Feminist Leadership as Shadow Leadership

My feminist practice in the past has been collaboration—collaborative thinking, collaborative learning. Recently, this practice has been tested as I move from research and teaching into administrative leadership. While we “enact feminism in how we relate to the academy” (Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life 15), neither that academy nor our relationship to it is fixed. Now, all routine spheres of my academic life must become non-discrete spheres of collaboration, my collaborators often unwitting or unwilling. This collaboration must learn to incorporate not only collectivity, cooperation, and good will, but also isolation, fear, and anger into an untidily shared vision for a future for which all are willing to care. Key to forging this care—as emotion and an act of stewardship—is recognizing that future to be in constant transformation, buffeted by immediate events inside and outside the porous walls of the academy. Collaboration in this context must be adaptive and ongoing. Therefore, my current feminist practice is to implement feminist leadership as shadow leadership.* Modelled after the shadow syllabus (https://sonyahuber.com/2014/08/20/shadow-syllabus/ and https://hookandeye.ca/2015/11/09/the-shadow-syllabus/), I have begun to think about shadow leadership to be the feminist practice that follows—shadows—the administrative task. I might be running meetings, assessing performance, writing letters—engaging with any number of neoliberal institutional mechanisms—but alongside I am listening to and for those moments in which care is forged from hurt, futures are built on precarious grounds, relationalities emerge out of disturbance, asking how the immediate task slots in comfortably or uncomfortably to the messy changing whole. And the thing about shadows: they are always there as a possibility, even in darkness. And another thing about shadows: if my shadow is cast, so is yours, for a shadow cannot be thrown in isolation.

—Carrie Smith, University of Alberta

*Natalie Loveless coined and placed this concept into my care, and this short post represents my very first attempt to think it through.