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She Said – Die queerfeministische Buchhandlung im Herzen Neuköllns

Im vergangenen Winter eröffnete Emilia von Senger unweit des Hermannplatzes ihre erste eigene Buchhandlung – mitten in der Pandemie, während Einzelhändler*innen bundesweit um ihre Existenzen bangten. In von Sengers Buchhandlung She Said brachen jedoch noch bevor die Bauarbeiten überhaupt abgeschlossen waren schon scharenweise Kund*innen herein. Besonders während der Wochenenden im Lockdown standen die Berliner*innen teilweise über eine Stunde in der Schlange, um in den schicken Laden zu gelangen. Vermutlich trugen die im Lockdown sehr begrenzten Freizeitmöglichkeiten auch ihren Teil zum Andrang bei, Hauptgrund wird aber nichtsdestotrotz das feministische Konzept der Buchhandlung sein – bei She Said finden Kund*innen zeitgenössische und diverse Literatur. Der Clou, es werden nur Bücher von weiblichen und queeren Autor*innen verkauft. Neben deutsch- und englischsprachiger Prosa findet man auch unterschiedliche Sachbücher zu Themen wie kritische Männlichkeit, Arbeit, Soziales und Anti-Rassismus. Eine kleine Lyrikabteilung gibt es ebenfalls, genauso wie eine besonders schöne Ecke mit diversen Kinderbüchern, die Gendernormen aufbrechen und eine Vielfalt von Identitäten abbilden. Weitere Kategorien sind auch „Non-Western“-Bücher und postmigrantische Literatur. She Said hat zusätzlich zwei Onlineshops – einen für Bücherpakete mit den Lieblingsbüchern des Teams, Postkartenkollektionen und T-Shirts. Der zweite Onlineshop dient für weitere Buchbestellungen, die man bis 18 Uhr einreichen kann und am nächsten Tag bereits vor Ort abholen kann.

Wer in der Buchhandlung mit dem Lesen nicht warten möchte, kann sich im integrierten Café von She Said setzen und bei einem Kaffee direkt die neuerworbene Literatur aufschlagen. She Said ist nämlich eine Buchhandlung zum Verweilen, hier trifft sich ein aufgeklärtes Publikum, das bewusst Literatur konsumiert. Die Literatur und das Café sind dabei nur ein Teil von She Said. Ein vielfältiges Veranstaltungsprogramm lässt die Buchhandlung zu einem Community-Ort werden, an welchem Lesungen von Autor*innen wie Emilia Roig („Why We Matter – Das Ende der Unterdrückung“) und Şeyda Kurt („Radikale Zärtlichkeit“), aber auch Talks und Livestreams stattfinden. Der Standort der Buchhandlung – der Kottbusser Damm, der die Berliner Szenebezirke Kreuzberg und Neukölln vereint, bringt zusätzlich das moderne Großstadtpublikum, welches man sicherlich zur Zielgruppe von She Said zählen kann. Wie zeitgemäß She Said ist, lässt sich an der Onlinepräsenz der Buchhandlung gut erkennen. Schon während der Bauarbeiten konnte man über Instagram mitverfolgen, wie She Said Stück für Stück entsteht und wer an den jeweiligen Prozessen beteiligt ist. Über ihre Social Media Kanäle promoten sie nicht nur die Veranstaltungen, Literatur und die hausgemachten Spezialitäten des Cafés, sie vernetzen sich so auch mit der Community, holen sich Feedback und stehen im direkten Austausch mit den Besucher*innen und Kund*innen. Von Senger selbst gab an, vor der Entstehtung von She Said bereits auf Instagram in der sogenannten Bookstagram-Community vernetzt gewesen zu sein, selbst die erste Idee von der Buchhandlung habe sie auf ihrem Account geteilt.

She Said Berlin
Copyright: @shesaidbooks

Inspiration für das queerfeministische Konzept von She Said ist die cishet männlich dominierte Literaturindustrie samt Kanon gewesen, dem von Senger sich widersetzen wollte. Noch immer sind FLINTA* und queere Männer in der Literaturwelt unterpräsentiert; sie werden im Vergleich zu ihren cishet männlichen Kollegen seltener bei Literaturagenturen unter Vertrag genommen, veröffentlicht und mit Preisen und Förderungen ausgezeichnet. Handfeste Zahlen zu der Benachteiligung von Frauen lieferte dazu unter anderem die Pilotstudie „Sichtbarkeit von Frauen in Medien und im Literaturbetrieb“ unter dem Stichwort #Frauenzählen von der verbandsübergreifenden AG DIVERSITÄT, welche 2018 ins Leben gerufen wurde. Im März 2018 wurden im Rahmen dieser Studie 2036 Rezensionen aus 69 deutschen Medien (Print, Hörfunk und TV) analysiert. 

Die Ergebnisse sind sicher nicht sonderlich überraschend, aber dennoch ernüchternd – es wurden erheblich mehr Bücher männlicher Autoren besprochen und auch die Kritiker*innen waren überwiegend männlich. In konkreten Zahlen heißt das: Zwei Drittel der thematisierten Bücher stammten von Autoren. Obwohl diese Studie auch große Schwachstellen hat – so ist Gender hier komplett binär dargestellt,  beispielsweise nichtbinäre Autor*innen werden schlichtweg gar nicht einbezogen, ein intersektionalerer Ansatz wäre natürlich wünschenswerter gewesen.
Dennoch schafft es die Studie auf den Sexismus in deutschen Literaturbetrieben aufmerksam zu machen und Impulse zu setzen, gegen diesen zu vorzugehen. Läden wie She Said tragen ebenfalls einen erheblichen Teil dazu bei, Autor*innen zu stärken, die queer oder nicht männlich sind.

Emilia von Senger
Copyright: @shesaidbooks

Trotz alledem wurden auch kritische Stimmen gegen She Said erhoben. Die meiste Kritik, die gegen von Senger ausgesprochen wurde, bezieht sich allerdings auf ihren zuerst intransparenten Umgang mit ihrer Familiengeschichte. Ihr Urgroßvater war während der NS-Zeit als Wehrmachtsgeneral und als Kommandant einer Panzerdivision tätig. Die Vermutung lag schnell nah, dass die Gelder für die Finanzierung der Buchhandlung von den geerbten Nazi-Geldern der Familie stammen könnten.

Die Diskussion um von Sengers Familienhintergrund starteten die Künstlerin Moshtari Hilal und der Autor und politische Geograf Sinthujan Varatharajah auf Instagram. In einem Video thematisierten sie die Problematik um Nazi-Gelder im Kunstbetrieb im Allgemeinen und nahmen She Said hier als Beispiel. Von Senger reagierte schnell auf den medialen Druck und räumte den Fehler ein, diesen Teil ihrer Familiengeschichte nicht transparenter offengelegt zu haben. Auf ihrem Instagram-Account veröffentlichte sie das Statement, „Einen queerfeministischen Buchladen zu eröffnen und gleichzeitig nicht über seine Nazi-Familiengeschichte zu sprechen, geht nicht“.

Sie beteuerte jedoch, die Gelder für She Said stammten aus einer anderen Quelle. Darüberhinaus sollte man nicht außer Acht lassen, dass die queerfeministischen Bücher, welche von Senger in She Said verkauft, zur NS-Zeit verboten und verbrannt worden wären; nichtsdestotrotz ist es wichtig diese Debatten zu führen und auch bei feministischen Projekte wie She Said genau hinzuschauen und nicht nur die Konzepte, sondern auch die Mittel, mit welchen sie umgesetzt werden, zu reflektieren. 


Über die Autorin: Elena Schaetz ist Studentin der Afrikawissenschaften (MA) an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Ihre Arbeitsschwerpunkte sind Literatur, Kultur, Gender und Queerness in südafrikanischen Regionen.

16. September 2021 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
Veröffentlicht unter Allgemein

Born with one foot on the other side – Akwaeke Emezi’s „Freshwater“ between Igbo Spirits, Identity and Trauma

Akwaeke Emezi was born in 1987 in in Umuahia, Nigeria and studied at New York University. In 2017, they won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Emezi’s debut novel Freshwater was published one year later. Their latest novel The Death of Vivek Oji was published in 2020 in the U.S.

Africa Writes. Image credit Elizabeth Wirija.

The New York-based author of Igbo Tamil descent, who also describes themselves as a „nonbinary trans and plural person“ explained in several interviews (e.g. Deutschlandfunk Kultur) that many elements of the novel are of autobiographical origin. Freshwater tells the story of a „plural individual“ – a transgender person called Ada whose body is inhabited by several personalities and occupied by various spirit beings from Igbo mythology.

The novel combines themes of gender, sexual violence, mental health, trauma, physicality and identity with elements of Igbo culture, specifically the Ogbanje. Ogbanje are evil spirits, the literal translation from the Igbo language is „children who come and go“. The Ogbanje picks a family and enters the body of one child to kill him or her before puberty. After the Ogbanje is done with that child, it returns to the same family to be reborn and the cycle repeats itself. Dr. Sunday Ilechukwu states in her article „Ogbanje/abiku and cultural conceptualizations of psychopathology in Nigeria“ that Ogbanjes choose predominantly female children. Furthermore she explains the suffering of Ogbanje children: „The most common psychiatric symptoms are visual hallucinations […], aggressive/destructive behavior […], conversion/dissociation disorders […], and vivid dreams about water […]The loss of control, unexplained symptoms (conversion), changes in conscious expression (dissociation), and dreams about water […] and play (with spiritual companions) suggest Ogbanje to the patients“. The aspect of water is, of course, particularly interesting in relation to the title of the novel.

In the Nigerian context, the phenomenon of Ogbanje is well known, Ogbanje is also used in speech as a synonym for stubborn children. Ogbanje are also a recurring literature motif from Nigeria and from the Nigerian Diaspora. One of the most known examples for this is the character Ezinma in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Ada is one of those Ogbanje children. She is the daughter of a Nigerian doctor named Saul and his Malaysian wife, Saachi. From a young age, it is clear that Ada is different from the others which shows for example in self-injurious behavior. While most Ogbanjes die as children, Ada survives. But things get worse the older she gets. When Ada moves to the U.S. at 16 to go to college in Virginia, the Ogbanje’s voice grows stronger. Ada gets raped on her campus and the Ogbanje splits into many entities as a result. One entity named Asughara is especially powerful and dangerous. Asughara is a female spirit that wants to avenge Ada, but destroys her in doing so. There are times when Ada gives complete control over to that raging spirit. Asughara is a violent force, ruthlessly seeking sexual encounters, destroying Ada’s relationships in the process. She uses Ada’s body to seduce and to break men, but also to harm Ada. She cuts and hurts herself in many other ways, from unprotected casual sex, to excessive drinking and disordered eating. Ada tries to oppose Asughara, which almost ends in suicide, but she manages to get rid of her.

Ada goes through many relationships, some of them are intense or even traumatic, some are just fleeting and weak in meaning. However, Ada’s most intense relationships are not with other people, but with the voices inside her that contradict each other, take her over and tear her apart. Ada also carries a male entity within herself, this one is named Saint Vincent, which in contrast to Asughara is full of gentleness and makes her date women and explore her queer identity. She experiences gender dysphoria and tries to find ways to deal with it first by binding her chest and eventually by having surgery to reduce the size of her breasts.

Freshwater deals a lot with embodiments. Ada struggles with being in her body and with the trauma that is linked to this body, as well as with the entities living within her. Freshwater is about being trapped in a body, but the multiple personalities also enable a complexity and open up new perspectives.

By presenting the Ogbanje as reality in their novel, Emezi pays tribute to the elements of Igbo culture and develops the literary motives even further. With the colonization of Nigeria, much of the Igbo culture was lost, suppressed and discarded. With Freshwater, the author shows us a small insight into the multifaceted Igbo culture, but mixes this with modern twists. The novel blurs the lines between Igbo gods, mental illnesses and gender issues.

These themes are certainly not easy, but the narrative style that conveys them is outstandingly poetic and stylistically so powerful that it keeps the reader hooked. Freshwater is characterized by a thrilling narrative style, switching from the collective Ogbanje who refer to themselves as “We” to Ada herself, who barely narrates her own story, to the spirit Asughara. The alternating switching between characters and voices can first be irritating for the reader but it’s also one of the main points why the novel is so captivating.

After prize-longlisted Freshwater was praised by both critics and by the public on an international scale, Emezi is following up with a second novel called The Death of Vivek Oji. This new novel shares Freshwater’s themes, particularly in its exploration of ideas of selfhood, identity and embodiment, along with spirituality.

About the author:

Elena Schaetz is a student of African Studies (MA) at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Her research focuses on literature, culture, gender and queerness in South African regions.

24. Juni 2021 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
Veröffentlicht unter Allgemein

„I May Destroy You“ Michaela Coels neue Erfolgsserie über consent und sexuelle Selbstbestimmung

von Elena Schaetz

Michaela Coel als Arabella in I May Destroy You
copyright: Natalie Seery/HBO

Seit dem Erfolg ihrer Sitcom Chewing Gum (2015-2017) und spätestens nach ihren Rollen in den Netflix-Produktionen Black Earth Rising (2018) und Black Mirror (2017) wird die britisch-ghanaische Schauspielerin und Drehbuchautorin Michaela Coel als vielsprechende Künstlerin gefeiert. Ihre neuste Dramaserie, I May Destroy You, wurde im Juni 2020 erstmalig auf HBO und BBC One ausgestrahlt und wird bereits jetzt als eine der wichtigsten Produktion des Jahres betitelt. Grund dafür sind nicht nur die Themen, die die Serie verhandelt, sondern auch wie und aus welchen Perspektiven dies geschieht.

I May Destroy You ist die Geschichte von Arabella, einer jungen Londoner Autorin, welche in einer Partynacht K.O.-Tropfen untergemischt bekommt und anschließend bewusstlos Opfer einer Vergewaltigung wird. Am nächsten Morgen wacht sie mit einer Platzwunde und einer großen Erinnerungslücke auf und begibt sich zunehmend verzweifelt auf die Suche nach Hinweisen. Dabei geht es jedoch nicht nur um das Identifizieren des Täters, sondern auch um das Finden von Bewältigungs- und Verarbeitungsstragegien.

Entscheidener als der grobe Plot sind jedoch die kleinen Facetten der Serie, die verschiedene Perspektiven bieten: Da ist zum Beispiel Arabellas bester Freund Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), der ein Grindr-Date nach dem nächsten hat, bis auch er Opfer einer Vergewaltigung wird. Durch die Figur Kwames schafft es Coel, mehrere Tabu-Themen gleichzeitig aufzumachen – sensible black masculinity, black gayness und auch die in Medien selten gezeigte Seite von männlichen Opfern sexueller Gewalt.

Paapa Essiedu als Kwame in I May Destroy You
copyright: HBO

Gerade Schwarze Männer werden in den meisten Film- und Fernsehproduktionen oftmals sehr hypermaskulin oder gar aggressiv gezeigt; sie sind Sportler, Dealer, Gangster oder Aufreißer. Das rassistische Klischee des hypersexuellen Schwarzen Mannes wird vielfach reproduziert. Coel hingehen zeigt eine andere Schwarze Männlichkeit, die auf Menschlichkeit beruht. Wir sehen Kwame als guten Freund Arabellas, der sich nach der traumatischen Erfahrung der Vergewaltigung erst zurückzieht und sogar seinen Freundinnen, die selbst Opfer sexueller Gewalt waren, zuerst nichts von seinem Problem erzählen kann.
Coel schafft ein realitätsnahes Bild; man sieht, wie schwer es gerade männlichen Opfern fällt, sich Hilfe zu suchen. Die sehr ernüchternde Erfahrung mit einem unsensiblen Polizisten, als Kwame die Vergewaltigung anzeigen möchte, zeigt auch, wie mit männlichen Opfern umgegangen wird und wie stigmatisiert schwuler Sex noch immer ist.
I May Destroy You verhandelt sexuelle Gewalt auf vielen Ebenen und zeigt dabei, dass die gleiche Straftat unterschiedlich thematisiert wird, je nach race und Gender der Opfer und Täter*innen.

Während Kwames Erfahrung auf der Polizeistation sehr negativ ist, wird mit Arabella als Frau viel sensibler umgegangen. Auch weitere Privilegien werden diskutiert. Etwa als eine Weiße ehemalige Schulkameradin von Arabella gezeigt wird, die eine Selbsthilfegruppe für Opfer sexueller Gewalt leitet, aber zur Schulzeit selbst einem Schwarzen Jungen eine Vergewaltigung unterstellt hat, nachdem dieser ein Sexvideo von ihnen geteilt hatte. Neben der Thematik, dass mit ihr als Weißer Frau anders umgegangen wird, wird hier eine weitere große Frage aufgemacht – wann beginnt Missbrauch?

Das fragt sich auch Arabella, die im weiteren Verlauf der Serie Opfer von Stealthing wird – dem heimlichen Abziehen des Kondoms ohne das Wissen oder die Zustimmung des Sexualpartners während des Geschlechtsverkehrs. Arabella erfährt zufällig beim Hören eines Podcasts, dass Stealthing unter britischen Gesetz eine Form der Vergewaltigung ist und konfrontiert den Täter mit dieser Beschuldigung.

Ihre beste Freundin Terry (Weruche Opia) hat im Italienurlaub einen Dreier, den sie als spontanes und selbstbestimmtes Abenteuer erlebt. Als sie später erfährt, dass die zwei Männer alles vermutlich geplant hatten, fühlt es sich nicht mehr so selbstbestimmt an. Man beginnt sich als Zuschauer*in selbst zu fragen – wo beginnen Übergriffe? Kann der Sex, den Terry mit den Männern hatte, dann überhaupt noch einvernehmlich gewesen sein?

Die Drama-Serie hat jedoch trotz der düsteren Themen auch leichte Momente. Sie zeigt Empowerment, Diversität, Freundschaften und alltägliche Probleme von Millennials, inklusive einer ausufernder Online-Selbstinszenierung, was der Serie noch mehr Authentizität verleiht. Wir sehen, wie Arabella ihre Arbeit aufschiebt, wenn sie pleite ist, Probleme mit der Deadline für ihren Buchdeal hat und wie sie mit Schreibblockaden kämpft.

Mit einem sehr diversen Cast rückt Coel die westafrikanische Diaspora Großbritanniens in den Vordergrund. Durch viele kulturelle Details gelingt eine authentische Darstellung, so etwa durch die Sprache – von Black British Slang, verschiedenen westafrikanischen Akzenten, Twi, das in Arabellas Familie gesprochen wird, bis hin zu Yoruba-Wortfetzen („Oya!“ – „come on!“).

Obwohl auch Weiße Frauen sich mit vielen Themen aus I May Destroy You identifizieren können, bleibt es die komplexe Geschichte einer Schwarzen Frau, was angesichts der Unterrepräsentation Schwarzer Frauen in Medien von großer Bedeutung ist. Wärend viele Serien sich rassistischer Klischees der „Black Mama“, „angry black woman“ etc. bedienen, gelingt Coel eine vielschichtige und überzeugende Darstellung Schwarzer Identitäten. Rassismus wird zwar auch thematisiert, die Schwarzen Protagonist*innen werden jedoch nicht darauf reduziert.

Trotz all des Lobs bedarf es auch kritischer Anmerkungen. Eine Szene ist mir hier deutlich in Erinnerung geblieben: Kwame beschließt nach der erlebten Vergewaltigung, erst einmal Abstand von Männern zu nehmen und schläft mit einer Weißen Frau, welche Schwarze Männer fetischisiert. Als sie nach dem Sex etwas Homophobes äußert, erzählt Kwame, er sei selber schwul, worauf sie ihn wütend auf der Wohnung wirft, sie fühle sich missbraucht von ihm. Kwame ist zuerst verunsichert, dann sichtlich beschämt. Ein Gespräch mit seinen Freundinnen verschlimmert dies noch. Hier gehen die Stimmen der Zuschauerschaft auseinander, hat Kwame die Frau im falschen Glauben gelassen, er wäre heterosexuell, um mit ihr zu schlafen? Sind sie etwa „quitt“, weil er nichts von seiner Queerness erzählte, sie ihn aber auch sichtlich fetischisierte? Ich persönlich konnte die Szene nicht nachvollziehen; warum spielt es eine Rolle, ob sich Kwame als schwul, bi-, pan-, oder heterosexuell versteht, wenn das Paar einvernehmlichen Sex hat? Ich hätte mir hier einen weiteren Blickwinkel gewünscht; der Schock der heterosexuellen Frau, als der eigene Sexpartner sich als queer herausstellt, ist zudem eine gängige homophobe Reaktion. Hätten sie ein anderes Datingverhalten gehabt, bei dem ein ehrliches (romantisches) Interesse von der Frau erkennbar gewesen wäre, dann wäre Kwames Verschweigen seiner eigentlichen Sexualität natürlich von anderem Gewicht. Dennoch, Sexualität ist ein Spektrum und Tendezen können sich auch ändern.

Nichtsdestotrotz ist I May Destroy You eine große Bereicherung der Popkultur, welche zurecht international gefeiert wird. Die diversen Perspektiven, aus welchen die Serien das Thema consent beleuchtet, hat es so in einer TV-Produktion noch nicht gegeben. Der Erfolg von I May Destroy You ist hier sicher auch wichtig, um den Weg für weitere feministische und antirassistische Produktionen zu ebnen.


Über die Autorin:

Elena Schaetz ist Studentin der Afrikawissenschaften (MA) an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Ihre Arbeitsschwerpunkte sind Literatur, Kultur, Gender und Queerness in südafrikanischen Regionen.

26. Oktober 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
Veröffentlicht unter Allgemein

Indian Documentary Film and Filmmakers (Review)

Reviewed by: Nadja-Christina Schneider

Reviewed item: 

Shweta Kishore. 2018.
Indian Documentary Film and Filmmakers. Independence in Practice
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
ISBN 9781474433068

The struggles of independent critical filmmakers in India: History going in circles?
In the summer of 2019, when the central government in India denied permission for ‘veteran’ documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s latest film Vivek (Reason) (2018) to be screened at the renowned International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, the organizers of the festival, together with Patwardhan, did what he often did when his earlier films faced state censorship. They took the battle to court, won the case, and finally got permission to screen the self-funded and searingly critical documentary at the festival in Thiruvananthapuram. Structured in eight parts, Vivek scrutinizes the mainstreaming of violent Hindutva ideology and majoritarian nationalism in India during the last decade. While the successful litigation in Kerala could be seen as a glimmer of hope for the continued possibility for audiences to engage with critical independent documentaries in India, the fact that Vivek, along with a number of other critically acclaimed films, was not screened at the 16th Mumbai International Film Festival in January this year (MIFF 2020) may not have come as a surprise for many.

Read the full article here: https://www.iias.asia/the-newsletter/article/indian-documentary-film-and-filmmakers

13. Oktober 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Nadja-Christina Schneider | Kein Kommentar »
Veröffentlicht unter Allgemein

Comparative analysis of 3 documentaries reflecting on multi-local practices in 3 different cultures

by Jingjing Feng, Pamela Gutierrez and Zuzanna Tarka

As a third project in the research-oriented MA course „Multi-local families in times of increased geographical and communicative mobility“ (summer term 2020), we present  Jingjing Feng’s, Pamela Gutierrez’s and Zuzanna Tarka’s visual essay Comparative analysis of 3 documentaries reflecting on multi-local practices in 3 different cultures.

As people across the world people continue to migrate regionally and transnationally, more families find themselves searching for ways to “do family” from a distance. The benefits of migration are plentiful and for many include better financial opportunities and increased safety but often come at a steep cost (Kaur and Shruti, 2016; Faist, 2010). Multi-local families face daily logistical and emotional challenges that transcend nationality and culture despite the unique circumstances across the globe (Schrier, 2016). We chose to explore these cross-cultural challenges by analysing three short documentaries focusing on the countries and regions we identify with—Poland, China, and Latin America/ USA. We looked at “Violetta: Portrait of a Polish Immigrant in London”, “Year of the Dog: Inside the World’s Largest Human Migration,” which focuses on a couple migrating from a village in rural China into the city, and “Immigrant Voices of America: Esther Alvarado,” which explores a Mexican woman’s story of migration into the United States. Each offered us a unique perspective into the lives of multi-local families and how they rose to the challenge of “doing family” in circumstances that are quickly becoming more common throughout the world.

  1. Violetta – Portrait of a Polish Immigrant in London (2012) 

 

Figure 1: Violetta talking about her daughter
Still from the documentary film “Violetta – Portrait of a Polish Immigrant in London” by Rabikowska, M. & Hawkins, M. (2012).

In this documentary we are shown the life of a Polish women in her mid-forties, an immigrant, who left the country for economic reasons. She has debts to repay back home and knows she can make a better living in the UK. In deciding to do that, her family needs to split – her daughter stays with her ex-husband, while her grown-up son goes with her to the UK to work. Despite having her son and some semblance of family in her new country of residence, the struggles of a multi-local family persist. When she talks about her daughter back home, she says “I miss Natalia terribly, despite everything. She is a girl, and it is different with a boy”. At home she says the two had a good relationship and could talk about anything, but that closeness is difficult to maintain from afar.

 The familial dynamic with her son and partner also changed when they moved to London as they traded their family home for a shared, workers household. In the house, several multi-generational families live together under one roof and share common areas, as well as spend their free time together. The importance of family ties evolves for Violetta as she embraces her new community. Eventually they even act as a sort of substitute for her nuclear family as they live together, work together, and even go to church together.  As this relationship with her housemates grows, their lives in London and Poland begin to overlap.

Figure 2: Violetta and her housemate phone home to Poland on Easter
Still from the documentary film “Violetta – Portrait of a Polish Immigrant in London” by Rabikowska, M. & Hawkins, M. (2012).

On Easter she is seen celebrating with her housemates, phoning home together, and even switching phones to send regards to the other’s family members. Digital media and mobile devices play an important role in their multi-local family practices (Robertson et al., 2016; Schroeder, Ling, 2013). Occasionally, she and her friends and families visit each other back and forth between London and Poland. They all pay a lot of attention to keeping up the traditions, staying in touch with the loved ones who stayed at home and talk about their longing to go back to their country. 

Her relationship with the UK is more complex and she experiences both gratitude and acceptance but sometimes also disappointment with life outside of Poland and without her family. 

 “It is not my second homeland, and I will never call it my homeland” says Violetta, despite living in London for years. Her immigration to London changes her sense of belonging back home in Poland but she doesn’t feel a sense of English identity either.  It is touching when she says “After all, human beings are social creatures, and need someone else at all times, to love and to look after… Whether it is children, a husband, or parents, there’s always someone”. This sentiment also reflects in her frequent communication with friends and family back home and her continued longing to be with her daughter again. 

2. Year of The Dog: Inside The World’s Largest Human Migration (2017)

Figure 3: Yang and Liu’s teenage daughter plays on her phone instead of interacting with her parents
Still from the documentary film “Year of The Dog: Inside The World’s Largest Human Migration” by Vice (2017).

In this documentary we are introduced to a couple, Yang and his wife Liu, Chinese domestic migrant workers from a small rural village in China who travel to the big city, Shenzhen, for work. Like Violetta in London, they travel far from their home to secure a better financial future for themselves and for their children back home. Living in Shenzhen allows them to support the family financially and put the children through school but also means the children are left with a grandparent back in their village. Factory workers in Shenzhen can earn up to three times more than they would back in their villages and most of it goes to their family. Yang and Liu send monthly remittances to their village, where Yang’s father is taking care of their two children, a 9-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl (read more on importance of remittance as currency of care in multi-local family settings in Kaur and Shruti, 2016). Because of the very limited income, they are only able to visit home once a year. Digital technologies such as Wi-Fi and mobile phone signal is limited in their village which is in a very rural secluded part of the country meaning they are not able to communicate regularly with the family left at home. Their situation resembles that of many migrants worldwide, who are limited in the use of digital technologies, and therefore cannot fully benefit from the possibilities it gives to multi-local families to stay connected (Kaur and Shruti, 2016). Instead, they make one costly trip home a year to celebrate the Chinese New Year in which they try to make the most of the time they spend with family.

Before leaving Shenzhen, they go to a market to buy all sorts of gifts: nuts, sausages, snacks, new clothes – things they hardly buy for themselves on a regular day working in the city. This reflects the lives of millions of rural migrant workers in China who work hard to make the most possible money but never spend on themselves (Cai, 2003) The high cost of living and legal situation prevents them from taking the children with them to the city and the long distance puts a strain on the relationship with their young children who find it hard to reconnect with the parents after a their long absences.

 To get home Yang and Liu must endure a more than 30-hour train ride in which they are lucky to even get a seat.  When they finally arrive home, they are tired but excited to reunite with their family.  Their 9-year-old son has been waiting anxiously to greet them from afar, but the 15-year-old daughter is less enthusiastic and doesn’t want to come out from her room. The fact that she did not grow up with her parents, let alone to build an intimate relationship with them, leaves her with a complex mix of emotions and ambiguous feelings about her parents’ return. On the one hand, she is happy that she finally sees her parents and understands that they go away to make a better life for the family, but also likely blames them for not giving her the kind of emotional love and intimacy that she has needed. Liu, her mother, is understanding. “We haven’t been there for her growing up. That is our loss”. 

The left-behind children of Chinese rural migrant workers have become a hot topic for debate in recent years. Left-behind children living apart from their parents is a striking example of the changes emerging in China’s traditional family structure in the midst of economic development (Liu et al., 2000). Studies have shown that left-behind children are particularly vulnerable to exposure, to trauma and neglect and are at greater risk of developing depression (He. B et al. 2012).

3. Immigrant voices of America: Episode 1 – Esther Alvarado (2020)

Figure 4: The border wall between the US and Mexico.
Still from the documentary film “Immigrant voices of America: Episode 1 – Esther Alvarado” by Duran, M (2020), A Start Now Studio.

The documentary tells the story of a Mexican woman, Esther, who is forced to live away from her family in the United States while her American immigration status is deliberated. Esther Alvarez, the matriarch of the family, has similar motivations for beginning the long and arduous journey into the United States as the Yang, Liu and Violetta had for their own migrations. Much like the Yang and his wife Liu, Esther’s goal was to provide for her children and “…take advantage of all the opportunities this country [the USA] provides that unfortunately we don’t have in our country.” Esther also shares in Violetta’s motherly grief, both women lamenting the long separation from their families. However, unlike the others who migrated domestically or within the then European Union, she is faced with administrative uncertainties regarding her legal status in the United States that barres her from reuniting with her family, all of which have made the US their new homeland and are anxious to welcome her back. 

 While separated from her family she engages in practices of “connected presence” Robertson et al., 2016, p.219) using any means to keep in touch with her loved ones: following the lives of her children and grandchildren online, watching videos and photos of them growing up, keeping in touch through phone calls, and receiving visits from her kids while she can’t enter the country. When she was forced to separate with her family for the second time, she said “it was like cutting off the wings off a bird, one second, it’s flying around an all of a sudden someone cuts off its wings.” Esther was separated from her family for seven years from 2007 to 2014. She goes through a long and humiliating process of applying for legal entry to the country despite already having lived there for many years, being married to a US resident, and having no criminal record. Her son, a Youtuber, organizes a campaign pushing for her case to be reviewed in an effort to help his mother and all families separated by harsh immigration laws.  After seven years, two failed attempts and two months in an ICE detention centre she is finally granted entry to the country and reunited with her family. (Read more about ICE and why it is controversial: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/03/us/politics/fact-check-ice-immigration-abolish.html)

Esther endured many hardships throughout her life from being a teenage mother, to experiencing sexual assault by a smuggler during her first attempt to cross the border at 19, later getting deported, detained, and fighting for her right to a life in her adopted home. Though it all she says, “the love that I have for my children, the hope of returning to them, to be with my granddaughters, that’s what kept me going.” On February 5, 2019, Esther finally attained her U.S. Residency and she did not have to worry about being separated with her family again. It took 32 years.

Multi-local Families and Migration Across the World

Figure 5: Esther together with her grown sons.
Still from the documentary film “Immigrant voices of America: Episode 1 – Esther Alvarado” by Duran, M (2020), A Start Now Studio.

All the documentaries which we have seen are stories of people, who are struggling to improve their lives, while living away from their families for extended periods of time. All are recent stories and present us with the most common forms of migration in different parts of the world – Polish workers living in the UK and sending money home, Chinese families migrating from rural areas to cities while their children remain with their grandparents, and Mexican-American families being forcibly split by the immigration laws. Although we see very different life situations, reasons for their separation, and cultural background, each story connects to one another through the common themes of separation, familial bond and practices adopted to stay in touch with the loved ones at a distance. 

The foundation of the multi-local family appears to be fundamentally the same across the world. Everyone hopes to live safely, to have the opportunity to prosper, and most importantly to experience the love and care of a family. Even with these similarities, families engage in unique struggles across the world. In the cases on Violetta, Yang and Liu, and Esther, they all left their homes in search of financial opportunities and to provide for their families. In Mexico and across Latin America, this motivation is sometimes followed by a need for safety, as certain areas are plagued with gang or political violence that can make migration literally a matter of life or death. Unfortunately for many, this danger is not politically recognized by those in power. For many immigrants to the United States, separation comes in pairs; first from their country of origin and later from their families and the life they’ve built in the US over many years. Deportation is a real and looming threat as immigration policy has become stricter in recent years and even those seeking asylum aren’t immediately safe from the federal enforcement agencies such as ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or Customs and Border Protection. Multi-local families are made by literal force, not just by choice, and the ramifications are felt through multiple generations as was the case for Esther, her sons, and her granddaughters and contribute to patterns of circular migration (Hagan, J., Eschbach, K., & Rodriguez, N., 2008). 

 

Figure 6: Liu enjoying dinner with her family and contemplating
the journey home.
Still from the documentary film “Year of The Dog: Inside The World’s Largest Human Migration” by Vice (2017).

For all migrants, regardless of situation, the journey comes with a price. For Violetta this means leaving not only her family but also her native land, culture and language for a different country, devoid of the comfort and familiarity of home.  She worries for her daughter and also for her country, at one point in the documentary anxiously discussing the enormous snowfall in Szczecin that knocked out electricity to the city. To paraphrase the English expression, “You can take the woman out the country, but you cannot take [Poland] out of the woman.” Our history, like our families, are a part of us all and no amount of distance can erase the love of either in Violetta’s heart and mind. 

For Yang and Liu who migrate within their native China, the struggles are equal but different. They don’t need to practice a new language and can enjoy some same of the same cultural norms but are challenged by sheer size of China itself. They must travel thousands of miles to see their family by train, approximately one day and two nights, and have young children that are growing up without them. The village is small and remote and many of the digital technologies that Violetta and Esther rely on to maintain relationships with their distant families are limited or unavailable to the couple. They may remain in China but are perhaps the most cut off from their family while away working in the city. 

 Esther’s story, though rife with struggle, has almost the opposite problem as Yang and Liu. While in Mexico she lives just across the border from San Diego where her family lives and her son is a Youtuber adept at sharing his life with her digitally. Her close proximity to the United States both affords her visits from her sons who can cross the border into Mexico to see her but also serves to constantly taunt her with what she cannot have. She is at all times, “so close, yet so far.” 

In all three documentaries there is the question of expectation versus reality for the families. Violetta has moments of both peace and conflict with her situation in London at one point frustratedly saying, “This is not how I expected it to be. This is not how it should be. I ended up in England doing a shitty job in a shitty factory…”. Multi-local families make difficult decisions when choosing to separate but the result is nearly always a gamble of sorts. Violetta comes back later in the documentary to say that her life is ultimately good in London and she doesn’t wish to immediately go back to Poland but adds, “You cannot rewind time, unfortunately. It always comes with a price.” 

Liu faces similar questions when she returns to her village in China and finds that her teenage daughter is not as welcoming as she would have hoped. She briefly wonders if given the choice again she would choose to leave the village. Despite her concerns, her husband Yang knows that village life cannot provide the family with what it needs to survive. He understands that this cycle of migration will continue with his children as there is no opportunity for them at home. Perhaps one of their largest challenges is that their multi-locality as a family is likely to be permanent as the children will eventually replace their parents as migrants to the big city. Yang hopes to return to the village in his old age but by that time his children will be the ones who’ve left home in search of opportunity. 

Figure 7: The tattoo on her back written in Chinese character “信心”
means “confidence.”
Still from the documentary film “Year of The Dog: Inside The World’s Largest Human Migration” by Vice (2017).

Violetta and her housemate, despite being comfortable in London, also dream of returning to Poland at some point. On New Year’s they gather for drinks and toast to Poland saying, “To Poland! May we go back someday when it is better.” This is perhaps one of the most striking differences between Violetta, Yang and Liu, and Esther. For Esther from Mexico, her story of migration is meant to be permanent. Her children have been raised in the US and are now raising their own children in the country. Mexico will always be a part of their family story, but their lives are now in San Diego making her separation all the more unbearable. Of migrating to the US, she says, “My objective was always to become a U.S. citizen and to continue contributing to this country, to work, excel, and give a better future to my son[s]…”

In all documentaries we see families split for long periods of time and big distances because of necessity. Whether for the economic or legal reasons, these times of absence become an important factor for how they build and sustain relationships with their kin and loved ones. Especially for parents separated from children, they face many difficulties in maintaining the high level of emotional involvement in each other’s lives (Schrier, 2016). In order to make it possible they engage in variety of different practices of connected presence (Robertson et al., 2016; Licoppe, C., 2004) – sending money home, visiting family when possible and bringing gifts for the family members (Kaur and Shruti, 2016), celebrating traditions, foods and national holidays together, as well as keeping in touch through social media, phone calls and sharing photographs (Robertson et al., 2016). People who are forced to leave their family homes and family members behind to improve their quality of life often still question their decision to leave and become melancholic when considering the possibility of going back to their homelands even while knowing that’s not possible. While taking advantage of the “the possibilities of simultaneity” (Huang et al. 2008 , p. 7), the forced separation from the families seem to be increasing the internal divide of being  “neither here, nor there” (Huang et al. 2008 , p. 7). 

Figure 8: Liu, Yang, and their daughter make dumplings at home.
Still from the documentary film “Year of The Dog: Inside The World’s Largest Human Migration” by Vice (2017).

Analysing multi-locality through documentaries 

In addition to presenting different kinds of migration stories, the documentaries themselves use different formats to deliver their messages. The artistic form of expression chosen by the authors and creators of the documentaries can tell us a lot about way they approach the topic, their perspective and the topic itself. 

“Violetta: Portrait of a Polish Immigrant in London” uses a mix of observational and interview formats to tell her story. It’s the most unfiltered of the three documentaries using a fly-on-the-wall tactic through much of the filming which is later interspersed with interviews with Violetta to contextualize her situation. The title of the documentary itself – ‘a portrait’ – points out to the focus of the director on the figure of the woman, painting an intimate picture of her life, rather than focusing primarily on the aspect of immigration. Because the documentary provides little to no context of the situation in Poland or why London is a popular migration destination, Violetta is allowed to shine as the sole subject of her story. This is positive in that the viewer is allowed to concentrate on her situation as a person, not only under the term “migrant” that often carries its own associations. On the other hand, Violetta is a migrant and contextualizing her story as part of a general narrative of migration from Poland could serve to better understand the situation as a whole. Because of that we get the feeling that Violetta might have been filmed by someone close to her, who understands her life choices well and sympathises with her situation.

The second documentary produced by the big international broadcaster Vice News seems to be done from a very different angle and created with an aim to introduce the realities of the protagonists to the unfamiliar audiences. In what follows, parts of the interview, particularly with the young boy, do not feel natural to a native Chinese speaker who understands the culture. It seems that he is encouraged to answer interview questions in a “correct” way as if he is guided, which reflects another drawback of documentary films in that they always come with some subjectivity of the film maker or the interviewer. Because of this approach we feel the distance from Liu, Yang and their children, and observe their life unfolding like a movie, rather than being pushed by the director to feel how the life in their shoes might feel like. However, in being much more structured than the first documentary, ‘The Year of the Dog” gives a much better background and the overview of the situation, and presents the surrounding in the way that they become the part of the story, and we get to see the link between the protagonists and their changing environments. 

Our final documentary, “Immigrant Voices of America: Esther Alvarado,” is one of an eight-part documentary series focusing on the different immigrant groups in the United States and their stories. In this way, Esther’s story is woven into a larger narrative about the immigrant experience in the United States and the various struggles they may encounter. Much like the other documentaries we watched, there is combination of observational and expository techniques as the story of Esther’s life is juxtaposed with images on the screen. However, unlike the previous two documentaries, both Esther and the filmmakers appear to be passing a value judgement on current immigration policies. The viewer is meant to finish the film with a new sense of right and wrong, having been more than just educated on her story but also the political undertones of her situation. Depending on the topic and each person’s set of values, this can be either positive or negative as the filmmakers are aiming to convince the viewer of one position over another. In addition to the filmmakers, Esther’s eldest son is a prominent Youtuber and films some of the more intimate footage himself including scenes at the hospital when Esther is undergoing cancer treatment. This close personal connection to the subject is beneficial in that the viewer feels a true sense of consent as they follow her on this very personal journey. Also because of her son’s YouTube career, the documentary incorporates previously shot footage from his channel and allows us a glimpse at Ether’s story over many years. Again, this makes for an intimate but not impartial view of Ether’s life as an immigrant, a stark contrast to Violetta, Yang and Liu’s films which primarily aim to tell as story and allow the viewer to judge or interpret their stories for themselves.

The unprecedented development of communication technology and social media in the past few decades has not only evoked limitless potential of how people maintain their relationship at distance, but also opened new possibilities of information production and sharing across the globe. Information visualization has developed at a lightning speed like never before in history during this transformation. Despite its growing influence, the use of visual data such as images, documentary films and short videos has been scarce and mostly overlooked in scientific research. (Joffe, H., 2008; Nisbet, M. & Aufderheide, P., 2009). In multi-local family study, or in migration study to a larger extent, the richness and emotive impact of visual materials’ ability to arouse emotion is undeniable (Joffe, H., 2008). In a digital era, visual records form an integral part of our cultural and social lives, and its influence will only grow in the foreseeable future. As Madianou (2016) rightfully argues, technological advancements together with affordances of social and mobile media have brought new possibilities. Hence, in spite of its subjectivity, it is argued in this article that visual data brings great value to the study of multi-locality and shall be given more attention in scientific research.


About the authors:
Pamela Gutierrez is currently enrolled in the M.A. Global Studies Programme at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin after finishing her dual B.A. in International Relations and Communication. Her research interests include forced migration, diaspora studies, social inequality, development, gender, and cross-cultural communication, particularly in the US American and Latin American contexts.


Copyright: Zuzanna Tarka

Zuzanna Tarka is currently doing her M.A. in Global Studies Programme at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin after finishing her B.A. in Sociology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests focus on digitalization, digital economy and communication, digital divide and inequalities in access and use of new technologies, with particular focus on gender.









Copyright: Jingjing Feng

Jingjing Feng is a M.A. student of the Global Studies Programme at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In her earlier studies she did her B.A. in Tourism Management at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics. Her research interests include global migration and mobility, global culture, identity and ideology, inequality and international development.

9. September 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
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Zanele Muholi’s Inkanyiso – A South African platform for queer visual activism

By Elena Schaetz

In 2019 I traveled to South Africa to contribute to the work of the queer NGO Gay and Lesbian Network (GLN) in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. GLN is focused on queer activism in the rural areas around Pietermaritzburg where they conduct workshops to educate and empower the community on topics such as sexuality and gender. As an organization from the community for the community, they built a place of support and connection for queer people. GLN aims to strengthen a network of LGBTI organizations, activists and allies in the province by bringing people together to share their knowledge.

Media plays a major role when it comes to their activism. GLN’s team gives queer South Africans the opportunity to learn skills like producing podcasts and creative writing to help them find their voice.
While I spent two months working at GLN’s social media team, they introduced me to Prof. Sir Zanele Muholi’s work and told me great stories about the impact Muholi has on the queer community as a visual artist and activist.
One of my colleagues took part in one of Muholi’s photography workshops and has been supported by them since then. He grew up as a trans boy in a township nearby and described to me how art has helped him figuring out his identity and how important it is to express that identity.

I have always valued art for the variety of emotions and stories it conveys and I deeply believe in the importance of representation. Muholi’s photographs show marginalized people in beautiful portraits, embracing their identities in a graceful and empowered way.

Like GLN, Muholi aims to connect and empower queer South Africans. They created the blog Inkanyiso (Zulu for „to light“) in 2006 as a platform for information and inspiration regarding queer rights, queer visual art and black queerness in South Africa.

Three years later Muholi registered Inkanyiso as a non profit organization, in response to the lack of visual histories and skills training produced by and for the LGBTI community. Since then, a collective of artists, writers and activists have been involved in Inkanyiso.

Their goal is to inform the reader on the struggles of marginalized groups by telling personal stories or showing different art pieces in forms of poetry, photography and videos. Inkanyiso also provides information on the political situation in South Africa and how current events affect the local LGBTI community.

South Africa has a very liberal and queer friendly constitution – same-sex marriage has been legalized in 2006, which makes it the fifth country worldwide giving queer people the right to legally get married. But the legal situation does not necessarily reflect the everyday life. Hate crimes like „corrective rapes“ – the rape of queer people with the intention to „turn“ them heterosexual, are still happening on a daily basis, forcing the LGBTI to take action like Muholi did with Inkanyiso.

Inkanyiso tackles issues regarding race, sexuality and gender, including black trans, lesbian and gay struggles in different parts of South Africa. The posts show the complexity and fluidity of gender and sexuality and give insight on personal problems as well as on structural, political issues. But Inkanyiso is not only a source for information, it’s also a place for empowerment. The writers show how art can shape the world, how they learned various skills and how they now use these skills to make a difference.

Muholi’s latest work – the workshops or speeches they give and their art works as well, is also partly presented on Inkanyiso.

From the series Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi

„Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness” is a series of self portraits which Muholi started in 2012. The ongoing project now contains 365 pieces that show Muholi’s alter egos, mostly coming from a Zulu background, expressing Muholi’s identity as a black nonbinary queer South African.

Their project Faces and Phases, started in 2006, continues the theme of black queer identity but puts it in a wider perspective since it features a huge variety of black queer people instead of focusing on one individual. The 13th anniversary of this project lead to their latest solo photography exhibition Faces and Phases 13 which took place at STEVENSON in Johannesburg in 2019. With more than 500 black and white portraits of lesbians, gender-nonconforming individuals and transmen, the series Faces and Phases shows different aspects of gender and sexuality in black spaces. It focuses on black lesbian identities in townships and politics in post-apartheid South Africa. During Muholi’s travels they also documented black lesbian and trans people outside of their home country.

Julile I, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2016
From the series Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi
Copyright 2020 STEVENSON

About the artist: Zanele Muholi was born in 1972 in Durban, South Africa. After attending an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg in 2003, they held their first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery one year later. They finished university with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto. In 2014 they taught visual activism at Hochschule für Künste in Bremen, Germany. Since then, they worked as a visual artist and queer activist, raising awareness on queer rights and focusing on increasing the visibility of black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.


About the author: Elena Schaetz is currently enrolled in the Master’s program Afrikawissenschaften at Humboldt-University, Berlin. Her work focuses on literature, culture, gender and queerness in South African regions.


9. August 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
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„Mediated Food Rituals of Transnational Families“ – Pia Weide

As a second project in the research-oriented MA course „Multi-local families in times of increased geographical and communicative mobility“ (summer term 2020), we present Pia Weide’s project „Mediated Food Rituals of transnational families – ‘Doing family’ from a distance – Emotional connectivity and co-presence in culinary practices“.

Researching rituals in culinary practices performed by Germany-based migrants and their distant families on video-based platforms in relation to familyhood.


Mediated co-presence can be created through the use of video-based platforms, which provide emotional connectivity and intimacy, but can also bring communicative challenges and tensions along. By analysing different forms of presence, such as Ambient Co-Presence (Madianou, 2016), Mediated Co-Presence (Marino, 2019) and Connected Presence (Licoppe, 2004) and interviewing migrants living in Hamburg, Germany, I aim to move towards the following questions:

How do rituals in communication practices influence the everyday live of transnational families?


What kind of (new) emotions are created in ambient co-presence?


What role does food play in experiencing emotional boundaries in transnational families?

What emotional difference is experienced when sharing food in mediated co-presence compared to physical presence?

Culinary practices are strongly connected to personal and social identification markers and enable individuals to create a feeling of shared and cultural identity. Food often functions as a preservation of a feeling of belonging, especially in family contexts. It is not just a physical necessity, but also a psychological one that offers community-based practices. Food often organises families’ everyday live at home – so what happens, when food becomes deterritorialized from the physical place of home? How do food practices and emotions shift in mediated co-presence within transnational contexts families?

How can transnational families overcome the physical distance by creating digital rituals of communication in order to exchange emotions, sensory experiences and shared feelings of connectivity?


Comic by Pia Weide

“​(…) food ‘stirs the emotions’ precisely because of its physical nature and sensual affordances, which ‘call the continuity of identity through a vivid nostalgic experience.’”
Lupton 1996: 30.


Copyright © Pia Weide

About the author:
Pia Weide is currently enrolled in the Masters program of Modern South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies at Humboldt University of Berlin.

She studied ‘Regionalstudien Asien / Afrika’ at Humboldt University of Berlin and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2018.

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„Doing Family Multi-Locally Through Care Packages“ – Emma Lo

The research-oriented MA course „Multi-local families in times of increased geographical and communicative mobility“ (summer term 2020) has resulted in very creative works. In this series we present some of the projects, starting with Emma Lo’s work.


Doing family multi-locally can be facilitated by range of different tactics and technologies to keep a family connected across distances and borders. One of these methods of connection is the act of mailing packages and crossing borders with additional baggage containing goods for families. Care packages can be a highly personalized and intimate form of communication, but their contents are subject to national and international regulations (Tristram 2020), and may be informed by a number of micro-and macro-level decisions that shape a multi-local family’s configuration of care (Böcker et al). While this long-established method persists, particularly among multi-local families from East and Southeast Asia, new technologies have made it possible to digitalize aspects of care packages. This zine presents the concept of the care package in the context of multi-local families, and highlights the trajectory of this method in the digital age. The format of this zine, which combines a physical cut-and-paste technique with digital editing, points to the new dynamic that defines multi-local families today: a combination of material and digital interactions that overlap and continuously feed into one another.

Poster by Emma Lo

Poster by Emma Lo

For overseas Filipino workers (OFW), the balikbayan (return to home) box is a kind of care package sent to ‘left-behind’ family members in the Philippines, especially around holidays. These boxes may include cosmetics, shoes and clothing, canned foods and other food items, and even electronics to be repaired (Pinoy-OFW.com 2019). In Helena Patzer’s research on OFWs in the US (2018), she emphasizes the importance of food in balikbayan boxes. Considering the implications of food shipments for multi-local families, she argues that packages from abroad “allow migrants to control food consumption of the family in the country of origin,” which can impact the “changing patterns of food consumption in the community of origin,” touching on the concept of ‘social remittances’.

Another variation of the care package is the red-white-blue bag, which often accompanies travelers between Hong Kong and mainland China. Wessie Ling (2018) writes that “the image and nature of border-crossing travellers carrying a Red-White-Blue bag has developed especially since the 1980s, when mainland China adopted an open policy encouraging population flow between the two regions.”Ubiquitous in East Asia, these bags have also spread to other regions, and are “called a lot of different things by people in different parts of the world. They are Ghana Must Go bags in Nigeria, Zimbabwe bags in South Africa and Türken Koffer in Germany, names that speak to the flow of global migration”(Dewolf 2019).


Poster by Emma Lo

Poster by Emma Lo

After presenting these two types of packages, the zine enters a discussion of contemporary influences: digital innovations and the ongoing corona virus pandemic. Digital platforms provide information about postal and customs regulations, and social media platforms feature multi-media content that offer suggestions for how and what to pack. Mobile phones with video calling capacities allow the recipient family members to open care packages with the sender looking on, who can explain in real-time the contents of the box. This added digital element to the packing, sending, and receiving process brings a new synchronous dynamic to the method. Among the global effects of corona virus are serious issues that affect multi-local families, such preventing people from traveling home, an increased scarcity of certain items, and further economic strain. As scarcities differ from country to country and locality to locality, multi-local families have been shipping surgical masks and other in-demand items to family members in other locations. In addition, charities and some state actors have also shipped boxes of supplies, tests, and trial vaccines to those in need.


Finally, the zine offers some reflection on the conceptual reach of care packages, and traces their influence in the way people are curating content during pandemic-related lockdowns. Without the option to convene in-person events, cultural institutions have put together packages that are shared digitally, offering collections of visual art, poetry, and film, with an emphasis on ‘self-care’. Similar to multi-local families, these institutions have to innovate to find ways to maintain a community from a distance, and have also found the package concept useful.


Copyright: James Watkins

About the author: Emma Lo is currently enrolled in the Masters program of Modern South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies at Humboldt University of Berlin.

She studied Political Science (with Commendation), Modern Languages and Literatures at Kenyon College in Ohio and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2015.





9. August 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
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Podcast zum Online-Forschungsseminar „Homelessness and Homemaking“/Podcast on the online research course “Homelessness and Homemaking”

von Ayşe Çavdar und İclal Ayşe Küçükkırca 

(English podcast description below)

Im vergangenen Wintersemester wurde das Online-Forschungsseminar „Homelessness and Homemaking“ von İclal Ayşe Küçükkırca, Andrea Pető und Duygu Gürsel realisiert. Der Kurs wurde im Rahmen eines Q-Kollegs in Kooperation mit Off-University und dem Querschnittsbereich Gender and Media Studies for the South Asian Region am Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften der HU durchgeführt. Die Förderung des Projektes erfolgte durch das bologna.lab der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

von Sertaç Kayar, 31.03.2019 [www.facebook.com/SertacKaya]

Im hier vorgestellten Podcast werden die Vorgehensweisen und Ergebnisse des Kurses reflektiert. Während der Forschung wurden pädagogische Methoden zum dezentralen und kollektiven Lernen angewandt. Mit drei Forschungsarbeiten und einem Kurzfilm schlossen die Teilnehmerinnen den Kurs ab und stellten in einer Posterausstellung ihre Ergebnisse vor.

***

This podcast discusses the experimental journey of the online research course Homelessness and Homemaking: On Different meanings of the Home Space which was held in Winter Semester 2019/20 by İclal Ayşe Küçükkırca, Andrea Pető and Duygu Gürsel as part of the Q-Kolleg program in cooperation with Off-University and the Department of Gender and Media Studies for the South Asian Region at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at HU Berlin. The course ended up with three research papers and a short movie and at the end a poster exhibition was organized. The participants were from five different countries, all women and three of them were immigrants. Most of the participants have kept on working on the home space after the course and the participants seemed to form a community and are still in touch with each other. It was significant for all to experience new pedagogical aspects such as decentralized learning and collective learning that enable reflexivity and flexibility in the classroom.


Podcast „Homelessness and Homemaking“

Poster by Gonca Şahin


Poster by Melis Aydın 


Poster by Lucia López Salvà


Off-University entwickelt neue Strategien zur Aufrechterhaltung von akademischen Inhalten, die von antidemokratischen und autoritären Regimen bedroht sind. Weitere Informationen zur Off-University sind hier zu finden: off-university.com.  

30. Juni 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Elena Schaetz | Kein Kommentar »
Veröffentlicht unter Allgemein

Podcast zum Thema Solidarität im Protest

von Elisabeth Schweizer, Daria Pirtle und Lisa Freese

Der Podcast befasst sich mit Solidarität in Protestbewegungen und stützt sich hierbei auf das Beispiel der LGSM-Gruppe: „Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners“ aus dem Jahr 1984 aus Großbritannien. Hinzugezogen wird hier der Text „Körperallianzen“ von Judith Butler, der Parallelen zur Protestbewegung aufzeigt. Thematisiert werden außerdem Voraussetzungen, Chancen und Probleme von Solidarität im Protest.

The True Story of „Pride“: Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners Were Communists [https://www.leftvoice.org/The-True-Story-of-Pride-Lesbians-and-Gays-Support-the-Miners-Were-Communists]: „Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners“ von Bartal Yossi, 12.02.2019

Solidarität im Protest Podcast

15. April 2020 | Veröffentlicht von Theresa Sophia Spreckelsen | Kein Kommentar »
Veröffentlicht unter Allgemein