Witching the Institution:Academia and Feminist Witchcraft

Schaller, Karen and Charnock, Ruth (2024) Witching the Institution:Academia and Feminist Witchcraft. In: The Witch Studies Reader. Duke University Press. (In Press)

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When we think about the academic institution, where is the witch? Equally, when we think about the witch, where is the academic institution? And why is it that although cultural representations of witches “coming into” their witching frequently imagine this initiation happening in the classroom, scholarly study of witches rarely acknowledges a relationship between the academic institution and becoming witch? Despite the prodigious growth of research on witchcraft in the twenty-first-century, it still tends to be positioned by Anglo-western academia as an object of study that belongs either to the history department, or to development, ethnography and, more recently, geography studies, while the witch themselves is a figure whose reality is not only debated, but disavowed (eg Gaskill: 2008). Distancing academia from the witch, even as it is fascinated by them, researchers rarely broach the possibility of witches in the academy itself. The witch is construed as subject to, rather than an expert in, the forces of institutionalised knowledge-making. But in this chapter, we argue that witches are everywhere in Anglo-western academia whether we want to see them, or not. We cite the emergence of a generation of feminist academics who are ‘witching the institution’: not only researching witches and witchcraft, these scholars are practicing and ritualising within academia and often leaving academia for witchcraft. We situate their work as part of a history of feminist practice that binds academia and witchcraft together, and trace how these witches are engaging witchcraft to imagine, and make manifest, feminist ways of knowing and being that challenge the hetero-patriarchal and colonial logics of institutionalised knowledge-making in the contemporary. Written collaboratively, this piece takes the form of a series of spells and rituals to counteract the knowledge industrial complex and how it has positioned the witch. In service to these interventions, we’ll be building an altar, made from the following ‘objects’: feminist academics who write witch stories; feminist academics who leave academia to ‘become’ witches; feminist writers – such as Sylvia Townsend Warner (Lolly Willowes) and Mary Stewart (Thornyhold) – who are fascinated with witches; academics whose work on witchcraft has been discredited for being feminist; and feminist practitioners engaging witchcraft in protest against the structures and conditions of twenty-first century academia. Part of this work will be to reclaim academic witches who have been excluded from the academy’s account of itself and, sometimes, excluded in subtle ways from the academy itself. As part of this work, we are also interested in our own makings and unmakings as academic witches, in a longer genealogy. Building an altar works, here as an invocation whose articulation can, we believe, support the manifestation of new forms of protest, resistance, and re-imagining. While witchcraft is often imagined by academics as in opposition to, or rebellion against, institutionalised knowledge (Murray: 2017), this perception can also work to reproduce the witch as always, already, subject to and the subject of knowledge, and reproduce a dichotomy between academic knowledge and witchcraft that many feminist witches challenge (Rountree: 2008). Yet so can the tendency to treat witches as belonging to geographies (real or imaginative, temporal or spatial) outside academia. Witching the institution, then, conjures a history of complex relationships between knowledge-making and witchcraft that challenges the occlusion of the academic witch from contemporary witchcraft studies, while also invoking new forms of academic feminist praxis.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Modern and Contemporary Writing Research Group
Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2024 16:27
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 16:27
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/94394

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