Nina Khan (HU Berlin) und Menusha de Silva (National University of Singapore) im Rahmen des Trouble Shooting Lab der Konferenz „Diversity Encounters. Intersectional and Post-Colonial Perspectives“, 24.-26. Mai 2016, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin und National University of Singapore (NUS)
The joint conference dealt with the impact migrants make on the multicultural and multiracial dimensions of cities in Asia and Europe. Criticizing the East-West divide and the focus on ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’ in otherwise insightful academic publications on this matter, the conference aimed at developing a collaborative perspective by bringing together researchers from the East (NUS) and the West (HU Berlin) for reflecting and discussing each other’s research. This exchange was especially evident in the “Trouble Shooting Lab” for which three tandems were created, consisting of one PhD student from HU Berlin and one from NUS in each case. They exchanged information about their research and prepared a joint paper on common challenges in their projects and on how they could learn from each other’s case study.
In their presentation, Nina Khan and Menusha de Silva gave a short introduction to their respective research projects, highlighted the commonality in their studies and discussed some methodological challenges.
Menusha de Silva’s work examines the migration histories of retired Sri Lankan immigrants in the UK, their experiences of return to Sri Lanka for retirement, and the manner they negotiate their dual entitlements (mostly through dual citizenship) and sense of belonging in two countries in order create an ideal transnational retirement. Nina Khan’s research focuses on the “New Donor” India or rather “development partner”, as it prefers to be called, and its development discourse in particular. Against the background of India’s own experience as a recipient country and a former colonized country of the Global South, the question arises how this might impact its development discourse and whether this will form an alternative to the (until today) hierarchical western development discourse.
The common ground of these two research projects is the postcolonial lens. The key angle which is being taking is how today’s perspectives and knowledge of the world are still influenced by colonial time discourses of the North-South binary. We tried to reflect on how the Asian and European gaze is inherent in both ours studies. Considering the European gaze in Menusha de Silva’s work, most of the retired migrants interviewed shared the manner their encounters with the predominantly-White population in the UK made them aware of their inferior social location. Regarding the Asian gaze on the other hand, the migrants who returned to Sri Lanka for retirement experienced negative encounters with the culturally and religiously similar local population. These exclusions are due to the disparity between their transnational identities and the Sri Lankan society’s notion of the national subject. In Nina Khan’s study, India challenges the Western gaze on the South, which is still inherent in today’s dominant development discourse. It questions the dominant European (or rather Western) gaze or discourse and the binary of the giving, charitable and progressive North and the needy, receiving and “backward” South. By focusing on India’s donor status, the research intends to move away from the stereotypical portrayal of India as the “underdeveloped” recipient country in development cooperation.
The discussion on methodological challenges revolved around how the respective positionality as a student from a European/Asian academic institution (or traditional Western donor country) might influence the openness of interview partners. For example, a large proportion of retired migrants living in Sri Lanka conveyed their distrust of Western institutions, which they perceived to be circulating negative views of Sri Lanka. Within this background, the affiliation to a non-Western university was viewed as a neutral position by the participants and enabled a greater level of trust. Depending on the status of the interview partners (retired migrants, Indian government officials) and the larger context of the research, this positionality might have a positive or negative impact on the interview outcomes.
Given the nature of our individual researches, we highlighted that learning from the Asian and European context is a fruitful lens not just for studies that are explicitly situated in these regions, but also in researches where the Asian and European contexts are more nuanced.