An Academic Interview for Durham University lectures with Our Director, Niven Whatley.
[Professor H. Rosi Song and Niven Whatley]
Can you tell us about your research briefly?
Thank you very much – well, my PhD Doctoral Thesis is entitled:
‘Voices from the Periphery: Representations of Marginalised Female Immigrants in Postmillennial Spain.’
By way of introducing me:
I am a PhD student by distance at The University of Birmingham, approaching my final months, and am also a Senior Leader in mainstream Education and Director of my own Tuition and Language Centre: Faculty Room Limited.
I have a Masters in Spanish and Portuguese, a PgCE in Secondary Education and a Teaching Leaders qualification and am a language, food and culture fanatic.
I have lived, studied and worked all over the world, spending time in the Middle East, South America, India, China, around Eastern and Western Europe and across the UK.
I speak 4 languages fluently and a further 5 to varying levels and, having worked in Education, Immigration, Travel, Charities and Hospitality, I am keenly interested in the status, role and diversity of immigration within society.
As a student of Hispanics and a firm believer in the importance of equal opportunities, I am primarily interested in the gender and race factors in immigration, and my Doctoral Thesis is entitled “Voices from the Periphery: Representations of Disempowered Female Immigrants in Postmillennial Spanish Film and Literature.”
In my thesis I first present a review of Spanish immigration laws and enactments and a history of gender and women’s writing in Spain.
Following this, I have selected primary works for principal research and I consider them within chapters on: Representations of female immigrants from China, Africa and Latin America.
My initial literature review scrutinises discussions of the female immigrant’s condition in monographic works by Flesler, Guillén, Faszer-McMahon and Ketz, as well as varyingly insightful journals, comments and reviews about ideas such as feminism, racism, exoticism and third space. It then considers how effectively the plight of female immigrants has been described or made central and at what level more profound consideration of this liminal group is required.
My own research includes reviews, explorations and thought on such issues as: Space, setting and belonging; Maternity and female roles in Spanish society and the representations of utopian ideals, dystopian aesthetics, vulnerability, resistance, dehumanisation, exoticism and silencing of female roles.
Exoticism itself might be loosely defined as the tendency to consider foreigners or ‘others’ in general as being strange, curious, entertaining or attractive in an out-of-the-ordinary or taboo way.
Third space is the notion, suggested by Bhaba, that there might be a present or future arena in space or time in which so-called natives and foreigners meet, exchange cultures and potentially subsequently fuse or assimilate into an ideal new culture.
These ideas are important to understanding immigration, race and gender – and looking at how film and literature mirrors life and society is key to understanding how people are perceiving and experiencing real life at any time.
Why do you think it’s important to pay attention to gender in the context of migration studies (and, perhaps, in the context of Spanish migration)?
In my opinion, issues of gender, race and immigration all go hand-in-hand.
Migration, particularly for both political and personal reasons, and for the intentions of making economic improvements, has historically been a male concern, and in the case of 16th to 19th century Spain had largely been as imperial conquests and male subjugations and in 20th century Spain, had largely been a case of white Spanish males emigrating to richer Northern Europe to escape political censorship and broaden their scope for monetary earnings and employment.
Nevertheless, in the last 20 years these trends have changed and now females outnumber males in terms of geopolitical movements, reasons for their migration have moved from being followers of male family-heads to being as entrepreneurs or family-earners themselves, Spain has moved from being a post-dictatorship country of exclusion and repression to a purportedly democratic nation at the centre of a Neoliberal and Capitalist European Union movement and immigration has overtaken emigration as the main type of movement.
One would therefore expect foreigners, incomers and females to form the central, most commonly accepted and most frequently represented groups in society, public discourse and therefore to have a well-heard “voice” in both arts and culture and therefore in politics and society.
Nevertheless, in spite of an alleged move towards open, democratic politics in Spain, female representation in recent cultural publication is still predominantly that of the exotic, pathetic or visually fetishistic and spectres of paternalism remain in the sociological mind-set. Similarly, females are under-represented politically and in terms of the market of publications of films, books, art works etc.
What do you think we can learn about Spanish identity (or identity in general) by studying migration?
To set these factors and this critical genre against the current socio-literary milieu, I explore how key philosophical interpretations (such as Foucault’s ‘heterotopias’ and Derrida’s ‘Specters of Marx’) may be applied or contradicted in relation to specifically female immigration works.
Through this rigorous and multifaceted exploration, together with in-depth review of discourse analytics from online journalism, I look for evidence of hope for gender and socio-political equality and attempt to elucidate the conservative and liberal dimensions of the representations of the female immigrant.
These intentions, I believe, can act as a cypher or indication of how far mentalities or mind-sets have changed in a previously colonial, machoistic and traditionally paternalistic society.
This will also serve to indicate whether the New Europe, as a whole, is descriptive of a fair, open, accepting and approachable place – and whether opinions and opportunities are there for everyone in equal measure.
What has surprised you the most to learn/realise/understand doing your research?
Immigrant female representations vary enormously, depending on such base factors as country of origin, skin colour, presumed attractiveness and the regions and social roles in which female immigrants are depicted and imagined.
Stereotype, phobias, inequalities and misunderstandings still very much remain, and this suggests that society is not quite there yet in terms of universal acceptance and economic and cultural assimilation of all – one of the tenets of a progressive EU ideal.
A collective female memory is difficult to pinpoint, since the female immigrant often appears voyeuristically, as a two-dimensional character whose presence remains peripheral, hindered or stereotyped and furthermore, female authors seem largely to “accept being an “other”” and being secondary to Spanish males. (Oppermann, 1994).
There is also a notable difference between how males and females and especially between how Spanish and immigrant authors portray their characters and events – and this has highlighted for me the glaring gap between what it is to imagine a narration from an outside and unknowing point of view and to use personal experience and the double exposure available to a dual-national to present a more captivating and believable representation of life.
However, with newfound variety in authorship, it has been valuable to investigate notable indications of a forward-thinking agenda in Spanish literary output and also to note that the literature and films have subtly moved over time to reveal slight and varying potentials for future equality, voice and empowerment for female and racially different immigrants – those furthest from traditional Spanish centres of power.
This suggests that social change and cultural progress towards race and gender equality is taking place, which is obviously important in all aspects of life.
Many thanks – it has been very interesting to talk with you and we wish you the best with your ongoing research and publications.