herself this meant leaving the institution, withdrawing herself and her work and collecting the stories of other complainers. This collection of stories and experiences become resources to other complainers.
Even if our complaints may not seem tangible, what we take away from that effort is what Ahmed calls „institutional wisdom“. That knowledge about institutional structures helps us in challenging and transforming the same structures that oppress us.
Ahmed, S. (2021). Complaint! (1. Aufl.). Duke University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2021b, Juni 16). Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy. feministkilljoys. Abgerufen am 06. Dezember, 2021, von https://feministkilljoys.com/2021/06/16/complaint-as-feminist-pedagogy/