This piece is part of Conversations with Change-Makers, an ongoing series
I met Alana and Safa in person, which is an anomaly both in terms of how things tend to be done at the moment, but also in the context of the fact that Theory4Thotz, their theory discussion group, operates entirely online. This digital approach, however, isn’t something that’s going to be going away any time soon.
“A lot of people have asked […] are you going to make Theory4Thotz a real-life thing when you can, and every single time it’s been no, there’s no reason why we would because it’s just not the same or as accessible.” Hosting it online, they pointed out, allows people outside of Oxford, and even the country, to attend sessions, and “democratises the understanding of theory.”
Hosting it online […] allows people outside of Oxford, and even the country, to attend sessions, and “democratises the understanding of theory.”
Accessibility is at the heart of Alana and Safa’s project. Both started as members of one of Oxford’s feminist societies, and also a Marxist reading group, which they credit for showing them “that theory can be accessible.” Still, they felt that there was work to be done. “We found that a lot of feminist discourse was […] very liberal and kind of capital P politics-based. […] I think we always said that there was something missing, something more to it.”
Their aim, in part, was to create a space where there wasn’t pressure to understand theory right off the bat. “I think it helps that we’re on the same level as everyone that attends, we don’t pretend that we’re experts.” The group is low-commitment, and summaries of the discussion texts are given at the start of every session, so that you don’t need to have read the theory to attend.
“A big part of access is that a lot of people don’t have time,” and so Alana and Safa created an online document containing all of their resources which anyone is free to edit. There’s also no pressure to turn your camera on or speak in the discussion, “You can turn up alone, you don’t have to feel like you have to go with people, or interact with people if you don’t want to.”
“Everyone that comes to Theory4Thotz has as much stake in it as we do.”
The group operates as a democracy, and when I asked the pair if they were planning to expand to a committee, they said they didn’t feel a need to yet. “Everyone that comes to Theory4Thotz has as much stake in it as we do.” Given the growing workloads of their degrees, they’re looking to expand into having guests hosts run some of the sessions, giving people a chance to bring forward theory that they feel is important.
Another way in which Alana and Safa have opened up the project is through their new zine, Prax[sis]. “We’re not taking it as seriously as it could sound, but we basically just wanted to have a physical object out of Theory4Thotz […]. What people have learned out of coming to Theory4Thotz is all written in these essays and articles that people have sent [to] us.”
A problem […] with the current approach to theory is that it tends to operate in a primarily academic context, and one of their main aims is to allow people to apply it to real-life perspectives.
The zine continues in their mission of opening up accessibility to theory, and offers “the chance for people to write these essays that engage with academic texts in a way that isn’t serious and might hold it at a different level of sincerity, and might be more conversational.” A problem that they pointed out with the current approach to theory is that it tends to operate in a primarily academic context, and one of their main aims is to allow people to apply it to real-life perspectives.
What stands out is that Theory4Thotz really does seem to have created a welcoming community, spawning a Spotify playlist and memes. “People know that it’s not a space to be aggressive or competitive,” and discussions have remained respectful and open across the project.