Immigration and The Human Other

Photo credit: UK Home Office on flickr

Photo credit: UK Home Office on flickr

Ahead of her book launch and panel discussion at the Festival on Friday, Lecturer in Culture, Digital Humanities & Creative Industries Btihaj Ajana explains why it’s time we reconsidered our approach to immigration and asylum issues:

Immigration is a hot topic at the moment. Over the last few months, the UK Home Office has been running a series of controversial schemes including the immigration arrest adverts, immigration spot-checks targeting ethnic populations in London, and most recently the ordering of gay and lesbian asylum seekers to ‘prove’ their sexuality. There is nothing new about the fear-mongering attitudes and negative sentiments currently surrounding immigration issues in Britain and elsewhere. Historically, immigration has always been a sensitive topic as it inevitably calls into question issues of identity, difference, belonging, entitlement, race and so on.  These recent schemes, however, are representative of a larger socio-political shift in which a new kind of imaginary is emerging; an imaginary that is shaped by an increasing sense of suspicion towards the ‘other’ and the ‘normalisation’ of various illiberal practices. Fear is becoming a powerful tool of governing and regulating the population. Whether in public discourses, political debates or news media, immigrants and asylum seekers are increasingly being constructed as an existential threat to the well-being and security of the nation. As such, reactions to immigration and asylum issues are currently caught up in a vicious circle whereby governments are responding to public anxieties with more fear-driven measures which, in turn, only ends up fuelling more anxieties and negative attitudes. Fear seems to be, at the moment, a dominant relational affect and a major binding force between citizens and the State.

At one level, the problem is undoubtedly that of (mis-)representation and decontextualisation. Within mainstream political discourses and news reports on issues of immigration and asylum, there is a marked deficit in positive representation and constructive media reporting, coupled with a lack of factual analysis that is capable of addressing this misbalance. Moreover, these debates and reactions often tend to tear issues of immigration and asylum away from their historical and political context. One should not ignore the fact that the enduring legacies of colonialism together with a rising neoliberal globalisation are all some of the undeniable factors that have been deepening the world’s staggering economic inequalities and socio-political problems, and thereby feeding into the wider contextual backdrop of asylum and immigration issues. Staging these issues as if they were stand-alone and decontextualised problems, that only concern ‘others’, is rather irresponsible and misses the bigger picture.

It is about time that so-called citizens begin to question whence their rights and privileges come and to what extent these privileges might be oppressive to others. Parenthetically, this is not about fostering a culture of blame or guilt but a call for a collective and more informed, responsible, accountable and ethical response to issues that do not only touch those who are portrayed as others but the entire fabric of humanity.

More on these issues will be discussed during the event Human Others taking place this Friday (18 October) at 6.30pm in the Safra Lecture Theatre. Book your tickets here

Fairground Freaks & Global Elites

Mat Fraser likes to push boundaries. In the past, this has involved drumming in a punk band, creating and starring in his own musical ‘Thalidomide!’ (about the 1960s morning sickness drug that caused thousands of babies being born with impaired limbs), and routinely getting naked in the burlesque show ‘The Freak and the Showgirl’, where he does comedy, singing and dancing together with his wife, burlesque superstar Julie Atlas Muz.

Mat-Fraser-Cropped-425x528

Fraser’s work is equally entertaining and political, and has caused turmoil both in mainstream and disability culture. He was part of the cast of several soap operas and of the critically acclaimed Channel 4 series ‘Cast Offs’; he performed in Coney Island in a contemporary freak show and he performed as a drummer the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony. He also starred in plays by Graeae and was part of an all-disabled recreation of Rodin’s sculpture ‘The Kiss’. What makes his work particularly refreshing is that it is shamelessly entertaining but also unapologetically reveals and questions stigma and stereotypes surrounding disabled sexuality and the disabled body in general.

A lot of Mat Fraser’s work explores the history of the freak show: This space used to be the only option for disabled people who wanted to work in performance or in show business, and Fraser’s work fascinatingly illustrates how the representation of disability has changed over the years, and how contemporary freak shows, like Coney Island, operate.

In “Fairground Freaks & Global Elites” – a comedy show about hideous things and how progress sings, Fraser again carefully draws attention to those themes, but includes, in his typical manner, wicked humour that is anything but politically correct and taboo-defying, and thus this wildly entertaining one hour show is the perfect way to start off Friday evening.

“Fairground Freaks & Global Elites” – A shamelessly entertaining Friday evening with Mat Fraser takes place this Friday (18 October) in the Great Hall at the Strand Campus. Book your tickets here.

The Changing Face of Roman Britain

…For nothing he achieved
was greater than to sire this son of his.
To tame the Britons in their sea-girt isle, To sail victorious up the seven-mouthed Nile…

Ovid – Metamorphoses
Translated by A.D. Melville, Oxford World’s Classics

Despite Ovid’s relative dismissal of the Roman conquest of Britain, its effects are still with us over two thousand years later. Tonight’s talk – by the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins, Professor Michael Trapp, and Dr John Pearce – will explore in more detail the transformations (and wishful transformations) the Romans presence had on our isle.

In advance of the talks, two podcasts by Professor William Fitzgerald on Ovid’s poem, which has inspired art & literature (and of course, the theme for this festival) ever since. In the first part, Professor Fitzgerald provides some background on the text:

While in part two, he looks in more detail at the transformations and themes in the work:

Tweets and the Streets: Social Media, Protest Mobilisation and Revolutionary Transformation

On Thursday, Dr Tim Jordan from the Department of Culture, Media and the Creative Industries will chair an exciting and topical discussion about the role of social media in contemporary activism. He will be joined by Dr Paolo Gerbaudo, who joined King’s in September and whose whose book, Tweets and the Streets, was published this month.

Tweets and the Streets book cover

❝ The concept of transformation that constitutes the main theme for this year’s Arts and Humanities festival at King’s is one which I have had the chance to reflect much about during my recent research into the use of social media in the recent wave of protest movements from the Arab Spring, to the indignados and Occupy, which has constituted the basis for my book Tweets and the Streets (2012). Studying the doings of this new wave of digital activists, from Facebook page admins, to activist tweeps, have made me think of the nature of protest mobilisation precisely as a process of transformation of those who are involved rather than simply their coordination across time and space. Continue reading

SPLAS Showcase

As a new PhD candidate in Latin American Studies, I am sure that there is no better department to be a part of than SPLAS (Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies) at King’s College, as clichéd as that sounds. What makes the department such an inspiring place to work is the enormous variety of subjects researched. Spanning from Madrid to Mexico to Mozambique, research in our department encompasses literature, theatre, art, music, journalism, politics, and history, from the Medieval to the Twenty-first Century. While PhD research is often said to be isolating, belonging to SPLAS and taking part in the regular events it hosts connects your small, individual research areas to a truly interdisciplinary and global field. As someone who has always found it incredibly hard to narrow my interests to one subject, I really appreciate the opportunity to keep learning about music in the Brazilian favelas or punk publishing in 1980s Spain through the work of the other PhD students.

Now as part of the Arts and Humanities Festival, we have kindly been given an opportunity to share this diverse departmental activity with the public, at our showcase on Monday 22nd October (K.2.29 Council Room, Strand Campus). Running from 3pm to 7pm, the event will feature a wide range of PhD candidates – from absolute beginners like me to those about to hand in their finished dissertations – each speaking for about seven minutes. These will not be traditional conference papers, so no prior subject knowledge is needed to follow the presentations. Instead, we will just be introducing our research, sharing our passions and hopefully encouraging the audience to find out more about what we do. The presentations will be arranged around themes, including ‘Voices from the periphery’, ‘Art, Music and Theatre in Latin America’ and, fitting with the overall theme of Metamorphoses, ‘Transitions’. After each panel there will be time for questions, and then a short break for more informal chats. Then from 6.15, we will hold a round-table between staff and students, discussing research issues including how to better communicate research in the digital age; issues which are by no means limited to the SPLAS department. Finally, the evening will end with a wine reception, in true Latin style, where we will be very happy to talk more about our research and the motivations behind it.

The full schedule can be found here – take a look and pop in for whatever appeals to you. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Theatre of Two Times

Gdansk Theatre Exhibition

On October 13th, the first day of this year’s festival, the Polish ambassador will join us at Somerset House for the opening of the Theatre of Two Times exhibition, which charts the extraordinary history of an Elizabethan-style Polish playhouse from its beginnings in 17th century Gdansk to its renaissance in the present day.

It bears witness to the transformation of the Gdansk ‘Fencing School,’ where English travelling troupes staged early modern English drama, into its 21stcentury modern reconstruction: the Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre, which will open its doors in 2014. Continue reading