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Challenges in Queer and Feminist Migration and Diaspora Studies

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Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London

Thornhaugh Street

Russell Square

London

WC1H 0XG

United Kingdom

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The Centre for Gender Studies and the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, SOAS invite you to a two-day discussion space on queer and feminist migration and diaspora studies. The conference will provide a transdisciplinary context for queer and feminist knowledge production on non/belonging, anti-/racism, anti-/migratism, borders, anti-/nationalism etc. We build on the thought that migration and diaspora are – like gender and sexuality – not descriptive, objective categories, but analytical tools to name positions of power. Therefore, drawing on postcolonial studies and transnational queer-feminist approaches, in this gathering we will focus on analysing power relations and oppression, as well as engage with resistance strategies and empowerment. Bringing together critical knowledge production on nationalist, racist, migratist, homo/transphobic, sexist, colonialist and Eurocentric norms and normalizations of gender, nation, race and belonging can be troubling, challenging, and contradictory and we would like to invite participants to endure these contradictions and turn these challenges into empowering interventions.

Programme:

Monday, 24th July

4.30 - 5.00 pm Welcoming Words

5.00 - 6.30 pm Keynote Lecture: Fatima El-Tayeb

6.30 - 7.30 pm Reception

Tuesday, 25th July

9.45 - 10.00 am Introduction

10.00-11.30 am Panel One: Epistemologies & Methodologies

Chair: Nydia Swaby, SOAS

Speakers:

Eddie Bruce-Jones, Birkbeck

Claudia Minchilli, Utrecht University

Špela Drnovšek Zorko, SOAS

11.30 am - 12.00 pm - Coffee Break

12.00 - 1.30 pm Panel Two: Academia & Activism

Chair: Nadje Al-Ali, SOAS

Speakers:

Jana Cattien, SOAS

SA Smythe, UC Irvine

Emma Patchett, Independent Researcher

1.30 - 2.30 pm Lunch Break

2.30 - 4.00 pm Keynote Lecture: Yasmin Gunaratnam

4.00-4.30 pm Coffee Break

4.30 - 6.00 pm Panel Three: Contradictions & Challenges

Chair: Alyosxa Tudor, SOAS

Speakers:

Avtar Brah, Professor Emeritus at Birkbeck

Parvathi Raman, SOAS

Kalpana Wilson, Birkbeck

6.00 - 6.30 pm Closing Words

7.00 - 9.00 pm Party (SCR)

CO-ORGANISED BY NYDIA SWABY (CMDS) & ALYOSXA TUDOR (CGS)

SOAS, Centre for Gender Studies
SOAS, Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies
Keynote 1 funded with the support of LSE Gender


Keynote and Panel Abstracts

Listed in order of occurrence

Keynote Lecture: The European Refugee Crisis, Neoliberal Racial Capitalism and Queer of Color Activism

Fatima El-Tayeb, UC San Diego

Europe’s “refugee crisis” – referencing less the plight of millions trying to leave military and economic warzones than the inconvenience their arrival is causing the European Union – is dominating debates across the continent. Most present the EU as an island of stability and prosperity, surrounded by chaotic regions: a Middle East succumbing to radical Islam, a permanently underdeveloped Africa and an aggressive Russia threatening the continent’s East. The crises originating in these regions are now reaching Europe, which needs to find imminent solutions to overwhelming challenges. This is a convenient narrative, but it ignores Europe’s culpability, not only in allowing the situation to escalate, but also in creating many of its sources. This talk contextualizes European reactions to the crisis, which are rapidly becoming hostile and punitive, within a larger continental European ideology of “colorblindness” that combined post-fascist and post-socialist narratives into a western capitalist success story, but completely ignored the aftereffects of colonialism. My analysis employs a queer diasporic perspective, centering Europe as a postcolonial space.

Panel One: Epistemologies & Methodologies

South Asian Indenture to Jamaica: Re-imaginging Memory

Eddie Bruce-Jones, Birkbeck

Between 1835 and 1920, over one million South Asians were transported from present-day India throughout European colonial territories. In each of these territories, their lives changed, their names and identities were recast, religions were traded for new ones, social relations were articulated in new ways. In Jamaica, recent ‘East Indian’ arrivals negotiated their positions in an exploitative system of labour relations central to social, political and sexual economies of the British colonial administration. How do we, generations later, recall the texture of the lives of these people without merely reproducing the limitations of the archive co-produced by the same exploitative colonial logics? How do we reconstitute their stories within the academy, using the full range of detail and imaginary potential that we can more often feel than name, and still call it knowledge, particularly given the disciplinary dogmas of law, social science, and history? This presentation uses literature and images, refracted through queer and black feminist modes of analysis, to explore ideas of temporality, identity, belonging and self-actualisation in the migration stories of South Asians indentured to Jamaica.

Tracing Digital Diasporas Through ‘Mattering Maps’: Using Feminist Ethnography for Big Data Research on Migration

Claudia Minchilli, Utrecht University

Research about diaspora and digital media has often been conducted through qualitative inquiries or quantitative, data-driven approach. Preferring one approach over the other presents the following problems: on one hand, qualitative inquiries do not account for the web’s main feature of ‘connectivity’; on the other, quantitative studies fail to capture the fluid character of diasporas as socio-cultural formations, focusing on hyperlinks maps that capture only partial and static visual accounts of diasporas’ online engagement. Hence, the temporal and emotional dimensions of digital connectivity that make connections dynamic and meaningful to people remain secondary. The problematisation of how digital methods have been applied to the study of diaspora so far, pushed us to reimagine a methodological approach that could contrast positivist and top-down understanding of the significance that those hyperlinks, sites and social media profiles and pages could have for migrants. In this talk, it will be shown the path made to operationalise this methodological counteraction, discussing a case-study analysis of an issue that witnessed a strong digital engagement of the Turkish-Dutch community. Drawing on Grossberg’s influential discussion on ‘mattering maps’, which theorises the affective dimension of how certain issues come to take on intensity for people, we tried to trace those digital connections which were imbued with investment and temporary social and emotional significance, taking users’ experience as starting and final point of our research about online emergence of diasporas. In this respect, the application of a feminist ethnographic approach in combination to data-driven research has been central: from an epistemological and ethical perspective it helped to avoid de-contextualised analyses of data, bringing up questions of ‘voice’, temporalities, trust, reflexivity and accountability towards participants.

Legacies of encounter as queer epistemology

Špela Drnovšek Zorko, SOAS

Based on ethnographic research conducted among former Yugoslav migrants in Britain, this talk examines how the historical memory of global socialist and anti-colonial alliances can de-centre ‘Britain’ as the primary site of diasporic encounters with difference. Contra to the assumption that the concept of ‘race’ is wholly external to the social and historical experience of (South-)Eastern Europe – implicit not only in much of the regional literature (Imre 2012), but shared by most of my interlocutors – and that migrants from the region only ever encounter ‘race’ once arriving in Britain, I discuss those instances during my research when moments of unexpected recognition challenged this predominant narrative: for example, when people contrasted Britain’s imperial history with Yugoslavia’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement, or recalled London encounters with Africans who had once studied in Belgrade. On the one hand, the partial recognition of race can entail a complicity with hierarchies of ‘cultural fit’, which favour some migrants over others while remaining silent on the privileges of whiteness. On the other, the historical memory of Yugoslav alignment with anti-colonial struggles can open up alternative avenues for relating to fellow migrants in the context of present-day discourses on migration. While such alternative affinities do not necessarily imply solidarity, I argue that they do point to a legacy of encounter, which can partially unsettle – or queer – the centrality of Britain in the story of contemporary diasporic entanglements.

Panel Two: Academia & Activism

Chasing Asylum, all the way to Australia House

Emma Patchett, Independent Researcher

In 2016, a guerrilla activist group screened Eve Orner’s documentary Chasing Asylum onto the walls of the Australia High Commission building on the Strand, a film made using hidden-camera footage and testimony from whistle-blowers to reveal the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government. In February 2017, the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and the Stanford International Human Rights Clinic submitted a petition to the International Criminal Court declaiming a violation of international law in the context of “harrowing practices of the Australian state and corporations towards asylum seekers” in Australia’s offshore detention centres, arguing that despite Australia’s international obligations it has developed a punitive system in which refugees and asylum seekers are detained under agreements on Manus and Nauru, establishing a “geographically-based” strategy of deterrence, through the creation of a “limbo” offshore legitimating a form of temporal distortion in which borders can be expressed through distinctively retrospective and unconstrained temporal narratives of space. This paper aims to turn this spatio-temporal distortion back on itself in order to challenge the concept of the securitised border as a manifestation of anxiety about "bodies in the nomos‟. Reading activist projections in dislocated spaces provides a new framework in which to think about this anxiety, whether practiced in the bodies of international legal activists or guerrilla film projectionists evoking the salient lines between sovereign states. My paper aims to consider the abyssal lines stretching across the globe demarcating spatial division: from asylum seekers trapped in stasis due to a localised anxiety about the security of the borders in an era of globalization, exploring embodiment and activism through counter-topographies of power.


The May 2017 NSU Tribunal in Cologne: Performing Justice Against the Odds

Jana Cattien, SOAS

In May 2017, the German city Cologne hosted the ‘NSU Tribunal’ – an anti-racist civil society initiative that formed in response to the murder series perpetrated by the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU), a guerrilla neo-Nazi network, in the early 2000s, leaving ten people dead and many more wounded. All but one were migratised and/or racialized; many were killed at broad daylight, in the small shops and businesses they owned. For a long time, investigating authorities ignored evidence that pointed towards a then growing neo-Nazi scene, instead focussing their efforts on what was soon constructed as ‘criminal migrant milieus’. In this paper, I discuss the Tribunal as a ‘performative assembly’ in the sense formulated by Butler in her recent work ‘Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly’. I weave together my own observations, participant statements, textual analysis and theoretical insights, in order to continue some of this anti-racist/migratist work and to highlight its importance. Specifically, I begin by taking Butler’s concept of ‘precarity’ as a point of departure for putting into perspective the Tribunal as a diverse coalition of anti-racist, anti-fascist organisations, single-issue campaigns and individual activists. Then, I go on to argue that the Tribunal should be understood as the assemblage of embodied, unfulfilled demands that performatively bring into being a collective entity. In performing and materialising an impossible and temporary moment of coming together, these bodies form a collectivity anchored in ‘doing’, not ‘being’. During the five days of the Tribunal, they enact and re-enact a desirable social order, carving out a space for solidarity that is larger than the sum of individuals present – for instance, by creating a multilingual reality in a still largely monolingual Germany. The Tribunal closes with an indictment, but no verdict: a clear affirmation that any such final verdict can only ever be partially articulated. Despite or perhaps because of its radical open-endedness, it can cover those excluded from the dominant legalistic discourse.


Southern Solidarities in Queer and Postcolonial Italy

SA Smythe, UC Irvine

My presentation aims to defamiliarise queerness (as both practice and critique) from its implicit temporal point of departure so that one might arrive at still-unthinkable conceptualisations of subjectivity, excess, and desire. This can be useful to us when thinking about the conceptual panic incited when Italy is confronted with blackness and its perception as an unthinkably internal quality. It is precisely the shifted emphasis onto SouthSouth discourses that have inspired me to return to Antonio Gramsci’s “The Southern Question” in terms of a queer and multivalent “South” that has experienced variegated processes of racialization inscribed by empire and migration. My main interest is in the relation between imperialism and discourses of blackness and sexuality as they intersect with more recent phenomena of (im)migration and asylum-seeking in Italy. I turn to the question of the archive so that I may examine the literary as well as the historiographical aporias in the narration of Italy’s history, including a disavowed relationship to blackness, to queerness, and especially the articulation of both together. I further examine contemporary archives and organizations like the Archivio Memorie Migranti (“Archive of Migrant Memories), Arcigay/Arcilesbica, and Divercity—the latter being the first support group openly organised by queer second-generation Italians of colour for themselves as well as queer migrants, refugees, and others who remain unrepresented/undesirable in the broader LGBT or Second Generation (G2) coalition groups. Above all, my research is entangled with space-making techniques outside of citizenship paradigms within the languages of resistance and the discourses of diaspora for Black Italians, migrants, and queer Europeans of colour. This project comes out of queer of colour and queer diaspora critiques of/in/against Europe, specifically critiquing the erstwhile notion that all the Europeans are white and all the migrants are heterosexual—thereby negating the presumption of ontological mutual exclusivity (El-Tayeb 2011, Haritaworn 2013).

Keynote Lecture: The Border’s Overthrow: Migration and Debility

Yasmin Gunaratnam, Goldsmiths College

Futurority – in impossible dreams, journeys and hope for a better life to come — is the dominant temporality through which the lives of migrants and exiles are imagined and narrated. In this talk my focus is upon death and debility and the challenges that attention to bodily losses pose for how we think about the temporal registers of migration and also of border affects. Drawing from feminist, postcolonial and queer writing, and my own ethnographic and narrative research, I will suggest that when we turn our attention to various states of debility, psychosis and trauma, the time frame of futurority in migration narratives is disrupted. In conditions such as terminal restlessness or ‘Pervasive Refusal Syndrome’ among asylum seeking families, the pain of injustice can intermingle with changing biochemistry, so that there can be a stilling as well as a multiplication of time and space. My purpose in discussing debility is to show how attention to the biosocial and to the precarious boundaries between living and dying that contemporary border regimes enforce can further our understanding of the strange wondrous bodily life of injustice and the vulnerability of border control.

Panel Three: Contradictions & Challenges

Avtar Brah, Professor Emeritus at Birkbeck
Parvathi Raman, SOAS
Kalpana Wilson, Birkbeck

In the panel on challenges and contradictions we would like to talk about points of conflict in knowledge production and community building, about what ‘we’ share and what divides us. Bringing together critical knowledge production on nationalist, racist, migratist, queer/transphobic, sexist, colonialist and Eurocentric norms and normalizations of gender, nation, race and belonging can be troubling, challenging and contradictory and we would like to invite participants to endure these contradictions and turn these challenges into empowering interventions. How can we embrace contradictions and not deny or erase them? How can they be seen as productive for radical social transformation? Which contradictions can we embrace, which do we find hard to live with, which produce gaps and hurts that cannot be overcome? Queer, feminist, migration, diaspora, studies… all the concepts in the title of this conference carry their own histories and all of them overlap in complex, non-linear, contradictory and ambivalent ways. How can we make sense of these overlaps, cross-fadings, contradictions, challenges in knowledge productions and activisms?

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Date and Time

Location

Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London

Thornhaugh Street

Russell Square

London

WC1H 0XG

United Kingdom

View Map

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