Creating safe space in our research, at conferences and online

Sylvia Frain & Massi Urbano


As two Ph.D. students in the post-fieldwork and “what am I trying to say?!” writing stage, we have been grappling with concepts of colonial oppression, capitalist censorship and patriarchal exclusion both theoretically and methodologically as well as addressing the continuation of these lived experiences into the digital realm in online platforms. The creation of safe space takes numerous forms, each contextualized by those using it for collaboration in the field, within institutions, at conferences or online in collective and individual spaces.

Threats to these safe spaces can take the form of conservative editors, sexist Department Heads, conference bullies, online trolls and ________ (you fill in the blank). Regardless, this is a shared experience, varying in degree, issues and perspective among women and queer researchers worldwide.

What does it mean to create safe space to collaborate in our research, at conferences and online?

Using emancipatory theories and Participatory Action Research (PAR), our research aims to resist imbalances within academia and support social movements working to create new systems of interaction and information. We work collaboratively with women and men involved in indigenous decolonisation and demilitarisation activism in Oceania, and anti-capitalists social movements in Italy, and use our research as resistance. We are challenging the colonial and patriarchal structure of most academic institutions and traditional approaches to research and productions of knowledge. Our intersectional research itself acknowledges and resists the hyper-masculine, late capitalist and racist system we currently live in, and our research works to deconstruct destructive policies and structures while supporting the social movements despite and in spite of this perpetual violence.

Decolonise and Feminise Research

While we cannot control all of our spaces, we believe it is our responsibility as privileged researchers to continue to decolonise and feminise research as a process and as a product. We also have the duty to decolonise our imagination and challenge the logic of competitiveness that lies within the academic institutions that wants us to work against each other rather than in collaboration with each other.

Publications, meetings and online exchanges between academics and activists must be chances to experiment what it means to be finally able to act as if those differences that are created by the dominant system and traverse our everyday lives – such as gender, race, and class – did not exist. Neoliberal practices of everyday surveillance limit not only our everyday lives by controlling physical and online spaces, but most of all they (try to) colonise our minds. We are becoming accustomed to thinking that alternative ways of being in society are impossible because every effort to do so is systematically boycotted, denied, and repressed. This is why when we have the opportunity we must act as if those differences that the system has created to divide us and that we have so much internalised, do not exist. We must seize any opportunity to experiment how it would be to act as if we were already free, as if our gender, race of class belonging did not matter.

Creating Safe Spaces at Conferences

A recent cutting edge feminist conference: Trans/forming Feminisms: Media, Technology and Identity organized collectively at the University of Otago by the Media, Film and Communication and Sociology, Gender & Social Work Departments in collaboration with Dunedin Free University, Fresh and Fruity Gallery Collective, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, and The Tertiary Education Union (Otago branch), provided a suitable chance to reflect about the need to create safe spaces to ensure the production of new ideas.


The Trans/forming Feminisms conference collective dedicated much effort to ensure an atmosphere of collaboration and circulation of ideas, not just to enhance our academic CV but also to foster genuinely a more active exchange between academics, activists and community. In this sense, it becomes crucial in such a kind of context not to “dwell on the things that did not work in the past” and not to engage in unproductive debates or narcissistic monologues that do not embody the spirit of safe spaces.

Most of the attendees were activists-academics, each passionate and dedicated to a wide range of activism from queer and trans activists fighting for the abolition of prisons in Aotearoa, to efforts to having more women elected into local government. Publications ranged from Aotearoa’s first women created and published anthology of comics to a keynote presentation on the American and Australian-centric, The Feminist Porn Book. In addition to the scholarly presentations from seasoned academics and undergrads, the program provided for several skill shares and practical workshops.

A closing hui (discussion) invited delegates to share their thoughts, reflections, highlight what worked and examine how to improve this type of dynamic and unique conference. Emphasis was put on post-conference continuation: how do we keep the momentum going? Much enthusiasm was expressed around the possibility of forming an online network to continue the exchange of ideas and to organise future events. It was agreed that we need to support each other in continuing to decolonise, de-capitalise and demilitarise our research areas, conference venues and online spaces.

DIY Feminist Cybersecurity

Ensuring online safe spaces are just as important (as mentioned in the ‘About’ section of this blog). As we research (mostly women-created content) the profound vulgar and violence created by (mostly male) trolls is astounding. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Gender Council launched a campaign in solidarity with the UN Campaign to Eliminate Violence Against Women to Stop Bullying Online #IFJVAW and highlighted this treatment of women content creators, including journalists, bloggers, and academics online.

So what can busy scholars do? In addition to signing online petitions, sharing hashtags and raising these issues at academic institutions (what policies does your institution have in place in relation to cyberbullying?) you can always begin with yourself and your online presence.


The DIY Guide for Feminist Cybersecurity, created by The Safe Hub collective and applicable in small parts, includes a Cheat Sheet to get you started. While online trolls are one threat to your online (feminist) security, government surveillance squads, corporation marketing teams and malicious hackers (or even ex-partners) are also threats to our safe spaces.

As early activist-academics, we are grateful to the women and men who came before us to venture into challenging research areas, confronted traditional academic settings and use online digital platforms for theoretical exploration. We encourage all researchers, feminist and beyond, to continue to work to create safe spaces that are culturally sensitive and contextually relevant to those resisting and challenging patriarchal-capitalists structures.

In peace & solidarity,

Sylvia & Massi



All images used with permission:
trans/forming feminisms collective twitter account:
Safe Hub Collective: https: //

One thought on “Creating safe space in our research, at conferences and online

  1. Interesting reading, experiences and reflexions that nomdoubt most frminist writers, academics, activists, etc. we share. Specially interested in the creation of safe feminist spaces in the net. Any other further reading suggestions? Hugs, and thamks in advance!


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