Behind Closed Doors: Complaints and Institutional Violence

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Professor Sara Ahmed will deliver the Humanities Research Centre's Inaugural Distinguished Lecture.

This lecture draws on interviews conducted with staff and students who have made complaints within universities that relate to unfair, unjust or unequal working conditions and to abuses of power such as bullying and harassment. Making a complaint requires becoming an institutional mechanic: you have to work out how to get a complaint through the system. It is because of the difficulty of getting through that complaints often end up being about the system. The lecture considers how complaints are often 'managed' by institutions in order to limit damage or to avoid a crisis. These institutional tactics for managing complaints can be understood as forms of bullying and harassment. The lecture explores the significance of how complaints happen behind closed doors and shows how doors are often closed even when they appear to be opened.

Sara Ahmed is an independent feminist scholar and writer. Her new book What's the Use? On the Uses of Use is forthcoming with Duke University Press in 2019. Her recent publications include Living a Feminist Life (2017), Willful Subjects (2014), On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012) and The Promise of Happiness (2010). She also blogs at

This talk is a keynote lecture as part of the HRC's Annual Conference, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Crisis: Social, Environmental, Institutional', being held at the ANU 5-6 December. This lecture is free and open to the public.