Chapter 2 – People

I am actually onto my third analysis chapter now, but here is an old post about the second analysis chapter…oh how time flies!


The sun is positively BEATING down here in Glasgow, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is blasting from the building site, and memories of loch swimming and 6Music Festival gigs are only recently fogging in my mind’s eye from the weekend…

It’s been a while since I’ve written and my brain is a little fuzzy today (turns out your natural alarm clock isn’t always the best thing to rely on…) so rather than wake up and ‘carry on writing my PhD’ I thought I’d have a bit  of free-writing-esque on this here blog, let you know where I’m at, that sort of thing.

So I recently handed in my first analysis chapter which explored the role of material culture in everyday and special occasion rituals they are engaged in thus giving them the symbolism and significance which can be drawn on when negotiating ideas of home, heritage and identity across borders. I spoke also about the ways in which material culture (focusing particularly on food) were engaged in the act of sharing and gift-giving, and the ways that this enabled women to build connections with others and fill in spaces which families still in other countries had left, creating surrogate families for the women to bring offerings to, made in their everyday and spare time, brought into these spaces of facilitated participation, where the weekly groups open a space for the women to continually and repeatedly come together and develop networks, share knowledge and food and time. My supervisor was very pleased with it and there are a few changes to be made but she says the level I’m writing at is great, which was such a good boost to project me into the next chapter.

This second chapter is exploring the role of people. I should say that the three themes which my analysis chapters are organised into reflect the three themes which the photographs the women took broadly fell into, which were object, people and places. There was obviously nuance within this which I unpack in the chapters, but these were the three big collective frames, although they of course all link together pretty closely, which makes it all the more difficult to separate them out into a linear narrative! Anyway. So, people is the theme of the second chapter. The thing I’m finding so hard is just having all this beautiful fascinating data and having to cut vast swathes of it out, as the transcripts are so long and I can’t possibly put all in so I have to be a bit choice about what is the most crucial to the argument I am wanting to make.

“What is the argument you are wanting to make, Ruth?”

Well, I’ll tell you if you like. Ultimately I have found lots of things…BUT I’ve essentially found that all these different themes and techniques drawn on by the women are geared towards facilitating, cultivating and negotiating ideas of familiarity. Whether drawing on old knowledge and that which is already familiar to make sense of knew knowledge and that which is unfamiliar; or actively pursuing new knowledge and cultivating new familiarities (although generally it has been a mixture of both in the interviews I have done), the quest for home is the quest for the recreation of or cultivation of the familiar. Surrounding oneself with old and new symbols of familiarity and recognisable signs of self in / and place enables the women to orient themselves in the face of migration. It is a question of instability and the foundations of stability on which to build additional notions of home. So for the women I interviewed who are in the asylum system, their sense of instability over where home is given that this decision is not in their hands, leaves them relying on certain known things on a much smaller scale to enable them to make some sense of home in the face of this uncertainty, so for Becky, her sourcing and cooking familiar food from Nigeria provides her with some kind of anchor as she and her family dwell in the shadows of indecision on the part of the Home Office, over whether or not they will be able to make Glasgow their home in their own time, on their own terms.

So to bring this back to the theme at hand then; people.

There are many many ways in which those who move draw on people in their negotiation of homes, heritages and identities, which is why I’m having such a hard time choosing what is necessary and what I can leave out of this chapter! So, one of the things I’m analysing is the ways in which having children impacts upon home-making practices of migrant women, as during fieldwork, this was a strong theme. Many of the women spoke about the importance of their children for their sense of home, and many took photographs of or relating to their children. it is clear that children serve a number of purposes and have numerous roles to play in the home-making practices of the women I worked with; they act as bridges between people:

I think it’s a lot easier to meet people or integrate in the community I think either if you have a small child or a dog *laughter*.” – Farai

Many of the women spoke about how important the happiness of their children was to their sense of home;

“The home, it’s the wellbeing of the children, the way we interact, the way we have feeling, for now it’s ok, apart from the… financial constraint but every other thing is fine”- Becky

“So how did you choose what to take pictures of?                                                                      I choose because, you know, my kids are my world”- Dahabo

The need to participate in certain spheres / places as a result of having children has the potential to open up the women to experiences / interactions which they otherwise might not have access to, or would have access to different places. The routine which children often impose (although routine of some kind exists for the majority of the women without children too; shopping, work etc.) enable the women to repeat interactions with the same faces and places each week / month, building upon their constellation of social relations as Doreen Massey so beautifully terms it; some stars being brighter and more important to our sense of home than others.

Dahabo’s son loves the small park near where they live, preferring it to the larger parks which the city has many of. As a result, for Dahabo, her familiarity and sense of home in Glasgow is shaped by this act of everyday participation which her son enjoys so much. For Dahabo, her kids are her “world” and therefore her home in many senses, and therefore enable her to feel comfortable in place as long as they feel comfortable there themselves. You can see how entangled all the themes are here; people are vital to Dahabo’s feeling of home, but as a result of the participation of certain important people, places too become really important part of her growing familiar with particular parts of the city. And of course the object of the elephant is loved by her son and is what draws him back to this place time and again, but that’s perhaps a little less important here…

Language was also an important aspect for many of the women; whether that was the capacity to speak their first language with people as a way of reconnecting to certain aspects of their identities, as is the case for Farai…



…I was going [to London] to see my friends and we were going to speak Shonna…my language for a whole weekend which is quite a treat, because I don’t get to do that when I’m here so… 

How does that make you feel about your life in Glasgow?…I think I’m just used to it, but also because I do speak to my friends on the phone quite a bit… I only realised I don’t speak my own language so much when I see my friends and I have to speak it, or when I go to a place where there are people who speak…or when I go to Zimbabwe, the first few hours, I’m startled like ‘oh they speak…who are these people?’ And then I think ‘oh I’m in the wrong country!” *laughs*



You talked about how you remember your dad whenever you step into the garden, is memory of, home or past times or…is that important to your sense of belonging to Glasgow? Of course, yeah.

In what way? I think just relating and continuing with some of the things you did. Of course it can never be the same, it’s a different environment, but I think in your head it’s about normalising and making yourself… believe that…your life is just continuing as it were. I think I’m lucky again in that, not in Glasgow but in other parts of the UK we still have friends we had back home…

Is speaking Shonna for instance something that feels important to you?…I know that there is a good Zimbabwean community around Glasgow…so you get invited to parties here and there, and it’s good, it’s good to be around people who speak the same language as me, it’s good to listen to the same old songs you used to listen to back home, but then the other side is, in the house, I might speak to my kids in Shonna, but they always answer back in English, and I go to work every day speaking English, I go to church, I speak in English, so I think to me that has been diluted…I’ve got a couple of close friends in Glasgow I could phone and speak to in Shonna, so I think that kind of helps sometimes…

Participating linguistically lets Farai and Elizabeth cultivate these linguistic layers of their senses of selves. Lots of other women spoke about this too; navigating language when they spoke their first language with communities who spoke the same language, but mostly speaking English in work or other spaces like church. These linguistic communities don’t have to be and often aren’t confined to the place they are living in at the moment, but are largely living elsewhere and so this contact has to happen through technology. Elizabeth tells me how important it is to hear old songs as a way for  her to connect to ideas of home. Kay Deux writes that “through stories and songs, through rituals and photographs, ethnic identity is defined, redefined and transmitted from old to young” (2006:118). That these songs were heard by Elizabeth for the first time when she was a small girl also enables the recognition of these songs to transport her to a previous time as well as place. Nostalgia comes into the picture here, as place and time become broken, both being recollected and experienced through certain practices and embodied experiences such as singing, speaking and carrying out special occasion or everyday rituals such as the barbecue.

There’s lots more I could talk about but I must crack on with my third chapter, which you’ll hear about later! So this is a little teaser for now



One thought on “Chapter 2 – People

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s