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Here is work, there is work, where is the work?

Being a daily witness to the battles of the unemployed who cross this continent in order to secure work and a decent life for their families, I often wonder to what extent globalisation really is to blame for the shortage of jobs. I hear the fear both of those who move and of those who stay. I see accusations directed towards big business who take jobs elsewhere and towards unscrupulous employers who give jobs to foreigners when the local population is struggling. And I understand the reality of being driven out of competition by cheaper staff at home or abroad. It fuels the anti-immigration feeling that currently dominates the public discourse in several European countries and which is being endorsed even by people who are not poor and have not lost anything in this race. I don’t mean the politicians who are trying to attract votes. I mean ordinary citizens with ordinary professional jobs.

Sometimes I pause and look at the world as one big community. And think about the sheer amount of people who live in Asia and in Africa and about all the jobs that have been outsourced over the years to poorer countries. And I wonder, has the number of these jobs been enough to save entirely at least one other national population from unemployment? The answer of course is no. Even if we outsourced as many jobs as possible out of the ones that we have, they would be far from providing employment for everybody in the developing world. And the European population would remain, of course, unemployed.

The problem is of course the shortage of jobs full stop. Not just in our own little country, whatever that might be but everywhere on the planet. There may be pockets of higher economic activity in certain places but overall the picture is grim. The Swedish journalist Andreas Cervenka reports that there are five billion adults in the world at the moment. Out of these, it is estimated that three billion would like to have full-time employment. And how many actual full-time jobs are out there? 1,2 billion. That leaves 1,8 billion unemployed or under-employed. Is it any wonder that human movement is on the rise? And is it any wonder that people feel threatened, regardless of whether they are on the move or stay put? Where does that leave Article 23 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Globalisation is a symptom. Let’s look at population growth and let’s look at advances in technology. Natural resources might be enough if equally distributed but what about jobs? How do we create those and should we be directing energy towards this? Or should we start thinking differently about the concept of earning a living?

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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
Aside

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In preparation for the New Year, I decided that cleaning out and getting rid of old stuff wasn’t enough. Our flat still lacks basic furniture that makes it difficult to find a home for the remaining things – shelves, bedside cabinets and even kitchen chairs were missing. So a trip to our local furniture shops was promptly organised and Saturday night between Christmas and New Year found us busy assembling the new acquisitions.

The next morning the second biggest city of my home country appeared – reconfigured – in my sleep. As often happens places look completely different in that state of mind. It’s as if the brain reconstructs a city with an already existing name for my visual pleasure only. As I was walking its streets I came across an old friend. And we walked and talked together.

Being homesick in these dark winter days is not a strange occurrence. It has been happening to me every single year that I have been away. However I have noticed that homesickness, most explicitly demonstrated in my sleeping condition, also occurs with a certain, exceptional forcefulness at times when new things happen in my life. When new furniture appears and makes a claim in my living space arrangements for example. I hate to decorate. And I hate buying and owning things, I’m just too bad at identifying with objects (books are a notable exception). But what is it about acquiring new furniture that triggers a dream of such appeal, such an unconscious desire to be elsewhere? Is it the act of setting up home that signals a distancing from home and inevitably a longing for the home that is lost?

The lost home is not a real home however. It has never existed. My modified cities, my mum’s reconstructed house, the re-imagined friends and relatives are only loosely based on reality. They are as fictional as places and characters invented for the purposes of a novel. And they are very rarely unpleasant. My first years of exile enabled me to successfully deal with painful events of the past. Now they are all sorted and gone and what has taken their place is colour and abundance of joy and sunlight.

I miss this sunlight even when I travel to new and exotic countries. Being in a place that calls for discovery also triggers these dreams of nostalgic homecoming to an imagined never-land. I love travelling and I do not know why this act is always accompanied by re-imaginings of home where everyone is happy and the sun is shining, luring me back and away from the new, no matter how seductive it may be.

As I woke up on Sunday morning I wondered whether it is the coming of new things, in any shape or form, that brings a sense of loss. New furniture, a new place or the New Year all have the same capacity to induce nostalgia for that which never was. But maybe what is perceived as lost is not really lost, it is a welcome new addition to the gallery of imagined pasts. As I progress through life and try to recapture the past I realise that this is no single, well-defined entity but a myriad of blurred memories whose contours become fainter and fainter with time.

The end of last year brought memories of places and people and these didn’t come effortlessly, I had to give birth to them. And this becomes increasingly harder to do with open eyes.

I wonder what shape people’s memories take after having experienced trauma. I wonder if people who have experienced catastrophe and fear also dream of sunny homes when they come here. Or are their dreams of a darker tinge? How does my Syrian neighbour reconstruct home when his family is still stuck in Aleppo, amidst ruins?

Homecomings

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

An essay on material objects, senses of belonging and commoditisation

Places and communities are two kinds of processes that are at the heart of globalisation for the reason that in an increasingly interconnected world people are more likely to experience a multiplicity of attachments or senses of belonging. Material objects are crucial in the way world citizens attach themselves to places and to communities. In this essay I focus on two case-studies based on the places of Stoke-on-Trent in England and Grasse in France which owe their sense of identity to objects in order to examine how the natural and industrial products traded from these areas function as a kind of glue that ties places and communities together. My evaluation leads to the idea that objects are not only crucial in defining transnational exchanges but that they also have the capacity to reify people, places and communities by turning them into tradable commodities.

My use of the term material objects refers to anything that represents the non-human world. This includes things such as pieces of pottery and perfume bottles but also the industrial and natural infrastructure from which these objects derive, such as factories, flower fields and all the machinery necessary for the production and export of commodities. Infrastructures are part of a wider web of elements that create meaning-invested spaces or places. This implies that places are a form of territory ‘associated with feeling, emotion or affect’ (Jones, 2008, p. 215) whereas they are often inhabited by another type of territory, the community, which may be defined as ‘a dense weave of social relations’ (Mohan, 2008, p. 279). Inhabitation may occur in physical or mental terms, in the sense that communities bound to specific places do not necessarily live there. Material objects function in this case as facilitators in the so-called process of affective territorialisation which creates a sense of belonging or identification with particular spaces or groups of people.

My case-studies of Stoke and Grasse are based on two articles published this year in the financial section of The Guardian and N, the Norwegian Airlines magazine respectively. Both places are known world-wide for their ceramics and perfume making industries that date back hundreds of years. This means that the size of the communities based in Stoke and Grasse have fluctuated wildly over time as the industries have undergone periods of growth and demise associated with the challenges presented by globalisation. However, it is suggested that both industries are currently experiencing a period of revival.

In The Guardian article, a range of interviewees such as tableware company representatives, local politicians and academics applaud the government’s decision to exempt ceramics from the climate change levy which is an energy tax on industry in order to subsidise renewable power (Rankin, 2013). Of particular interest is a comment by Labour MP Tristram Hunt who suggests that the worst of globalisation is over: ‘[You] see production regained from China, from Indonesia, because of rising energy costs. The wheel of globalisation is turning… and we are becoming more and more competitive’ (Rankin, 2013). All comments are characterised by topophilia as they demonstrate the strong bond that exists between the local communities and the industry of Stoke in which they take great pride and hope to see thriving in the future. An interesting characteristic of this particular example of topophilia is that it overrides environmental concerns and the government’s own green policy which privileges certain types of objects and places over others, both within its national territory and internationally. The purpose of this is understood to be a strengthening of the British brand abroad. It is reported that Steelite, the UK’s biggest producer of tableware sends about 80% of its products to foreign markets and that demand from America, Russia and Asia is rising. “Customers in these overseas markets truly value ‘Made in Britain’” says Kevin Oakes, Steelite’s chief executive (Rankin, 2013).

In the case of Grasse, ‘the perfume capital of the world’, the local industry has also been challenged by globalisation and advancements in technology. Toby Skinner reports that ‘[the] fields of rose, jasmine, tuberose and mimosa that annually blanket the hills around the town are no longer the precious resource they once were’. (Skinner, 2013). This is because the rise of synthetic production in the 20th century democratised perfume whereas global economics has also played its part in that flowers from Grasse cost several times more than equivalent amounts imported for example from Bulgaria (Skinner, 2013). However, the local industry figures interviewed in the article are optimistic about the size of their businesses which continue to thrive as they do not solely rely on perfume making but also on organised tours which draw in one million people a year (Skinner, 2013).  The interplay between the local and the global is multi-layered in Grasse, whose perfumers, as much as they have suffered from the import of essential oils from different parts of the world, still rely on them for their survival. This is made explicit in an interview with boutique perfumer Didier Gaglewski who imports cedarwood essence from the US, vetiver oil from Haiti and ylang-ylang essential oils from the Comoros Islands. On the other hand, the big companies that were built on synthetics are now coming to Grasse which is taking advantage of the global organic movement in which all things natural are favoured over the synthetic. This global trend is benefiting the local small-scale organic flower producers who have formed a collective supplying directly the big companies (Skinner, 2013).

These cases highlight the central importance of material objects in reinforcing a sense of belonging to the communities that have formed around their trade, consisting of native populations as well as newcomers who all rely upon global supply and demand in order to form personal and communal identities. Furthermore, the role of material objects can have such power that it often enables a reverse process to take place whereby individuals, places and communities become tradable commodities themselves such as the ‘Made in Britain’ brand.

As a first example, the British-Japanese designer Reiko Kaneko who operates in Stoke, combines the use of modern technology and the centuries-old local expertise in order to create Japanese inspired tableware and vases. This fusion of the designer’s work practices and identities which become embodied in material objects could be considered to be an example of embedded cosmopolitanism in that it represents a negotiation of the global and local and of Kaneko’s multiple attachments. Furthermore, the name of the designer is a trademark associated closely with a very specific type of product – and by consequence the name itself, as the designer’s home page reikokaneko.co.uk indicates, is the saleable object.

On the other hand, the very appearance of an article on Grasse in an airline magazine signals the commodification of the place itself precisely due to its local character and the value of its material objects which are used in order to attract tourists. Airline magazines typically commission this type of articles in order to promote their routes – every article is accompanied by information about how to travel to a particular destination. This practice reinforces the sense of embedded cosmopolitanism as the magazines juxtapose destination tips aimed at the ever-increasing number of international travellers thanks to a boom in the low-cost airline sector.

Finally, nations themselves increasingly become branded goods as they compete in the international arena for investment and influence. Big national spectacles and events organised by national and diasporic communities such as the Ghanafest (Mohan, 2008, pp. 301-303) do not only use material objects such as Kente cloth or traditional foods in order to reinforce community attachments but also as an exercise in nation branding, which aims to promote the national identity for trade reasons both at home and abroad. On a similar note, an interesting paper by sociologist Laurence Wai-Teng Leong discusses the phenomenon of national day parades in Singapore as an example of how the very idea of nation is commoditised and consumed. A variety of objects which range from the khaki military uniforms to the parade kits full of miscellaneous paraphernalia that are delivered to the spectators serve to reinforce a sense of identity and community to all Singaporeans whether they live in the country or watch the spectacle from abroad. As Wai-Teng Leong explains, it is consumption that generates common bonds and collective identities and calls the nation ‘an imagined community of consumption’ which anchors the collectivity into a sense of nationhood (Wai-Teng Leong, 2001, p. 11).

At the age of globalisation and social media, the relationship between material objects, places and communities and how these are used in order to develop a sense of belonging are becoming ever more complex. Ceramics, perfumes and military uniforms serve both as symbols for community identification and catalysts for the objectification and commodification of individuals, places and communities. One can ‘like’ on Facebook a jar of Nutella in exactly the same way as one can ‘like’ a football team or a country or a country’s president. The online presence of any material object, person or group enables all sorts of identifications and affective territorialisations regardless of proximity or distance whilst at the same time turning everything into a tradable commodity.

References:

Jones, O. (2008) ‘Of trees and trails: place in a globalised world’ in Clark, N. et al. (eds.) Material Geographies: A World in the Making, Milton Keynes, The Open University

Mohan, G. (2008) ‘Community, cloth and other travelling objects’ in Clark, N. et al. (eds.) Material Geographies: A World in the Making, Milton Keynes, The Open University

Rankin, J. (2013) ‘After years of decline, ceramics firms get fired up over budget tax break’ in The Guardian, March 23, 2013, p. 46 [Print edition]

Reiko Kaneko. Website URL http://www.reikokaneko.co.uk/ (last accessed on 5 August 2013)

Skinner, T. (2013) ‘A nose in front’ in N, Issue 7, July 2013, pp. 56-66

Wai-Teng Leong, L. (2001) ‘Consuming the nation: National day parades in Singapore’ in New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 3, 2 (December, 2001) pp. 5-16 [Online] Available at http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec01/Leong.pdf (last accessed 5 August 2013)

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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My notes from the public event Climate Change – the State of the Science (Stockholm, 28 September)

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–       Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute who is not a climate change expert noted that the hard work of the IPCC embodies the scientific function at its best. However, predicting the future is even harder. There is a strong element of unpredictability in the conclusions because even though the question of human influence on climate is settled, we do not know how humans are going to act from now on. Also, the phenomena caused by climate change do not affect all countries equally. For example sea rises would have no impact in Sweden but would be catastrophic in Bangladesh. Rosling put the blame squarely on rich countries not only in terms of their emission levels (China still has not reached the US levels of 1900) but also for patronising poorer countries in terms of population control and accusing them of not doing what they themselves fail to do. We haven’t even started tapping into the sustainable energy potential. In other words, there is a huge inequality problem.

–       Professor Thomas Stocker of IPCC Working Group I emphasised the length of the process, the number of authors involved and the scrutiny to which the findings have been subjected. He presented 7 out of the 19 headlines that have been endorsed by all world governments (these are widely available online).

Things to note:

–       In terms of cooperation with governments, there were requests for more information and therefore there are more additions than omissions in the report (no hiding or watering down of facts). No key messages or figures have been left out. Even though this report was hard to produce, there has been better cooperation with governments this time round. The aim of the IPCC is not to influence governments but to provide information.

–       Even though human activities as well as non-human variabilities are measured (fingerprinting of solar, volcanic power etc.), some factors are very difficult and expensive to assess, for example the role of deep oceans. We know about the effect on coral reefs and that the impact on organisms is a ticking bomb. However, we don’t know whether the large amount of emissions that have been stored by the Earth (30% residing in the oceans) would come out again. There is also uncertainty around the possible release of methane which is currently stored in permafrost and the circulation in the Atlantic which warms Northern Europe. This is really difficult science and there are very few models available. The sea rise levels discussion attracts fierce positions and there is no scientific consensus about the validity of different approaches.

–       The Antarctic remains a territory of extremely large variability and thus difficult to assess. It is much more complicated than the Arctic and that is why Greenland features more prominently in the report.

–       The scenario of least temperature change requires huge efforts in terms of offsetting emission programmes (carbon sequestration and reforestation).

–       The scientists appeared concerned about media representations of the assessment report. The issue of climate sensitivity is bound to be raised. There is new evidence in this report but change is very small in comparison to the last report. The IPCC was able to convince governments on this front. Questions are also likely to be raised about pre-industrial times measurements. The reference period in the new report starts in 1850 as opposed to 1750 in previous reports. According to the scientists this difference in baseline is negligible and doesn’t make any difference. Finally, the range of temperature projections needs to be communicated very well. Cumulative emissions are important. There is a danger that things are picked out of context when there is a whole range of scenarios that should be looked at. The issue of  responsibility on the part of the media in reporting things correctly was raised by everyone on the panel.

–       The question of inequalities between scientists from different parts of the world was also discussed. Because the IPCC work is done on a voluntary basis, scientists who lack institutional support may be left out of the process even though the IPCC emphasises its global character. All of the panel scientists reported stories of inequality (70 scientists in every million of population in Africa, 4,000 in every million in North America). IPCC scientists try to help colleagues from poorer countries with training and publishing so that their findings become part of the wider scientific understanding.

–       Finally, concerns were raised about the burden on scientists. This has become too high and we should start thinking about other ways to inform the public. There was some discussion around the effectiveness of the special reports that are released periodically as on one hand more attention should be brought to them but on the other it has been shown that assessment is the most powerful tool.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Away from the Mediterranean

A Greek folk tale which we had been told about at school came to my mind recently. It tells the story of Prophet Elias, who tired of being at sea and the many dangers he had faced in his life as a sailor, decided one day to search for a place where nobody would have heard of sea and boats.  Oar on his shoulder, he set off and started asking people what was this thing he was carrying. Every time he got the right reply he just carried on, inland and upwards. At some point he met a shepherd and asked the same question of him. After taking a good look at the oar, the shepherd replied ‘it’s just a piece of wood’. Prophet Elias smiled a smile of satisfaction and decided to spend the rest of his life among the mountain people. According to the same story, this is why the Greeks dedicate to him the churches built on hill and mountain tops.

It is on these mountain tops that Prophet Elias is celebrated every year on July the 20th, right at the heart of the summer. During a time when beaches start heaving with tourists, hordes of believers take the opposite direction and head towards the usually cooler heights even if it is just for one night. The choice between sea and mountain as the most appropriate summer destination divides the inhabitants of the Mediterranean countries, many of whom prefer to make an Elias move and spend as much time as possible in higher altitudes in order to escape the heat – and other sweaty tourists who come to colonise the landscape.

I am not sure what the connection point is between these thoughts and their cause of origin – namely a paper Adrian Grima presented at the BCLA conference I wrote about last week. In it, Grima discussed the Mediterranean imagery as a European construct which the Arab people of the North of Africa do not share. The divergence between the Mediterranean paradigm of the Europeans and the lack of it in Arab nomenclature dates back a long time. For the Arabs of the 16th-18th centuries, the Mediterranean was not the regional crossroads of the European imaginary or a ‘bridge’ between cultures or even less a melting pot. It was a clear cut religious and cultural boundary that separated Christians and Arabs. Even today, Grima argues, the revolutionaries of the former North African colonies do not think of themselves as Mediterranean people, connected to their European neighbours. Grima is critical both of the failures of the EU in engaging with their southern partners and of the persistent mythologisation of the Mediterranean in the European mind which serves to sell food, drinks, holidays and exoticity to Northern tourists. The myth of the Mediterranean is also intended for internal consumption as Grima argued in another paper, ‘The Melting Pot that Never Was’.

For Grima, the question of absence of Mediterranean identity in Arab poetry to name but one example, is a serious matter. He argues that the European imagery of the Mediterranean is a colonial concept, whereas for the Arabs the Mediterranean is something that divides, a mere geographical and not political space. It was probably the illustration of a stark polarisation between two opposing views that caused some consternation in the audience. A delegate from the Egyptian city of Alexandria argued that her compatriots do share affinity for the sea that unites them to the Greek civilisation. Another participant brought up the example of Colonel Gaddafi, who appropriated the Mediterranean for political ends, presenting himself as its leader for as long as it suited his goals. I started thinking about what the Mediterranean meant for me, whether it was a unified place in my brain and if the nostalgia I felt that day I travelled from the mountains of Grenoble to the familiar smells and sounds of the port of Marseille was due to myth.

The familiarity I felt was most likely due to a history of colonisation that divides and unites us Europeans as much as it divides us from Arabs. The first thing that crossed my mind upon arriving in Marseille was that it had been a Greek colony. Europeans have a history of ‘internal’ colonisations which preceded the expansions towards south and east. And these trajectories are critical in our understanding of the Mediterranean. I assume I feel closer to Turkish or Cypriot culture than say Algerian or Tunisian – but had I been French I would have maybe felt closer to other places, in the same way that the Venetian occupations of the Eastern Mediterranean have marked certain Greek territories in ways that are distinctly different from the Ottoman-occupied ones. If the Arabs have traditionally held a view of European colonisers as dangerous, the same could be said of the inhabitants of most European territories that at one point or another were conquered by other Europeans. Conflict and violence were the order of the day even during the colonisation of Marseille by the Greeks and it can easily be inferred that this was not an isolated case.

So, what are the kinds of Mediterranean landscape that really dominate the desires of Africans and Europeans or cause their indifference? Is the Mediterranean more than the part of its sums or is Adrian Grima right in his criticism of this imaginary construct? What if for every tourist that arrives on the Mediterranean shores there are others who prefer to climb mountains or retreat into deserts, faithful to ancient hermetic traditions or simply trying to avoid coastal colonisations and the oppressive humid heat?

Lila Abu-Lughod in her famous study Veiled Sentiments says of the Bedouins who inhabit the north of Egypt: ‘I discovered, however, that despite its proximity, the sea played little part in the Bedouins’ lives, and what appreciation of natural beauty they expressed was for the desert where, until sedentarization, their winter migrations had taken them. The members of my community all spoke with nostalgia about the inland desert, “up country” (fōg), although they had last migrated seven years before I arrived. They described the flora and fauna, the grasses so delectable to the gazelle, the umbellifer that whets the appetite, the herb that, boiled with tea, cures sundry maladies, the wild hares that must be hunted at night, and the game birds that suddenly take flight from deep within a shrub. They praised the good “dry” foods of desert life and disparaged as unhealthy the fresh vegetable stews that are now an important part of their diet. They recalled with pleasure the milk products, so plentiful in springtime when rains have created desert pastures, and savoured memories of the taste of milk given by ewes who have fed on aromatic wormwood (shīḥ).’

Mediterranean diet fans, eat your heart out!

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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How to migrate?

Image of Square 5 on University of Essex Colchester campus.

Last week I attended the British Comparative Literature Association conference at the University of Essex, which was dedicated to the theme of migration. A very opportune title it turns out, as migration is not only a key function in comparative literature and translation studies but also a hot topic in social science terms.

Rosi Braidotti, in her plenary address, made a brief reference to the attack on humanities across Europe and the collective action organised by her fellow academics. Once upon a time I was also part of this community. But I soon found out I needed money for food and a roof over my head faster than it would take for an appropriate job to come around. This wasn’t a painful realisation: I had spent all of my years as a Ph.D. student doing a range of non-academic jobs and when the time came to get a full-time one I hadn’t even managed to submit my thesis yet.

Over the past few months I have seen several articles emanating from the US, which attack the idea that postgraduate studies in the humanities have anything to offer to anyone nowadays. What they do not seem to be taking into account is that people do incomprehensible stuff for all sorts of reasons and not just with a career in mind. Quite often, to start a degree is a way in to a new country. This was definitely my case. Shutting myself into a library on any day, sunny or otherwise, the former being admittedly rare, was not my idea of fun. I did love reading and exploring ideas, and sometimes even writing but I also needed the oxygen of social interaction with the world outside and the pleasure of ‘real’ jobs which offered me valuable skills such as unblocking constipated babies and developing negotiation techniques through engaging with certain impossible teenagers. My parallel universes offered me refuge from one another as I was trying to form an adult identity in a country other than my native one. I will always look back to those years with fondness even though I was often short of money and never got onto the property ladder. But being an adult is much more than that.

The first two days at the conference were spent in a bubble of excitement. How had I ever possibly wanted to leave this world of continuous intellectual challenge? Where discussing ideas became your daily bread? I did phone my partner on Tuesday and told him I didn’t want the bubble to burst, that I was dreading my return to the humdrum reality of unemployment. Oh the irony. Proving right all those humanities haters? Yes and no. What my training in humanities has resulted to, among else, is stubbornness in following my own decisions which have twice so far involved leaving a job without having found another one. Granted, I do not have kids but I have become very good at saving money and not desiring much material wealth – except books of course.

Two extra days down the conference line however and a few doses of scepticism paired with disillusionment were enough to do the trick. After attending a few of the following kinds of sessions: (i) non-timed, (ii) easily torn to pieces and (iii) myths done to death with most preponderant that of Narcissus, I found a certain kind of weariness growing and it wasn’t just in me. After Maria Tatar’s plenary on Sleeping Beauties which she ended with references to Angela Carter and after having to check that our current year was indeed 2013, I knew something was definitely wrong with our dear old humanities.

Over the past few years, being the degree junkie that I am, I have been working towards a second undergrad in international studies. The intellectual explorations of the third decade of my life made me realise that these need to be socially grounded, anchored to the reality around me and not to a self-referential framework completely detached from what was happening in the world. I was in a position to understand migrations in multiple contexts and not only because I was a migrant: I had always been most sensitive to the migrations of the ‘damnés de la terre’, the myriads of people who fight for a better future, since the times I was safely cajoled in my parents’ house. I’ve never made a career of anything; I’ve never been a politician defending immigration policy or made immigration policy or made a living out of studying migrations in literature as much as I would have wanted to. I continue to look around and the UK council estate life of my yesteryears has been replaced by the Stockholm suburbs. Very different but both inhabited by myriads of unseen and unheard people – and right at the bottom of the unseen and the unheard lie the lucky undocumented migrants, lucky because they have made it this far and still alive, still surviving.

Bidisha’s self-deprecating stint at the conference, which was followed only by a handful of people, was exaggerated. ‘What did I think I was doing’, she asked in reference to her PEN writing workshop for undocumented migrants, ‘these people were not there to write, I don’t know why they kept coming back. Do you think writing is important when you have to get food on to your table?’ Even I joined the chorus of ‘surely, there is some value in getting together’. But what Bidisha’s underlying message was saying to me loud and clear was ‘look, I have been with these people and there was nothing I could do for them so don’t you think that you are achieving anything by sitting in your ivory tower and talking Migration in literature’.

This blog is about migrations and settling and starting again, both in terms of my short-lived career as a literature critic and my understanding of the globalised world. I know being around helps and that Bidisha was lying, I know because I live around undocumented migrants too. I am an unemployed Ph.D. who volunteers in community projects – welcome to my world!

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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