Interview with Dr. Kelsey Hanrahan, Recipient of a 2017 New and Emerging Scholars Award

In 2007, the editorial team introduced the Gender, Place and Culture annual award for new and emerging scholars with funds supplied by Taylor & Francis. We are excited to share an interview with Dr. Kelsey Hanrahan, one of the 2017 recipients of this award. Thank you, Kelsey, for responding to our questions!

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Dr. Kelsey Hanrahan (right) sitting next to a woman who she shares a grandmother-granddaugther relationship with. The photograph was taken during her dissertation research in Ghana in 2013.

Where do you see your work drawing on or fitting into feminist geography?

I was first drawn into feminist geographies because of the way these geographies work to understand everyday experiences. Similarly with feminist ethics of care, I was drawn into the body of work by its roots, where feminist scholars sought to understand the ways in which people made ethical decisions based not on abstract universalist principles but on the factors that they were facing in their everyday lives.

A project I am currently working on—part of the research I did in northern Ghana for my dissertation—draws on feminist considerations of the body and work in feminist gerontology. I consider how changing physical abilities associated with ageing result in shifts within interpersonal relationships and how, in a community where love is demonstrated in everyday acts of labour, significant emotional challenges accompany ageing. Ageing and later life have been relegated to a marginal position in geography for decades, and even within the growing areas of geographies of age, later life receives significantly less attention. Current conversations in feminist and related geographies of the body, love and emotions are one intersection in which we can contribute to both geographies of age and feminist geographies with our understandings of the experiences of women in later life. While my work so far is specifically contextualized within a rural agrarian setting in Ghana, the experiences of the women I worked with challenge us to remained attuned to how bodies—even those who may have lived much of their lives fitting normative expectations—are subject to displacement both physical and emotional.

What are your current projects?

I see my work as contributing to an ongoing project that is working to better understand care. I have drawn on feminist geographies and feminist ethics of care to work towards shifting my own ontological foundation towards recognizing our fundamental connectedness and therefore the central forces of our interdependencies. Recognizing and working from a place of connectedness, for me, requires me to continually check myself as the dominant discourses of individuality—and the power of individual experiences and narratives in shaping our understandings—work to give the perception that this connectedness is in opposition to individuality and independence.

While I continue to work with my dissertation research data, I am also developing my next research project that will build on these questions of care and intergenerationality and consider the construction of care for Ghana’s older residents. The project will contribute by developing an understanding of how care policy and practice are constructed in a region committed to health development and to understand the ways in which these initiatives may be failing to attend to the needs of an ageing population. I aim to understand how individuals and communities identify care-related needs and in turn legitimize access to care to particular bodies and give shape to the spaces in which people try to access care.

What do you see in your future?

This coming fall I start the first year of a tenure-track position at Towson University in Maryland, USA, after spending this past year as a visiting professor in the same department. I’ve enjoyed engaging students in my courses, particularly geographies of Africa and geographies of health & care, where students are challenged to recognize and explore alternative perspectives. I’m also excited about contributing new courses to the program—qualitative research methods, as well as feminist geographies. I think these courses will contribute an important facet to our students’ program, adding breadth to their skill set and supporting to prepare them to work in their communities in ways that are both respectful and creatively critical.

What do enjoy most about the work you do?

Looking at everyday life requires that we ask a lot of the people we work with. The work I conducted in Ghana considered everyday experiences of work and care from the starting point of personal relationships. The women with whom I worked brought me into deeply personal spaces of their experiences. They shared with me not only material and physical facets of their lives, but emotional dimensions of their position within intergenerational relationships and everyday strategies. Their openness to me, and to the work I was doing, provided me with a rich and textured understanding of their everyday lives. This has contributed to my ability to explore care in ways that both respect the specific context I am considering and present elements that connect across space. I love working on intergenerational relationships and care—in large part because of the reactions of others when I discuss my work. The themes and stories I tell almost invariably evoke empathic reactions, despite talking across significant physical and cultural distances. People recognize pieces of their lives in the work I present and in turn share with me their own experiences of care and intergenerational relationships.

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