About FemRhets 2023: A Deconference

This is a headshot of Dr. Michelle Bachelor Robinson, an African-American woman with black, shoulder-length hair and a blue floral top.

Why a “Deconference”?

     by Dr. Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Spelman College

When the local planning committee began meeting, we knew we wanted a conference that was unlike conferences of the past. We were initially using the professional language of “unconference,” which is a participant-driven model developed in 2010, characterized by decentering expertise and gathering on day one and allowing participants to determine the focus or agenda of the meeting. A gathering the size of FemRhet certainly does not allow for a “call them, let them come, build it together, and then facilitate” model. However, we wanted to hold on to the concept of decentering expertise and being participant-driven in our programming. So we began conversations about what that might look like. The committee continually talked through the concept of decentering: traditional academic values, western concepts of conferencing, disciplinary authority, rank, status, and pecking orders, blurring the boundaries of what counts as academic work. Our committee determined that a conference that did all of these things was a decolonized conference, a deconference. 

A deconference is an intellectual gathering for the exchange of ideas without hierarchy, formality, structure, authority–where all voices can be heard and equally valued. It acknowledges that there are some members of the community who will feel like they have not been to a conference without traditional presentations and papers, but there are others who cannot wait to beat a drum, tell a story, or bust a rhyme. What is important for the deconference is that everyone finds their folks because without community, there is no conference, “de” or otherwise! We imagine a deconference with actionable items during the 4-day gathering: using social media to open our community by livestreaming and blogging throughout the gathering, allowing people who have experienced harm to work through professionally facilitated circles repair and restore, and actionable items beyond the 4-day gathering like helping members of our community truly understand the value of self-care and allowing a curated special issue of Peitho to be an opportunity to share out about conference experiences.  Decolonizing the conference experience is the Spelman College way and naming this experience a deconference is more than appropriate for Feminisms and Reckonings in 2023. 


Website Design Statement

     by Dr. Cocoa Williams, Senior Lecturer in English, Spelman College

Following the deconference’s emphasis on nurturing a space that promotes the rejection of hierarchy and the decolonization of ideas, the website for the 2023 Feminisms and Rhetorics: A Deconference is designed with these goals in mind. The background and page banner image is AI-generated in an abstract African-inspired style that embodies the hybridity and intersections of technology with our lived experiences. The abstract shapes demonstrate the beauty of what happens when we embrace other ways of knowing and being. The work that this conference proposes must be enacted on two fronts: in the real-world actual and in our digitally-enhanced world. The font-type chosen for the site are free of serifs to ensure ease of accessibility for visitors. The circular navigation in the center of the website’s homepage resists the linear structure that is germane to website interface design. The circle represents the unity of feminisms that are represented in the deconference’s pedagogical underpinnings. The circle represents infinity, pointing to the deconference’s goal of sustaining these conversations well beyond the finite end of this deconference’s proceedings and developing these visions of freedom into action-based initiatives in our communities. The circle provides protection, creating a barrier to protect the transformative work of the gathering. The circle is movement leading us to restoration and rebirth. The circle is community, the gathering of groups of people with common shared goals. The circle is limitless. There are no edges or boundaries to our work. The circle is a sacred place.


This is a headshot of Dr. Cocoa Williams, an African American woman with short brown hair, wearing a black and white patterned shirt.