Dalia Bhattacharjee, One of GPC’s 2019 New and Emerging Scholar Award Recipients

Dalia Bhattacharjee is currently a doctoral researcher at the department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, India. She situates her work in the discipline of Feminist Geography. Her research is an ethnographic inquiry into the lives of the women working as surrogate mothers in the Indian commercial surrogacy industry. The central objective of her work has been to bring to the fore voices of the reproductive laborers within a cacophony of discussions on the economics, politics, and ethics of surrogate motherhood in India. Dalia received one of two GPC 2019 New and Emerging Scholar Awards. She shares details about her research and the award in the guest blog post below.

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I approach commercial surrogacy as a form of intimate labor and attempt to show that the labor performed by the women in this intimate economy does not only lead to alienation and objectification, despite being exploitative. In fact, the narratives collected in my study highlight that even in the regulated conditions maintained by the medical clinics, laborers can achieve a sense of self-empowerment through surrogacy practices. While it is important to acknowledge the exploitative practices that treat women’s bodies as disposable within this global circuitry of third-party reproduction, it is equally important to pay attention to the emotional journeys and embodied experiences of the reproductive laborers in their gestation period. Inspired by the work in feminist geography and emotional geography, my research focus on the everyday world of the reproductive laborers and the centrality of women’s embodiment. Such an approach, I argue, is imperative as it is sensitive to the needs of its main actors.

I am honored and delighted to receive the GPC Emerging Scholar Award. It is indeed a very significant award for me. Coming from the Global South, with the absence of sufficient scholarships and grants to present my work in international conferences, the GPC award provides an avenue for me to present the voices of the women working as surrogate mothers in India on a global platform. While the women bear babies for people from all over the world, their stories remain largely hidden in the global knowledge production process. This award helps me in uncovering these Third-world knowledges by finding them a space in the international platform.

My future plan remains to further explore feminist theories in geography to expand my research, especially to understand the materiality of the body with respect to feminist materialism.

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Volume 25, Issue 10, October 2018 is now available online

Invited Articles
Reflections on mentoring as decolonial, transnational, feminist praxis
Beverley Mullings & Sanjukta Mukherjee

Articles
Masculine love and sensuous reason: the affective and spatial politics of Egyptian Ultras football fans
Frances S. Hasso

Spatial crossings: gender, race and politics in Yucatecan Maya municipalities
Laura Loyola-Hernández

Operation ‘Long Distance Parenting’: the moral struggles of being a Danish soldier and father | Open Access
Maj Hedegaard Heiselberg

‘The right to aspire to achieve’: performing gendered and class privilege at elite private schools in Auckland, New Zealand
Hayley Sparks

The micro-politics of emotions in legal space: an autoethnography about sexual violence and displacement in Norway
Anne Bitsch

Opening up a space for women: matinees in Izmir Culture Park
Meltem Eranıl Demirli & Meltem Ö. Gürel

Book Review
25th Anniversary Retrospective: Gender, Work, and Space Susan Hanson and Geraldine Pratt, 1995
Jesús I’x Nazario

Calls for Papers
Call for dissertation précis
Pamela Moss

Volume 25, Issue 9, September 2018 is now available online

Invited Article
Feminist geographies and participatory action research: co-producing narratives with people and place
Kye Askins

Articles
Violence on bodies: Space, social reproduction and intersectionality
Sutapa Chattopadhyay

Gender and sexual violence, forced marriages, and primitive accumulation during the Cambodian genocide, 1975–1979
James A. Tyner

Reading Caliban and the Witch politically
Fiona Jeffries

Dies-non: refusal of work in the 21st century
Pierpaolo Mudu

Accumulation by difference-making: an anthropocene story, starring witches
Rosemary-Claire Collard & Jessica Dempsey

Three reflections on Revolution at Point Zero for (re)producing an alternative academy
Caitlin Henry

Urban community gardens, commons, and social reproduction: revisiting Silvia Federici’s Revolution at Point Zero
Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro

On reproduction as an interpretative framework for social/gender relations
Silvia Federici

Book Reviews
Evocative autoethnography: writing lives and telling stories
Madyson Crawford

Intimate economies of immigration detention: critical perspectives
Leslie Gross-Wyrtzen

Announcement
Annual Award for New and Emerging Scholars, 2019

Marriage under Occupation: a year on

In this short blog contribution I follow up on last year’s GPC article ‘Marriage under Occupation …’ in which Mikko Joronen and I discussed spousal visa restrictions in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. In the article we presented ten such cases based on interviews conducted in early 2018. This month I travelled to Bethlehem to meet three of the women and hear more about their visa situations and life in Palestine.

There are hundreds of non-Palestinian spouses of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank. The majority of them are women and their right to reside in the West Bank is dependent on a fixed-term Israeli-issued spousal visa that, in recent years, has become increasingly difficult to obtain and renew. Nobody really knows why this is the case – Israel is rarely open about its administrative procedures in Palestine – but from what can be gleaned by lawyers, journalists and activists, at some point in 2017 visas became shorter and stricter. As Mikko Joronen and I documented in our Gender, Place & Culture article ‘Marriage under Occupation …’, this development brought a precarity to the women’s lives centred on the threat of separation from loved ones. For that article we interviewed 10 women in early 2018 about their struggles with greater visa precarity and the effects it had on their family and political life. Many of the women were stressed and anxious (one talked of becoming paranoid), all were tired of being unable to take on paid work (thus tying them more to the home) and some were talking about leaving Palestine (one already had). We thus made the argument that Israel’s spousal visa regulations contribute to the (re)production of uneven gender relations and the demographic objective of emptying out the West Bank.

This month I was able to travel to Palestine to meet with three of the women included in the research. They had been so kind to talk so openly during the interviews and they were generous again to meet with me for lunch and to talk more about their visa situations and lives in Palestine. In many ways not much has changed: Susanna, Sophie and Hanneke each live in bureaucratic precarity because of their decisions to marry and settle in the West Bank. Or rather, because Israel continues to dominate so many aspects of Palestinian life, including their cases of inter-national marriages. For Susanna, a European living in Bethlehem with her Palestinian husband and daughter, to remain in the West Bank she must live within all kinds of restrictions: she cannot travel the 5km north to Jerusalem (meaning that access to consular services is restricted), she is not allowed to use Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport (meaning she has to travel through Jordon), nor is she permitted to take on paid work. As Susanna memorably exclaimed during our interview in January 2018:

“I’m not only a mum and a housewife having a job is crucially important, it’s not only that you’re financially independent but also it makes it easier to survive the occupation, otherwise you’re just going to sit in the house and to think of every day bad things that are happening around you … psychologically, that’s the thing that scares me the most more than any physical obstacle they put on us. Those things you can some how manage, understand, comprehend – but psychological pressure that they are putting on people here… it’s just terrible, it’s disgusting, it’s disgusting!”

Susanna’s friend, Sophie is European too but doesn’t live in relatively relaxed Bethlehem; Sophie lives further north and is thus subject to quite severe restrictions on mobility: she is often unable to pass through military checkpoints and she is often unable to attend legal hearings on her status because (like Susanna) she does not have a permit to travel to Jerusalem. Still, Sophie remains steadfast and smiles as she talked about her friends there, a gym she attends and the never ending cycle of visa applications and court hearings.

When I first spoke to the women last year, they had become exasperated by such uncertainty, now they seem calmer, less worn-down by the bureaucratic circles. They are very aware that their cases are but a small part of the protracted, unjust and violent occupation of Palestine and they certainly don’t dwell; they’re keener to talk of the last few days: attacks by settlers in Hebron and fatal shootings of young Palestinians in Nablus by soldiers.

We also talked of the women who weren’t at the lunch because they have decided to leave Palestine. Laura and Ahmad left last month, the uncertainty of the situation had brought a strain; already in 2017 Laura had worried “my visa period is getting shorter and shorter and I don’t know when they will just say ‘no’”. Ahmad made it clear: “since they reduced the visa time, we can’t take the risk … we have two kids”. We talk also of another couple I’d met during the research – Katie and Hamsa, who’d lived in Ramallah – for whom the strain had become too great. Katie was the one whom the ICA representative warned: “if you decide to stay here we will treat you worse than a Palestinian”. They did and she did: her desire to gain paid employment had put too much of a strain. Hanneke has also thought seriously about leaving but is – for the moment – determined to stay. It is a worrying trend that people are leaving – that spousal visas contribute to the emptying out of the West Bank – as Israel seeks every advantage in its demographic war in Palestine.

But there was also something else that couldn’t pass without comment: Susanna is carrying a significant bump, she pats it exclaiming “but we have another one arriving right here”. She and her husband Rabeh will welcome their second child within a month. Susanna’s case was marked by quite high levels of anxiety – she freely admits that she didn’t like living in Palestine at all “for about the first three years I thought about leaving every day” – but now she’s settled and will not leave, “not even if my husband wants to, this is our home”. Sophie then announced to us all that she too is expecting a baby, it was a lovely moment (especially also because I was able to share similar news!) of smiles with a serious consequence, since Sophie too intends to remain. As they were quick to point out: these are the demographic consequences that will hopefully resist the strategies of ‘emptying out’ that we discussed in the original research. It was nice to realise this and to find the Susanna and Sophie excited about building their families, looking to a Palestinian future.

This is not intended as an account of how Europeans and Americans are affected by Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It is about Palestinians’ rights to form relationships with people and to live with them in dignity, without the constant anxiety of deportation or refused re-entry. While it is the case that, for instance, military checkpoints and demolition orders receive some (but still not enough) wider attention, aside these prominent apparatuses of the occupation lie Israel’s more subtle administrative practices that effect all manner of human rights abuses through – to name only some examples – urban planning zones, identity card categories, building and travel permits, and protracted and opaque bureaucratic procedures.

The issue of spousal visas is one of these subtle but potent strategies that the Israeli state uses to manage the Palestinian population. From our research last year and the meeting this month, there is strong evidence of its efficacy as people are leaving. But as ever, as is always the case in Palestine, it is never as simple as that: wherever there is an inventive occupation strategy, there are people like Susanna, Sophie and Hanneke who refuse to budge. May they and their families remain steadfast in the continued resistance to the illegal practises of this awful occupation.

Mark Griffiths, Bethlehem

 

Guest Blog Post: Why I Tell Narratives by Yogesh Mishra

Yogesh Mishra is a postdoctoral fellow at IIT Delhi (India). His doctoral research focuses on everyday life in Kashmir. Inspired by feminist writings, he is learning to appreciate the power of narratives, stories, and (auto)biographies oscillating between poetry and prose as a medium of expression.

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Recently, a 19-year-old Kashmiri student forwarded me a newspaper article, which he had written for an online newspaper. This article was about the history of Kashmir, a piece based on the historical facts and accounts of popular understanding of a six-decade-long conflict, i.e., the Kashmir conflict. I asked him why he does not write something about his own experiences growing up in a conflict zone; his journey and his first-hand experiences, detailing the human side of this conflict, not just some facts or numbers, but lived realities. To this, he replied, “People (readers) would dismiss my writings considering it an emotional outlet or my narratives might not be considered good for the theoretical framework; not a serious attempt, as I am being told such writing lacks a theoretical foundation.” I could understand his situation and his leaning towards facts and ‘serious research’, abandoning his personal journey in one of the most militarized zones in the world. This 19-year-old boy was telling me something, which I had been advised, rather, instructed several times in the last couple of years. I remember, in one of the conferences, after my presentation on ‘Everyday Spaces in a Contested Land’, a young woman commented that what I had told them was all stories. She said, “Where is a theory in these narratives?” These narratives, according to her, were not fit for an academic audience. I wish I could tell her that those so-called narratives were about the lived realities of the people from the Kashmir Valley. Kashmir is a contested place, where life happens amidst ruptured routines, crackdowns, encounters, and under the shadow of perpetual violence. I wish I could tell her, as many feminist scholars also argue, that it is not about choosing between subjectivity, analytic rigor or validity of narratives, it is about theorizing the links between everyday experiences, and ‘knowledge’. And for those working on feminist methodologies, theorizing links between experience and knowledge has been a central concern (Gelsthorpe, 1992). Similarly, feminist scholars argue that there is no distinctive feminist “method”; instead, feminist analyses should be cognizant of the nexus of knowledge and power (Subramaniam, 2016). Therefore, in this direction, narratives of lived realities and everyday gendered experiences, hidden in the banality of life, provide an entry into lives of people where spoken words emerge containing vivid details of everyday routine highlighting the micro-structure of the power hierarchy, often ignored in search of something spectacular.

For my doctoral dissertation, following the works of feminist geographers, I made an attempt to look into the mundane aspects of everyday life in Kashmir. My engagement with feminist geography was new. But, I realized the need to engage with everyday narratives where everything else appears subsumed under the rubrics of nationalism, ethnicity, and similar discourses avoiding gender dimensions and neutralizing the experiences of the Kashmiri people.

At times, puzzled and perplexed by the ‘concerns’ of my friends regarding ‘lack of theoretical rigor in choosing everyday narratives’; ‘not so academic endeavor’; or, ‘having a tone of ethnographic supremacy’, I used to turn towards scholars like Hannah Arendt who says that storytelling is a strategy for transforming private into public meanings. For me, the narratives of loss, grief, trauma, love, fear, compassion or embracing several such emotions were a methodological entry point to understand socio-cultural processes at various scales.

As a poet and scholar, Audre Lorde writes that poetry is a medium to express one’s hopes and dreams; it is about survival, struggle, and change. In her words, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizon of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives” (p.186). I knew that a single narrative or even more than a few could not capture the lived realities of Kashmiri people. However, I learned that those stories, poems or couplets were much more than the fragments of ‘truth’ or reality. I saw these stories as part of a larger narrative, giving a sense of a larger societal structure. These stories were also about place-making processes, and meanings attached to various spaces. I could understand how deeply people’s lives were embedded in multiple discourses enduring intersections of conflict and struggle for peace. Further, I was also able to grasp how these experiences, grounded in local geography and embedded in different spatial-temporal contexts may drive methodological innovation.

Everyone has a story, a story of her own. As Joan Didion says, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” This is exactly what I could sense in the stories shared with me by my respondents, highlighting a diversity of contexts, and multilayered everyday experiences captured in those stories – sometimes in parts, in fragments, or occasionally as ‘stream of consciousness’. My limited understanding of feminist methodologies allowed me to be sensitive and reflexive towards my personal relationships with my respondents who were at the center of my research. I also imbibed a sense of reflexive practices, the importance of reflecting on the position of a researcher in the field or meaning of ‘epistemic privilege’.

I relied on those words, words full of emotions, feelings, experiences, lived realities and carrying much more than I could ever read. At last, I want to quote Simone de Beauvoir as once she said: “It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.” And to me, stories, poems, (auto) biographies and narratives of everyday lived realities open a window to bring such voices into the research process. These narratives make visible the invisible existence of those who occupy different spaces and are grounded in the specificity of one’s own lived experience.

References:

Byrd, R. P., Cole, J. B., & Guy-Sheftall, B. (Eds.). (2009). I am your sister: Collected and unpublished writings of Audre Lorde. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Didion, J. (1979): The White Album, Simon and Schuster. New York.

Gelsthorpe L. 1992. Response to Martyn Ham- mersley’s paper “On feminist methodology.” Sociology, 26(2), 213-18.

Subramaniam, B. (2016). Stories we tell. Economic and Political Weekly,51(18), 57-63.