In Complaint! Sara Ahmed examines what we can learn about power from those who complain about abuses of power. Drawing on oral and written testimonies from academics and students who have made complaints about harassment, bullying, and unequal working conditions at universities, Ahmed explores the gap between what is supposed to happen when complaints are made and what actually happens. To make complaints within institutions is to learn how they work and for whom they work: complaint as feminist pedagogy. Ahmed explores how complaints are made behind closed doors and how doors are often closed on those who complain. To open these doors---to get complaints through, keep them going, or keep them alive---Ahmed emphasizes, requires forming new kinds of collectives. This book offers a systematic analysis of the methods used to stop complaints and a powerful and poetic meditation on what complaints can be used to do. Following a long lineage of Black feminist and feminist of color critiques of the university, Ahmed delivers a timely consideration of how institutional change becomes possible and why it is necessary.
Comment (from this Blueprint): Sara Ahmed is a renowned critical phenomenologist who resigned from her job at Goldsmiths over sexual harassment in her department and the university's handling of it. In this 2021 book, she draws on an interdisiplinary corpus, and her own ethnographic skills, to research and theorize complaint against power abuse, broadly conceived. Important are her own experiences and supportive relationships with students that led to her resignation. One thing this book argues is that complaints, and the process of complaining, are an important part of changing the university, and are in themselves useful political tools, since they challenge (and hence illuminate) hidden parts of institutional life.