Hello! I know I know it’s been a while…I have a couple in the pipeline but I’ve been frantically finishing my interviews and coding the data and going here and there (long distance relationships are no mean feat) but here is an oooold one for you that I’ve dug out of the drafts box and dusted off. My flatmate has since started her PhD (hooray!) and I’ve moved into the third year of mine (more on that later). But here it is for you:
I was chatting through my research with my dear flatmate the other night. She is currently doing a Masters and is going on to do a PhD next year, and is great. Her research is about Islamophobia and racialisation, and we’re both drawing on similar thinkers to make sense of the work we are doing; Les Back and Stuart Hall are both making an appearance in our own work. Their work on the everyday, the complexities of identity and representation, and doing research as ethically as possible are both really important to our different subject matters.
So every now and then we will come together and talk about how our stuff is going, what we need to do, problems we’re having, that kind of thing. And we always come away with mind-maps scrawled on the back of envelopes-! (Thanks, Shiela’s Wheels – other insurance providers are available). It was a conversation about the news which kicked it off. She’d been away from the world at a festival for the weekend, and was saying that she looked at the news upon her return but then instantly regretted it, as the faces of the victims of the Orlando shooting spread across her screen.
She articulated her concern that the media coverage and analysis of this event would simply serve to fuel the already rife Islamophobia, and undermine the attack on the LGBTQ+ community. We talked about Owen Jones leaving the Sky News set (yes, Jones). She talked about how Islamophobia is being constructed as a ‘hate crime’ rather than a uniquely racist issue. I love chatting with her about this stuff as she has a brain full of knowledge and it’s so enlightening to talk with her (but also depressing, things are not great right now in the world for Muslims).
I talked about my research and how I wasn’t sure how to frame what I was doing in relation to bigger structures, to institutions, like she was, or like my boyfriend is in his work. I’ve become more and more aware of the importance of structures and institutions which shape the experience of people’s everyday lives – the asylum system, immigration policy, policing, and I expressed a concern that I wasn’t directly linking my work with exploring a particular policy, or institutional practice, and that I felt I should be doing if I wanted my work to have an impact outside of academia.
Through the very methods I’m using, she said, I’m addressing power by ensuring I am aware of who is in charge of the representations of the lives and stories I am being told. These are not my representations. They will be my interpretations, but I feel they are as true to what people have shown me and talked with me about as they can and will be. This is a really important part of my work and I should recognise that, she told me. You are looking at small acts of home-making which are small acts of resistance. I smiled and replied that one of the women I interviewed actually said “it’s the small things that make home, home”, which was particularly pertinent given the restrictions she was living under as a result of her living within the asylum system, and the consequent impact on her mental health this had, taking away her capacity to do anything at all sometimes. This participant spoke of her pride in herself that she had managed to take any photos at all, showing her that she does do things in Glasgow. So the small is celebrated again, and we honour a scale which for many people feels more manageable than trying to change policies, or get involved in a bigger way.
Painting her nails was one participant’s small way of making herself feel ‘like a normal human being’.
I talked about how I was struggling to make sense of the gender element of my research; all the participants are women, partly because of pragmatics, and I was finding it hard to shed light on that. She asked me questions and we worked out (and I was reminded because I did know some of this stuff already) that various things were at play; the role of mother, the understanding of work and labour, of how ‘motherhood’ is excluded from this discourse but is a huge part of the practice of home-making for those with families, the social norm of expression of emotion as being associated with women more thus perhaps enabling them to speak more freely about emotions, memories and feelings. We spoke of how the narrative of media representation of the migrant crisis has been dominated by images of women and children, understood as ‘more deserving and vulnerable’, where in fact many of those coming to the UK are single men from Eritrea and Ethiopia, and who, given their roles in the home as men, they are likely to be lacking the basic tools of home-making which women are more likely to be equipped with, such as cooking and cleaning, which may aid them in the beginning of their life in Glasgow or elsewhere. We spoke of how for men who are coming to the UK alone, the process of home-making is differently complex. The perceived immasculation of unemployment, the role of father as breadwinner, perhaps sending money to families in other countries. The sexual division of labour limits all genders in this process; both equipping and handicapping depending on socially constructed ideas of gender roles both in the countries they have left and the countries they find themselves in. We spoke of representations of women who choose to wear headscarves and their construction as Muslim women, in addition to being refugees or asylum seekers.
I realised there was plenty to talk about as far as gender and home-making was concerned! And that this frame of analysis (intersectional feminism – more on that later-!) would help me to see as I go on to analyse the data which has been generated through the photo-elicitation interviews.
Anyway, onwards and upwards!