Women and resistance in Kashmir. By Yogesh Mishra.

While looking for some material on women and resistance in the context of Kashmir conflict, I came across a ‘call for resistance poetry’ celebrating Kashmiri Women’s Resistance day. This blog on Kashmir Lit says “23rd February is observed as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day. The day commemorates the survivors of the mass rape and torture in the two villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Kashmir. The survivors from Kunan and Poshpora have become an iconic symbols of Kashmir’s struggle against the Indian rule”.

(Source: http://www.kashmirlit.org/2018-annual-kashmiri-womens-resistance-day/)

There is no other way of putting it, the Kashmir conflict is a lived reality, an everyday struggle embedded in the lives of those thousands of men, women, and children, who have been living in one of the most contested zones in the world. A constant struggle and resistance between the state and Kashmiris have marked this place with vagaries of human nature; a landscape dotted with army bunkers, barricades, security checkpoints and several other apparatuses of surveillance and control.

The armed insurgency in this region broke out in 1989. Although women were not a part of this armed insurgency, they were at the forefront supporting the militants. For example, writing about Kashmiri women’s expressions of resistance situated in the realm of the everyday, Rita Manchanda (2001) notes that women will sing songs of celebration, intertwining couplets in praise of local mujahideen (militants)….their voices excitedly shouting “oh, you holy fighters, rise and awake! The time of your martyrdom has come” (p. 50-51).

Kashmiri women were always a part of the movement even before 1989. Way back in 1947, when Kashmir was under attack by Pashtuns from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, women of the valley participated in the war against the tribesmen. During this time, under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Women’s Self-Defence Corps (WSDC), a women’s defense corps was formed. This volunteer force of women was planned to train women for self- defense and to resist invaders. Zooni Gujjri a milkmaid, became famous as a WSDC volunteer, dressed in traditional Kashmiri clothes and carrying a gun around her shoulders; she symbolized the WDSC (Khan, 2010).

(Source: http://www.andrewwhitehead.net/kashmir-47-images.html)

The above pamphlet portrays a picture where Zooni is carrying a rifle as a part of women’s militia. Although a lot has changed since then in the socio-cultural and political landscape of Kashmir, women are still an integral part of the resistance movement and have been participating in different ways. For example, Parveena Ahanger, founder of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), have been holding the sit-in protests for the last 24 years. The Indian Armed forces picked up Parveena Ahanger’s son in 1990, never to be returned to his family. Fighting against such injustice, she has brought people together to seek justice – asking questions about the whereabouts of the victims of enforced disappearance.

In 2017, the protest movement witnessed a new turn where college girls were witnessed clashing with police and throwing stones at security personnel. The following picture captures one such moment of strength and resistance by the women in the valley. These young women were called as the new face of protests.

(Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/students-clash-with-security-forces-protests-rock-srinagar-again/story-ysHZjiNQvUySi9ZdOoMilL.html)

Commenting on the changing scenario, Toufiq Rashid, a journalist form Srinagar, writes: “Instead of running for cover, they picked up stones and targeted the police. Every shell was countered with a scream for azadi (freedom). This was unprecedented. Like their teenaged male counterparts, these girls too seemed to not fear death”.

In the changing landscape of the valley and in the wake of new intifada (some call it ‘radicalization of the populace’) in Kashmir, I see an emerging need to extend the analysis and diverting energies towards accounting for the perspectives of women who participate in anti-state armed movements for self-determination. Scholars like Parashar, Shekhawat, Kazi who focus upon the everyday realities, discuss the invisibility of women in Kashmir challenging the militarised masculinities and contesting the binaries like “agency/victimhood, speech/silence” (Parashar, 2014). Perhaps by focusing on the narratives of lived realities, we can go beyond the already fixed narratives, binaries and can innovate new methodological openings to challenge women’s role as survivors, marginalized, and relegated to spaces of victimhood.

References:

Kazi, S. (2009). Between democracy & nation: gender and militarisation in Kashmir. Women Unlimited.

Khan, N. A. (2010). Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Manchanda, R. (Ed.). (2001). Women, war and peace in South Asia: Beyond victimhood to agency. New Delhi: Sage.

Parashar, S. (2014). Women and militant wars: The politics of injury. Routledge.

Rashid, T. (2016). Then and now: When girls in Kashmir took to Srinagar’s Lal Chowk to protest. Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/then-and-now-when-girls-in-kashmir-took-to-srinagar-s-lal-chowk-to-protest/story-rFDG5Pj00XJpDbxOi8XtPM.html

Shekhawat, S. (2014). Gender, Conflict and Peace in Kashmir. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yogesh Mishra is a Post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi (India). His doctoral research entitled ‘Beautiful Prison: Geopolitics of everyday life in Kashmir’ focused on the mundane, prosaic, and ordinary aspects of daily life to highlight the constant struggle and negotiation hidden beneath the apparent routine in a conflict zone. His research interests include feminist political geography, sociology of everyday life, and feminist research methods. Yogesh’s postdoctoral research focuses on the representation of marginal groups in a wider context of Indian civil society organizations around women’s rights.

Contact: anhalak@gmail.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Women and resistance in Kashmir. By Yogesh Mishra.

GFGRG Undergraduate Dissertation Prize – Entries now open

The competition is now open and accepting entries for the best dissertation on any issue relating to geographies and gender. The dissertations should usually be 10,000 words or more and should be submitted as a PDF file, along with a copy of the appropriate departmental dissertation regulations and a (post-September) contact address for the student to: elg26@aber.ac.uk.

For any further details or questions please contact Dr Elizabeth Gagen, Aberystwyth University, elg26@aber.ac.uk

Please note that departments may not submit more than one entry.

PRIZES: 1st prize – £60; 2nd prize – £30; 3rd prize – £20.

Deadline: Friday July 6th 2018 

For last year’s winners:

The gendered working culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry: A study of women’s experiences of the ‘downturn’. By Georgia Smith

A Bosnian girl: Understanding the female gender and nationality, in post-conflict, post-socialist Sarajevo. By Rebecca Collinson

Women’s empowerment, development discourse and shifting subjectivities: Everyday performances of gender in rural Uganda. By Caragh Bennet.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on GFGRG Undergraduate Dissertation Prize – Entries now open

Women’s empowerment, development discourse and shifting subjectivities: Everyday performances of gender in rural Uganda. By Caragh Bennet.

Caragh Bennet is the third-prize winner of the GFGRG 2016-17 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize.

At the first world conference on “Women in Development” in Mexico, 1975, the UN declared women to be the ‘so-far unexploited resource for greater efficiency in development’ (Jackson 1992:89 in Aguinaga et al 2013). Women have increasingly been conceptualised as agents of transformation in development for example, Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ (UN 2015). Women’s empowerment has become a widely used concept and has thus been interrogated for the ways it positions women as subjects of a wider discourse. We therefore can utilise such women’s empowerment programmes as a focal point through which to view an Intersection in literature of women’s empowerment, post-colonial feminism and rural economic development. According to many prominent post-colonial scholars, women’s empowerment projects enforce problematic gender production or lead women to bear a burden of development, thus reducing the agency of identity performance in such settings. Women’s empowerment programmes may unhelpfully reinforce gender inequalities and power hierarchies through the way women are depicted both on the one hand as agents of change, or on the other, as vulnerable objects of aid.

In spite of this critique, it is still possible to distinguish the forms of programmes having this impact in order to avoid sweeping generalisations. Through the analysis of a specific women’s empowerment programme working in rural Uganda, my dissertation studied how it was possible for these problematic implications to be avoided and taken into consideration, and for the agency of women to be increased and prioritised in the model of such programmes.

Tribe + Glory is a women’s empowerment initiative currently working in the village of Kamuli, Eastern Uganda. Tribe + Glory represents a form of women’s empowerment model whereby entrepreneurship is facilitated without the more common use of loans or handouts or other financial infrastructure. Instead, Tribe + Glory chooses to use employment as capital accumulation. Female entrepreneurs are interviewed and accepted onto the programme on the basis of having a viable business idea and once admitted onto the programme, a market based approach is utilised, providing members with a full-time job in an artisan workshop. Salaries are then paid to the women on a monthly basis, where 60% of the salary is put straight into savings and 40% of the salary allows the individual to live above the poverty line. Each programme member stays in full time employment until the capital built up in savings is sufficient in order to start their business. Alongside employment, entrepreneurship skills are taught and business mentorship is provided.

Through this medium, the Tribe + Glory model aims to provide a unique access to capital for some of the poorest yet most innovative women in rural communities. Even when financial services are present, female uneducated entrepreneurs face a particularly strong barrier to accessing these services due to lack of knowledge and lack of accessibility from the service provider. Even microloans have been known to be too complicated for the rural poor to usefully access. Furthermore, the problems associated with loans causing risk to women through being in debt have been well documented in the work of Karim (2011). Women may be rendered vulnerable in carrying debt, and even without the risk of loan sharks, insufficient knowledge on how to save to pay back the debt may be an issue.

Employment and savings based capital accumulation therefore can provide an interesting alternative for entrepreneurial individuals. Employment provided by Tribe + Glory is within a safe working environment, and with mentorship and personal financial advice, monthly salaries are managed efficiently and productively. Moreover, the post-colonially problematic implications of hand-outs are avoided through the opportunity for women to work for their wage. Tribe + Glory looks to increase the agency of programme members by requiring them to work to high standards of employment and to become familiar with workplace disciplines and protocols. Employment reduces the sense of dependency that women may experience from grant giving organisations as they are offering a valuable skill to the organisation. This promotes self esteem and the ability to contribute or even lead household finance discussions.

Employment over a longer time frame is also effective due to the education levels many of the programme members. Many may have experienced little to no formal education and the period of time spent on the programme enables an opportunity for literacy training, as well as learning commitment and leadership abilities. According to Guma (2015), many women suffer from the primary barrier of self-confidence and a fear of ‘overstepping the mark’ in Uganda, due to existing cultural social expectations of gender performances. Tribe + Glory is geared towards encouraging women to take ownership and leadership over their personal finances, and eventual enterprise.

Through a post-colonial awareness of the problems of female empowerment programmes, Tribe + Glory has sought to create an alternative solution and answer to many of the well documented issues. Tribe + Glory seeks to actively increase the agency of the women they work with through employment rather than loans or handouts. Arguably, this form of programme, if replicated, could lead to an increase in successful female entrepreneurship in rural markets as well as reducing rural poverty.

References:

Aguinaga, M. et al 2013. Beyond Development. Alternative Visions from Latin America. Quito: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Guma, K. 2015. Business in the urban informal economy: barriers to women’s entrepreneurship in Uganda. Journal of African Business, 16 (3), p. 305-321.

Mohanty, C. 1988. ‘Under western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses’, Boundary 2, 2(3) p. 333–358.

U.N. 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Walby, S. 2005. Gender mainstreaming: Productive tensions in theory and practice. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 12(3) p. 321–343.

Contact: caraghbennet@gmail.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Women’s empowerment, development discourse and shifting subjectivities: Everyday performances of gender in rural Uganda. By Caragh Bennet.

Working 9 to 5: Challenging the neoliberal (academic) self. By Eleanor Wilkinson

I walk down the corridor of my department and find that our recently repainted office doors have each been adorned with a pin-board. As I continue, I observe how these new boards are being used. One door is taken up by the cover of someone’s recent monograph, another is crammed with countless overlapping front pages of journal articles, making them impossible to read, but we get the picture, this person is productive. Some others contain the front pages of the occupant’s latest publications, whilst a handful display teaching awards. I get back to my office and think about what I can put on my door. I don’t have a new publication; my last one was years ago. I don’t even have anything in the pipeline, nothing under review. In fact it’s been well over a year since I’ve written anything at all. There are a couple of revise and resubmits that I’ve left for months and months, unable to respond, tucked away in a ‘publications’ folder that I don’t want to open, that I can’t open. Writing seems like an insurmountable task, so I’ve done nothing. Nothing is all I can seem to do. The times when I’ve tried to sit down and write I just stare at the screen, the process has felt just too overwhelming. No new publications, nothing to see. What can I put on my office door then? Leaving it empty will surely just highlight what I don’t want other people to know: that I’m an academic failure in comparison to my colleagues.

In the end I opt to decorate my door with a single postcard: ‘Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens’ by the artist Nathan Coley. Well, if I’m going to be unproductive I might as well make a statement. Despite publishing since, the postcard remains the only thing on my office door. Nothing ever happens, and the more I think about it, the more heavenly this proposition becomes.

Photo: Coley, 2008

In this post, I want to reflect upon what these everyday practices of academic display might signify. What could something as seemingly trivial as a pin-board tell us about wider workplace cultures? Over the years, and most recently whilst working on our Athena SWAN[i] submission, I’ve been thinking a lot about workplace culture, especially the microclimates that we all create through our quotidian practices. In particular, I’m interested in the how our everyday acts may serve to uphold a culture of competition, shame and anxiety. Think, for example, of the ways in which over-work has become normalized, even upheld as the sign of a truly committed academic who ‘loves’ their work. And how these messages are then passed on to postgraduate students and early career researchers. In what ways then, have we internalized the logic of the marketized neoliberal university? At times, might we be our own worst enemies? At a conference a few years back I bumped into an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen for almost a year. We were on our way out of a busy session, and so I asked, “what are you doing now?” Without hesitation, they entered into a lengthy monologue about their grants and upcoming publications. By this point I felt unable to clarify that what I actually meant was “what are you doing now, as in right now, are you free, shall we go get coffee?” Though perhaps this was a welcome misunderstanding, as by this point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to drink coffee with this person at all.

What interests me then, is the issue of how we perform our academic selves, and how we might be able to perform them differently. An emerging body of work, particularly amongst feminist scholars, has begun to think about how we might be able to create more caring and nurturing workplaces, examining how a feminist ethics of care might disrupt the drives for ruthless self-sufficiency, competition, over-work and fatigue (Mountz et al, 2015; see also Harriet Hawkins’ blogpost on academic caring as a feminist practice). Such work has argued for the importance of ‘slow scholarship’, slowing down, taking time for thinking, finding connections, caring for ourselves and for each other. The issue of challenging and changing workplace cultures has been integral to many of the conversations we have had whilst taking part in the recent wave of strike action that took place across UK Universities. The strike has made many of us rethink what academia is for, and has reminded us of the importance of connection, of finding solidarity across institutions rather than competition. Currently those taking industrial action are working to contract as part of an action short of strike, this means our working day is 9-5, including taking time out for a lunch break. We are slowing down. For some though, this has been a difficult shift to make, there’s an anxious feeling of somehow missing out, falling behind, as one colleague half-jokingly commented, “while I’ve spent the past 4 weeks on the picket line, all those who aren’t striking have probably polished off another couple of 4 star REF[ii] publications”. The constant pressure to produce and perform can be difficult to escape, even for those in secure academic posts. For those on precarious short-term contracts, such a slowing down may even be an impossibility.  Yet it seems vital that we can begin to break this culture of over-work, of over-production, of competition, of self-promotion, and the shame and anxiety that such a culture creates. Not least, because this is a system where those who have other commitments, caring roles, disabilities, chronic illnesses, will never be able to compete on the terms of a masculinist, long-hours, ‘breadwinner’ model. Discussions that have taken place on the picket lines have led to important critical questioning around the toxic yardsticks by which our academic ‘success’ is continuously measured, via frameworks such as REF and TEF[iii]. To mock the absurdity of this all-encompassing audit culture we even developed our own SEF (Strike Excellence Framework) in order to compete for the title of most excellent picket line.

Photo: SEF Gold for the University of Newcastle

Yet to call out the these systems of measurement as arbitrary and destructive is just one step, a much harder part is working out how many of us have also become complicit, how we have internalized the logics of the neoliberal academy.  The desire for ‘excellence’ is rarely just driven by an external force. Management provide us with office pin-boards, a space on which we could display anything, poems, art-work, critical comments on the state of higher education, but instead, many of us decide to use this space for self-promotion.[iv] What then, might it mean to resist these everyday displays of complicity? This is not to say, of course, that academics shouldn’t share their work, or engage in conversations about research. What I’m arguing is in fact quite the opposite, a workplace culture where we talk about ideas, writing, projects— without the need to mention funding, places of publication, metrics. Conversations that foster connection rather than competition.

Some may argue however, that this is simply the way the system now is. Publish or perish, self-promote or remain invisible, sell yourself or be overlooked. This is certainly something we’re considering at the moment in regards to our Athena SWAN submission and the relatively low success rates of women going for promotion. To ‘fix’ this issue it appear that the answer is not that we need to change the system or the way the promotions process functions, instead we are told that it is the responsibility of female academics to change. Women are encouraged to attend training courses that will help them ‘succeed’. These courses tell us that we need to self-promote, be more assured and assertive, they tell us how to network, how to use social media to maximize our impact, how to work the room, how to practice our ‘elevator pitches’.  What this training boils down to then, is that to be successful you need to emulate the performance of ‘successful’ senior men. But surely we don’t need yet more of this in academia. Perhaps then, as feminist academics, our role is to call out individualized everyday acts of self-promotion and competition, which are so often (albeit not always) a masculine endeavour. Think, for example, of the colleague who feels compelled to tell you the worth of their latest grant to the nearest pound, the one who constantly name-drops his famous advisor, the combative or self-promotional seminar question (I found your talk really interesting, so here’s a ten-minute spiel about my own brilliance). These are displays of insecurity masked as masculine bravado. Call them out, roll your eyes, sigh loudly, do it differently.

Photo: An inspirational message displayed in my office.

 

[i] The Athena SWAN charter seeks to advance ‘gender equality in academia’. Members who sign up to the charter are required to apply for Athena SWAN awards which recognise good practice. https://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/

[ii] The Research Excellence Framework (REF), which assesses the research undertaken in UK Higher Education institutions: measuring the quality of publications and their impact beyond academia.

[iii] The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which attempts to assess the quality of teaching in English Higher Education institutions.

[iv] Though currently many of our office doors are adorned with “Lego VC” posters in support of the strike  https://www.flickr.com/photos/followthethings/sets/72157688065608790/

Eleanor Wilkinson is a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Southampton.

Contact: e.k.wilkinson@soton.ac.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Working 9 to 5: Challenging the neoliberal (academic) self. By Eleanor Wilkinson

A Bosnian girl: Understanding the female gender and nationality, in post-conflict, post-socialist Sarajevo. By Rebecca Collinson

Rebecca Collinson is the second-prize winner of the GFGRG 2016-17 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize.

A year and a half ago I began investigating the intersectionality of gendered, nationalist and religious identities for my undergraduate dissertation. Having been inspired by previous university work on the relationship of these identity categorisations within the context of divided cities, such as Belfast and Jerusalem; I sought to understand the construction of the female gender within another post-conflict context: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH). This city was chosen as a research site due to the significance of the ethnopolitical conflict that took place within it (1992-1995) and throughout the surrounding territory of BiH: this violent conflict exposed Europe to brutality unseen since World War Two. This conflict, driven by nationalism, saw the strategic use of gender-specific atrocities, such as the rape of women employed by all warring factions. Throughout the conflict’s history, gender identities have thus been tied up within national identities to serve territorial ideologies. Like studies conducted in Northern Ireland  (Walker, 1992) on the politicisation of Protestant religion, it became very apparent that national identities within the BiH context were strongly tied to religious identity: the battle over territory between the different national groups has meant religion has become integral to strengthening national identity. This was suggested when asking interviewees throughout this research what they consider their religion to be: a large proportion (of Bosnian-Serb or Bosnian-Croat) replied with “Croat/Serb”. Furthermore, when asking what nationality they consider themselves to be, a large proportion of Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians) replied with Muslim. Thus, understanding the constructions of the various religious identities: Catholic Christianity; Orthodox Christianity; and Islam, and their strong ties to the constructed national identities, is integral to understanding how women experience their gender today.

Studying the intersectionality of female, religious and national identities highlighted the hidden acts of multiple discriminations women in Sarajevo experience, revealing in my opinion, the most interesting part of the research: the evident ‘othering’ performed against Bosniak (Muslim) women, not only by Bosnian-Serb/-Croat women but also by Bosniaks themselves. The interviews highlighted that multiple constructions of Muslim-female identity are being created, through what individuals dis-identify with. For example, one female Bosniak interviewee stated: “You see a Muslim woman now, and would swear she’s Turkish from how she’s covered up, this is not typical for Muslim women from Bosnia!”. This identifies how respondents had differentiated themselves from ‘other’ Muslim identities; the majority of Bosniak women interviewed actively rejected the practice of wearing religious headdress from their understanding of their Muslim identity. Interviewees (including female Bosniaks) made clear connections between this practice of religion and women’s subservience to men: it was thought by most interviewees that this expression of religion symbolised increasing male control over Muslim women to retain their ‘traditional’ religious identity. This finding identified that, despite belonging to the same religion and national identity, women are experiencing different forms of discriminations due to the ‘othering’ that is taking place against constructions of Muslim identity that are not deemed to be Bosnian-Muslim identity. Interestingly, the Bosnian cultural construction of how Islam should be practiced within society, which is ultimately rooted within the Yugoslav past of cultural homogenisation (Walsh, 2000), has produced an overall Bosnian nationality that transcends religious/ethno-nationalist boundaries: “it is not our Muslim society”. Thus, Bosniak women become the subjects of prejudice based upon cultural constructions of national identity even from those who share the same religion. However, when interviewing one Bosniak woman who had decided to wear a hijab, the identity construction of Muslim women that wear headdress as ‘traditional’ and subservient to men was completely contradicted: “What happened in the past with the war, my whole life has been thinking about religion… By wearing a hijab, I had relief of my soul and I feel so comfortable with myself… But I’m still aware of the fact that if I do I will have some disadvantage in society”. Not only does she identify that she is wears her hijab for her own empowerment, additionally she is university-educated, has full-time employment, and is unmarried: denouncing the prejudice placed on her practices of her religious identity. Furthermore, this woman feels that the identity constructions of Muslim women practicing their identity in this form are so strong that it can put her at a disadvantage: despite being a Bosnian woman, she feels she will be categorised as an ‘other’ that is defined by oppression and ‘traditional’ roles, in society’s construction of her identity. Thus, identity can be understood as implicitly bound within power relations, as identified by Penrose (2008): there are conflicts between Muslim identities over which is the dominant group that represents Bosnian nationality, and women’s identities are shaped through these complex interactions, forming multiple and simultaneous representations of self and other (McCall, 2005).

References:

McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs: Journal of women in culture and society. 30 (1), p1771-1802.

Penrose, J. and Mole, R. (2008). Nation-States and National Identity. In: Cox, K. Low, M. and Robinson, J. The Sage Handbook of Political Geography. London: Sage. pp271-285.

Walker, B. (1992). 1641, 1689, 1690 and all that: The Unionist sense of history. Irish Review. 12 (1), p56-64.

Walsh, M. (2000). Aftermath: the impact of conflict on women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Centre for development information and evaluation. Working Paper No. 302, p1-13.

Contact: rebeccacollinson@hotmail.co.uk

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Bosnian girl: Understanding the female gender and nationality, in post-conflict, post-socialist Sarajevo. By Rebecca Collinson

Call for expressions of interest: Geography’s Glass Ceilings? Professional Mentoring Event

“Glass ceilings” and “stone floors” have become common descriptors in discussions of women’s career trajectories. Writing in 2016, Maddrell et al. note that while there has been positive action in gender equality in the academic workplace geography should not assume it has ‘tackled the “gender problem”’. While the number of women in professorial roles has increased from 4% in 1978 to 21% in 2012/13, as they note ‘respondents were acutely aware of key career transition points, and both enablers and barriers to their progression.’

Accompanying the growing number of events to support early career researchers the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) and the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group (SCGRG) are organising an event targeted at geographers at professorial-level who are facing a series of issues and questions around the next steps in their career, perhaps including but not limited to:

  • Reflecting on the different understandings of leadership
  • How to manage and negotiate new research directions/ changes in research direction
  • Decisions around the scale of research: to develop and manage a large research team or not?
  • ‘Real-life’ accounts of university level administrative roles
  • Evolving seniority in teaching roles

We are planning to hold the day long event at the RGS (Lowther Room) on June 8th, 2018 in London to discuss these and other issues. At this stage we invite expressions of interest that note up to five issues that potential attendees might find it valuable to address.

Please direct expressions of interest to Katherine Brickell (GFGRG Chair) katherine.brickell@rhul.ac.uk and Harriet Hawkins harriet.hawkins@rhul.ac.uk (SCGRG Chair) by 26th March 2018.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Call for expressions of interest: Geography’s Glass Ceilings? Professional Mentoring Event

On Mentoring – Reflections on Academic Caring as a Feminist Practice. By Harriet Hawkins.

Articulated in and to the demands of the university, virtuousness can mean over-extending such that it is impossible to stay apace, to be sufficiently responsive, available, intimate, politicized…a good feminist fails if she[he] cannot attend constantly to the nurturing/facilitating project in every domain of her[his] commitment

(Berlant 1997: 147)

We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something

(Butler 2006)

As part of the team preparing our Geography Department’s Athena Swan Silver application,[1] I have recently drafted answers to questions about the induction and support we provide for staff and students, addressed issues around promotion, grant applications, and career planning and progression. We proudly quote praise from female students who we have helped move ‘through the pipeline,’ from undergraduate to PhD and beyond, from early career scholars who felt supported into post docs and permanent roles, as well as staff lauding the effectiveness of departmental mentoring. Yet when it came to discussing the work load principals (we don’t have a workload model), mentoring, of which we are so proud, did not warrant mention, yet quite clearly was a key formal and informal activity for many staff (male and female alike) and central to creating a departmental atmosphere we were very happy to boast about. Examining our promotional matrix reveals scant reward for practices of care, merely noting mentoring as a possible supplemental criteria and barely managing to take account of collegiality at all. How to make space and time for care –  for our students, for our colleagues, for ourselves –  is an important question in the ever-stretched lives and constant balancing-act that is, for many us, the experience of being an academic, an experience to which the relationships we build are often a central and much valued part.

As mentoring, quite rightly, becomes central to the business of research groups such as Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group and Social Cultural Geography Research groups of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers), on both of whose committees I sit, it seems important to spend time reflecting on the dynamics that sit at the heart of mentoring and similar caring practices. This might enable us to appreciate the tensions that often surround these practices – the labours as well as the pleasures they bring for all involved. It might also help us reflect on how to enable sustainable cultures of caring, including care for the self? Valuable resources here are offered by the writings of those feminist geographers who call us towards a feminist ethics of care (Mountz et al. 2015; Parizeau et al. 2016; Mountz 2016). Core to such an ethics is the need to create the conditions to properly value caring in the academy, to prevent the exploitation of individuals who practice care-giving for others, and to refine our own practices of self-care, not least because own self-exploitation often compounds the problem (Mountz et al, 2015; Mountz 2016).

On Caring- tensions

…isolated, individualized working practices; intense workloads and time pressures; long hours and the elision of barriers between work and home; anxieties around job security and contracts (particularly for early career staff); and processes of promotion and performance review that effectively valorize individual productivity, and reward and institutionalize each of the above-listed characteristics

(Horton and Tucker 2014: 85).

The pages of the Times Higher, The Chronicle, the Financial Times and the New York Times and even the Atlantic and the New Yorker are awash with explorations of how, in the words of feminist scholar Lauren Berlant, ‘the nervous system of Higher Education is out of wack’ (1997: 159).  As a litany of recent articles make clear, there are a whole suite of means by which the neoliberal academy works in the ‘production of anxiety’ (Berg et al. 2016: 170; Hall, 2014). Indeed, Richard Hall (2014) goes so far as to describe it as an ‘anxiety machine’.

We live through intimate intersections of our workplaces and our health. That the neoliberalisation of the academy has had negative consequences for the health and welfare of ourselves and our students is increasingly well recognised. Indeed, The Guardian has compiled over forty articles to evidence the ‘crisis’ in mental health in universities and to out the culture which conspires to ensure we either overlook or, perhaps worse, normalise  this crisis. Audits, metrics and hierarchies are cited as perpetuating the ‘maddening’ systems that characterise the everyday experiences of many of us, where feelings of elation, satisfaction and pleasure are often overwritten by experiences of  ‘exhaustion, stress, overload, insomnia, anxiety, shame, aggression, hurt, guilt and feelings of out-of-placeness, fraudulence and fear of exposure’ (Gill, 2009: 229).

To care in the midst of this ‘anxiety machine’ is to occupy a site of tension. On the one hand, more care is required to combat the intensification of the debilitating effects of bureaucratic practices that reduce students and colleagues complete with messy lives (life-course changes, chronic illnesses and personal relationships) to metrics of completion rates, job conversion, and publication numbers. On the other hand, those metrics and performance measures (usually eons behind those in the business world) often fail to make space for, let alone, recognize and reward emotional labours, such as care and collegiality, that are fundamental to the successful functioning of the academy. For the logics of the neoliberal academy aim to allocate resources – whether physical, natural, human or financial – with the greatest possible efficiency. In doing so it devalues those resources – such as care – that sit outside ‘the market’, and would ideally ask us to turn away from those elements of our working practices, private lives, personalities and physicalities that might challenge the demands, and stymie the efficient working, of the system.

Moreover, as many writing of care-work in the academy note, little of it can be planned in advance, and even less registers in our diaries and electronic calendars; the temporalities of such ‘attentive actions’ are rarely ‘registered in a temporal field measured by clock or calendar’ (Berlant 1997: 156). What is more, as Ahmed (2015) notes, ‘the economies of energy in the academy are not evenly distributed and some bodies bear the effects of [this] depletion more than others’.  Yet, for many of us, it seems the relationships we build and the collegiality that we find in our departments, despite the pressures, are part of the pleasures of the job, and inseparable from our wider academic practice and ways of being in the world.

On Caring differently

Caring within the academy is a creative diversion- of time, of attention, of affection, of academic positions designed to foster individual achievements and competition. It is a wink of recognition…within a totalizing space. It is an act of resistance… Although it may seem unsatisfactory and insufficient, maintaining possibilities in the face of exhaustion is critical-  it is the basis of everything, including change

 (Simard-Gagnon 2016: 224)

What then can be done? Simard-Gagnon, alongside a host of feminist geographers offer inspirational ideas for how caring could be done differently. They ask, what might it mean to develop spaces and practices of care that offer resistance and push-back against the troubling neoliberal logics of the academy? What might it mean to embrace difficult discussions, where we counter the idea that ‘in environments that privilege endurance and hard work, there is little space for discussion of ailments, burnout and breaking points’ (Mountz 2016: 208). But also how is it that we can take care to ensure that burnouts are avoided and breaking points steered away from to begin with?

As I start getting more familiar with university promotion matrices, job descriptions and so on, for my own and other institutions, I find myself having to reflect time and again on the need to keep in check the terms and conditions of judgement that often seem to rule over these documents and their associated panels. For these seem to consistently devalue the kinds of care that constitute the academic community many of us so value. Easier said than done, and easier done by those positions of power and relative privilege compared to those in precarious roles and caught in the midst of the daily battles of just keeping afloat.

A set of practices I have found inspiring when reflecting on caring within the academy are those of self-care. In some sectors self-care has got a bad press for encouraging selfish behaviours of individuals already disinclined from collegial practices, we all know someone who ‘excels’ at practices of self-care in ways that appear blind to the needs of others.  Treading the line between self-care and selfishness feels like yet another complicated balancing act, but there is useful guidance once again in feminist scholarship.  In a rousing statement, following Audre Lorde, Ahmed (2014) exalts us,

Self-care: that can be an act of political warfare. In directing our care towards ourselves we are redirecting care away from its proper objects, we are not caring for those we are supposed to care for; we are not caring for the bodies deemed worth caring about. And that is why in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered. We reassemble ourselves through the ordinary, everyday and often painstaking work of looking after ourselves; looking after each other. This is why when we have to insist, I matter, we matter, we are transforming what matters.

Self-care as a collective practice however does not mean neglecting the individual. Indeed, strategies for self-care proposed by geographers (especially in a special issue of Canadian Geographer on mental health, 2016, 60[2]) might involve drawing clear boundaries around work-time and relationships, taking up practices that reduce work-related stress, practicing mental hygiene (whatever that might mean to each of us as individuals) and developing and promoting good practice around email and social media use.

For Ahmed, writing in 2014, such practices of self-care and care for others offer ways to create communities of care, to find ‘ways to exist in a world that is diminishing’. Since 2014 the need for such practices have only intensified, but just as they offer a means to ‘devalue and militate against’ the academy, such self-care practices are not always easy to enact. My own experiences have found me struggling to find strength and discipline to changing my own deep-seated behaviours, to stand against entrenched ideologies and cultures of overwork, and place my faith in a mode of practicing academia as a teacher, colleague and friend, that I value hugely, but which can often seem at odds with those individual research practices that undoubtedly yield recognition and promotion more quickly and efficiently.

As academics we tend to offer the worst role models for our graduate students and for a different sort of academy, even cognizant of the issues many of us, myself included, continue to often automatically embrace a model of ‘continuous achievement, and a capacity to take on work that is infinitely elastic’ (Mountz et al. 2015, 273). Performing as good neoliberal subjects we respond, at least on the surface, to practices of meritocracy and individual responsibility, achievement, advancement, persistence, competition and the winner-takes-all ethos. This supports Giroux’s (2014) claim that many academics, and I would count myself amongst them, are ‘complicit in the very processes that have shifted the mission of the university towards market defined ends.’ If sometimes thinking about ‘large scale change’ feels exhausting, then beginning with addressing these issues within ourselves might be a good place to start.

References

Ahmed, S. 2014 ‘Selfcare as warfare’ http://feministkilljoys.com/2014/08/25/selfcare-as-warfare/ last accessed 27/8/2016

Ahmed, S. 2015 ‘Against students’ http://thenewinquiry.com/?essays=against-students last accessed 27/8/2016

Berg, M. and Seeber, B. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, Ontario, University of Toronto Press.

Berlant, L. 1997. “Feminism and the Institutions of Intimacy.” The Politics of Research, ed. E. Ann Kaplan and George Levine (New Brunswick, NJ).

Butler, J.  2006. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, London: Verso.

Gill, R. 2009. Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia. In Secrecy and silence in the research process: Feminist reflections, ed. R. Flood and R. Gill. London: Routledge, 228––244.

Giroux, H.A. 2014. Neoliberalism’s war on higher education, Haymarket Books, London.

Hall, R. 2014. On the university anxiety machine. Richard Hall’s Space, blog post March 19 2014. http://www.richard-hall.org/2014/03/19/on-the-university-as-anxiety-machine

Horton, J., and F. Tucker. 2014. Disabilities in academic workplaces: Experiences of human and physical geographers. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37, 1, 76-89.

Mountz, A. 2016. Women on the Edge. Canadian Geographer 60, 2, 205-218.

Mountz, A., A. Bonds, B. Mansfield, J. Lloyd, J. Hyndman, M. Walton-Roberts, R. Basu, R. Whitson, R. Hawkins, T. Hamilton, and W. Curran. 2015. For slow scholarship: A feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME: International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 14, 4, 1235-1259

Parizeau, K. Shillington, L. Hawkins, R. Sultana, F. Mountz, A. Mullings, B. and Peake, L. 2016. Breaking the Silence:  A feminist call to action.  The Canadian Geographer, 60, 2, 192-204.

Simond- Gagnon, L. 2016. “Everyone is fed, bathed, asleep and I have made it through another day” problematizing accommodation, resilience and care in the neoliberal academy. Canadian Geographer, 60, 2, 219–225

[1] Athena Swan is the UK Higher Education sector’s gender equality charter mark for Science Subjects. Without accreditation (bronze, silver and gold) departments are unable to apply for certain grants.

Harriet Hawkins is Professor in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Contact: Harriet.Hawkins@rhul.ac.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on On Mentoring – Reflections on Academic Caring as a Feminist Practice. By Harriet Hawkins.

The gendered working culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry: A study of women’s experiences of the ‘downturn’. By Georgia Smith

Georgia Smith is the winner of the GFGRG 2016-17 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize. 

The oil and gas industry shapes the lives of every person on the planet – socially, economically and geopolitically (Miller, 2004). In the UK, the industry provides more than 70% of total primary energy (Oil and Gas UK, 2017), and supports an estimated 330,000 jobs (Oil and Gas UK, 2016). But it has often been criticised for a gender imbalance in the workforce and a masculine working culture. Today only around 20% of the oil and gas industry is made up of women, with less than 10% in senior positions and 3.6% working offshore (World Economic Forum, 2016; Oil and Gas UK, 2015).

Growing up in Aberdeen, the proudly self-declared ‘oil capital of Europe’, where 60% of jobs are related to oil and gas (Anderson, Park and Jack, 2007), the industry has also profoundly influenced my own life, and my expectations and understandings of ‘work’. I, like most people in the city, am deeply connected to the industry through family and friends who work there, as well as being steeped in the physical space of a city marked oil and gas (see the figure below). It is this connection and my personal observations of an industry dominated by men that lead me to undertake my research.

A street sign in Aberdeen – Aberdeen’s history is deeply entangled with that of the oil and gas industry, and street signs related to oil and gas exploration reflect its dominance. (Rushton, 2015)

The economic crisis that has gripped the oil and gas industry over the last two years also made this a particularly interesting time to study the sector. In 2016, oil price reached a low of below $30 per barrel, having hovered comfortably and consistently at around $100 per barrel until a dramatic price crash at the end of 2014 (Egan, 2016). This period is referred to in the industry as the ‘downturn’. There is evidence to suggest that economic crises in general have highly gendered consequences (Grown and Tas, 2011). Little more than two years since the oil price collapse, nothing has yet been written on the gendered impacts of this watershed in the industry. Through my research, I sought to address this gap.

Through a combination of in-depth semi-structured interviews with women in a variety of roles in Oil and Gas and the attendance of industry events as a fly-on-the-wall, I collected qualitative data on a gendered working culture. My research highlighted that Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry remains highly gendered and deeply embedded with notions of masculinity. I pinpointed the gendering of roles and division of labour, apparent in the association between women and ‘social’ roles versus men and ‘technical’ roles (Faulkner, 2006).

“All the guys in the room gave me their orders for tea and coffee… I had to explain I was there to attend the meeting too. It was so embarrassing.” [Ola, Chemical Engineer]

My research also revealed an acute association between leadership and extrovert masculinity (Ko, Kotrba and Roebuck, 2015).

“To be high up in the industry you have to be brash, loud, outgoing and often aggressive.” [Beth, Learning and Development Manager]

“The industry has been brought up to be masculine; it’s what the industry wants” [Leanne, Sales and Transportation]

The everyday perceptions and practices in the oil and gas industry, from commonplace stereotyping and sexism, to conscious and unconscious bias, serve to create and sustain these gender roles (Holmes, 2008). The women I interviewed suggested there was merit in the diversity strategies the industry employs to tackle these inequalities, but crucially, highlighted that material change would not be achieved without a fundamental adjustment in attitudes. They suggested that in order to facilitate real change (see the statistics in the figure below), the effort put into creating a culture that genuinely values diversity, should be at least as great as that invested in policy development.

2013 2014 2015
All staff 30% 31% 32%
Graduate hires 33% 37% 46%
Group leaders 18% 18% 19%
Executive team 9% 9% 9%

The representation of women in a major operating company (taken from a shared internal briefing document, March 2016).

By focusing on the oil and gas industry at this particularly challenging moment in its history, my research also served to progress our understanding of how economic crises affect gender dynamics. For example, some women suggested that the downturn had accentuated competitive, extrovert behaviours that serve to marginalise introverted personalities stereotypically associated with femininity (Ko, Kotrba and Roebuck, 2015).

The downturn has at times driven some quite brutal behaviours actually. That hasn’t helped women to feel comfortable. When people are in survival mode, things get quite hard.” [Mary, Chief Executive Officer]

However, some women revealed a contradictory and perhaps unexpected consequence of the downturn. They claimed that the shared experience of combatting an economic crisis made them feel more included and less marginalised.

“I did an internship in the boom time, the good old days. Everything was a lot more decadent, almost a bit seedier as well, more out of control. Before the downturn, I know they had a team building event and they all went to Norway and went on a speed boat and drank whisky all night… you’d never have that sort of team building event now. It was not very inclusive.” [Emily, Operational Statistics]

Therefore, I found that people’s anxieties over the downturn played out in a variety of ways, sometimes reinforcing a gendered working culture, and other times serving to dismantle gendered stereotypes and barriers to women’s progression.

While my research has suggested that the culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry remains deeply entangled with notions of masculinity, the empirical data collected also points to the possibility of change. For example, a number of women thought the ‘downturn’ provided a genuine opportunity to improve diversity, suggesting that it could be used as a catalyst for the industry to reinvent itself as a modern, forward thinking and more universally inclusive part of the UK’s industrial economy. They suggested that this transformation would attract a diverse range of talented and dynamic women. These contributions imply hope for the future.

Through my research, I hope to have contributed to an important ongoing dialogue and broader struggle, aimed at undermining and challenging sexism and marginalisation in society and particularly, in the world of work. I also hope that my research, in some small way, sheds light on the experiences of women working in oil and gas during this period of downturn. I am truly honoured to have been awarded the 1st place prize in the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group by RGS-IBS, and am really grateful to have my research recognized in this way.

References:

Anderson, A., Park, J., & Jack, S. (2007). Entrepreneurial Social Capital. International Small Business Journal, 25(3), 245–272.

Egan, M. (2016). Oil crashes to $30 a barrel. CNN Money [online]. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/12/investing/oil-prices-below-30/ (Accessed: 25 February 2016)

Faulkner, W. (2006). Genders in/of engineering: A research report. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh. Available at: http://extra.shu.ac.uk/nrc/section_2/ publications/reports/Faulkner_Genders_in_Engineering_Report.pdf (Accessed: 20 March 2016)

Grown, C., & Tas, E. (2011). Gender Equality in U.S. Labor Markets in the “Great Recession’’ of 2007–10. In M. A. Starr (Ed.), Consequences of Economic Downturn: Beyond the Usual Economics New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 167 -186.

Holmes, J. (2008). Gendered Discourse at Work. Language and Linguistics Compass 2, 478– 495.

Ko, I., Kotrba, L., & Roebuck, A. (2015). Leaders as Males?: The Role of Industry Gender Composition. Sex Roles, 72(7/8), 294–307.

Miller, G. (2004). Frontier Masculinity in the Oil Industry: The Experience of Women Engineers. Gender, Work & Organization, 11(1), 47–73.

Oil and Gas UK (2015). UKCS offshore workforce demographics report 2015. Available at: http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/EM014.pdf (Accessed 3 October 2016)

Oil and Gas UK (2016). Economic Report 2016. Available at: http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/economic-report-2016.cfm (Accessed 3 October 2016)

Rushton, S. (2015). Energy Solution’s in Scotland: What’s next for Europe’s Oil Capital? Occupy.com. Available at http://www.occupy.com/article/energy-solutions-scotland-whats-next-europe’s-oil-capital (Accessed: 22 February 2017)

World Economic Forum (2016). Closing the Gender Gap in Oil & Gas: A Call to Action for the Industry. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_AM16_Closing_Gender_Gap_Oil_Gas.pdf (Accessed: 25 February 2017)

Contact: georgiasmith95@hotmail.co.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The gendered working culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry: A study of women’s experiences of the ‘downturn’. By Georgia Smith

CfP: Traversing Landscapes of Gender Based Violence (GBV) – RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2018

Convenors: Dr Claudia Eger, University of Warwick, Dr Heather Jeffrey, Middlesex University – Dubai, Dr Paola Vizcaino, Bournemouth University

Sponsored by the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group (GLTRG) and the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG)

In 2017, women around the world marched against gender inequality. A salient element of gender inequality is gender-based violence (GBV). GBV has been defined as any act “that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (UN 1993). A diverse body of research on gender and tourism has explored the commodification of children, women and men in the global sex trade (e.g. Cacho, 2015; Davidson, 2005; Jeffreys, 2008; Kempadoo, 2001; Kibicho, 2016; Sanders-McDonagh, 2016). Studies have also explored sexual harassment in the tourism and hospitality sectors (e.g. Cañada, 2015; Cheung, Baum & Hsueh, 2017; García 2016; Guerrier & Adib, 2000; Poulston, 2008; Pritchard & Morgan, 2006; Ram, 2015) and the constraints experienced by female travellers, including violence (Jordan & Aitchison, 2008; Lepp & Gibson, 2003; Wilson & Little, 2008). Research in tourism and hospitality could benefit from a more rigorous theorisation and analysis of GBV. In this session, we are interested in exploring current debates on gender-based violence and sexual harassment alongside feminist movements and their mobilities. The session welcomes papers addressing the following areas:

  • The movement of socially held beliefs on gender
  • Landscapes of inequality and their intersections with violence
  • Private and public landscapes of gender-based violence
  • Global feminist movements concerning various forms of gender-based violence
  • Forced mobilities and gender-based violence
  • Migrant workers and gender-based violence
  • Submerged and immobile voices on gender-based violence
  • Tourist movements and gender-based violence
  • Sexual harassment in the hospitality/tourism workplace
  • Theorisations, conceptualisations and contextualisation of gender-based violence as a multifaceted phenomenon

We are currently seeking contributions for a paper presentation session involving five presentations each lasting around 15 minutes with time for questions. The presentation may be executed in a traditional or innovative style, and we actively encourage a wide range of styles; including snapshots and Pecha Kucha.

The RGS-IBG Annual International Conference will take place at Cardiff University on 28th – 31st August 2018.

Please send abstracts (approx. 250 words) with author contact details to Dr Paola Vizcaino (lvizcainosuarez@bournemouth.ac.uk) by the 1st February 2018.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on CfP: Traversing Landscapes of Gender Based Violence (GBV) – RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2018

On Intimate Economies, Immigration Detention, and Silencing. By Deirdre Conlon

Over the past few years I have been working on a project investigating ‘Intimate Economies of Immigration Detention’ in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Hiemstra (Stony Brook University, NY). The project critically interrogates the infrastructure and operation of immigration detention in the U.S. The U.S. immigration detention system is vast and expanding with substantial revenue generation and profit making for a wide array of private and public sector actors. The system has expanded 75 per cent since 2003, with 34,000 immigrants detained per day in over 200 detention facilities throughout the U.S.[1]  By comparison, in the UK, on average between 2,500 and 3,500 immigrants are detained daily and a total of 28,908 people were detained in 2016.[2]  When it comes to the economics of detention, a good deal of attention focuses on the ‘macro-level’ cost, that is the daily rate received by detention facilities from the federal government to house immigration detainees. This figure is $124 (£92.00) per day in the U.S. (The estimated average per day cost is £86.00 in the UK.) Our project, in contrast, focuses on additional ways that revenue and profit are generated from immigration detention. We trace and examine contracts and subcontracts in order to investigate what we describe as the micro-level, intimate economies of immigration detention. You can read about the project here, here, and here.

Conlon and Hiemstra (eds.) 2016. Intimate Economies of Immigration Detention: Critical Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge.

At presentations and in teaching about this research one question that comes up frequently is ‘why intimate?’ There are numerous ways this project resonates with critical feminist perspectives on ‘intimacy’. Some scholars emphasize the closeness and knowledge that develops when in close proximity to someone or something. Others highlight a level of scrutiny that intimate familiarity allows. Feminist scholars and political geographers, in particular, call attention to the politics of scale and to the ways intimate, everyday experiences and processes of production and exchange are embedded in complex relationships that reverberate beyond the personal to scales from the domestic to the global.[3]

Recently, I presented some reflections from the Intimate Economies project at the Human Geography seminar series at the University of Exeter alongside a presentation by Naomi Millner from the University Bristol. I spoke about some of the frustrations and challenges of trying to get hold of and then decipher documents received using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the division of federal government that administers the U.S. immigration detention system.[4] Even though the government is required to respond within 20 days of receiving a FOIA request, delays are all-too-common. In our case we were kept waiting 14 months before receiving a massive digital file that, in total, gave us a data set comprised of over 2,000 pages detailing the infrastructure and day-to-day operations of several detention facilities in the New York and New Jersey region.

Adding to our sense of frustration was the fact that almost 40 per cent of pages included redactions. This means that any/all information related to money, personnel, immigrant detainees, service providers as well as other contract and subcontract details are obscured or hidden. In effect, the intimate details about the operation of detention centers are rendered invisible. Efforts to discern who is involved in immigration detention (beyond ‘big name’ corporations such as GEO Group and CoreCivic in the U.S. or Serco and G4S in the UK), how money is made, and how profits are generated, are, effectively stymied and quite readily silenced by such redactions.

Deirdre Conlon presenting on FOIAs and U.S. Immigration Detention (photo from the Second Annual Carceral Geography Conference, University of Birmingham, December 11-12th 2017).

In her presentation Naomi Millner spoke about the ways participants are silenced in research and, reflecting on her broad based experience with participatory fieldwork, discussed the complexity of research relationships and efforts to ‘represent’ participants’ experiences. Naomi identified a number of principles that work toward countering the silencing that takes place in academic research. She called attention to listening, writing with the voices of others, attending to the more-than-human elements of exchanges, and voicing, in distinction from voices.

All in all this was an interesting and inspiring seminar and our presentations complemented one another in unexpected ways. Implicitly and explicitly our presentations demonstrated the significance of the ‘intimate’ in research. Both presentations also highlighted how ‘silencing’ registers as power in and across multiple domains, from relationships between the researcher and participants, to state dynamics and their effects. It also seemed apt that the seminar took place at a time when the ‘me too’ campaign has unveiled the silencing that besieges sexual harassment and assault within the public at large. This seminar, then, provided me with a timely opportunity to contemplate and critically reflect on silencing in research and in academia more broadly. Importantly, too, it affirmed how feminist perspectives can contribute to amplifying the challenges as well as alternative ways of producing knowledge and developing social relations where matters of intimacy and urgency are not silenced.

 

[1] See Detention Watch Network (2014) www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Note: These figures are for 2014. The average number of immigrants detained on a daily basis in the first few months of 2017 was 41,000; see D. Conlon (2017) Immigration enforcement, asylum and economic value in Trump’s first 100 days, Society and Space, July 4. http://societyandspace.org/author/deirdre-conlon/

[2] See The Migration Observatory (2017) Immigration Detention in the UK, May 2. http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/. While the UK detention estate is small by comparison to the U.S. it is the largest in Europe, capacity has grown since the early 1990s, and it is largely privatized.

[3] See, for example, Lauren Berlant (2000) Intimacy. Chicago: Chicago University Press; Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner (eds.) (2012) The global and the intimate: feminism in our time. New York: Columbia University Press.

[4] The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a U.S. federal law that allows members of the public access to information held by government agencies upon written request. Government agencies are required to release information unless it falls under specific exemptions. The UK has similar laws in place and individuals can file Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for information held by public authorities.

Dr Deirdre Conlon is based in the School of Geography, University of Leeds.

Contact: d.conlon@leeds.ac.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on On Intimate Economies, Immigration Detention, and Silencing. By Deirdre Conlon