Human Rights in Transit Podcast
Human Rights in Transit is a podcast hosted by a collaborative network of faculty and graduate students at Ohio State University invested in thinking critically about human rights, the human, and the environment. Podcasts will feature dialogues and interviews on the vital and myriad forms of scholarship, critical thinking, and activism relating to human rights in transit.
Human Rights: Multiple Origin Stories
Where did the idea of human rights come from? There are many origin stories for this idea. In podcast episode eight, Dr. Katherine Marino and Dr. Jennifer Suchland give an introductory summary of some of the origins and struggles that have accompanied the evolution of the idea of human rights. In reflecting on multiple origin stories – from European concepts of the human and empathy to Haitian revolutionaries demanding their humanity – the conversation reveals the limitations, contradictions, and possible future of human rights.
Linguistic Profiling and Discrimination in Higher Education
In this episode, Ohio State University PhD student Swati Vijaya (Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies) examines language as a site of discrimination with fellow graduate student Elena Mary (Department of Spanish and Portuguese). Drawing on their experiences at Ohio State University, they bring forth the specific ways linguistic profiling marginalizes ESL (English as a Second Language) students.
There are multiple questions to be asked about how language profiling works within neoliberal universities, which continue to operate with a logic of empire in the way they can imagine and employ “diversity.” The liberal multiculturalism which undergirds institutional conceptions of difference commonly identifies race, class, ethnicity, gender and ability as common denominators. While no substantive intersectionality can be achieved even within the bounds of these stratifiers, one axis of hierarchy that is often carefully crafted into the administrative machinery of the university is language.
While histories of colonialism have left behind multi-layered linguistic ravages, the contemporary politics of speech has specific consequences in Western English-speaking universities. Language is a site of empire in that it is used as a potent means to carry and perpetuate dominant ideologies. For example, in the academy a language of civility is deployed to hierarchically situate certain bodies and voices over others. In our everyday diversity parlance, enfleshment of racial difference fails to account for how our speech profiles us. John Baugh (2003) uses dialectology and socio-linguistics to explain “linguistic profiling” as an auditory equivalent of visual “racial profiling.” Other scholars draw a direct and correlation between the two phenomena to critically examine institutional bias against accented English-speakers, who also happen to be students of color (Kumaravadivelu 2006; Chin 2009).
Linguistic profiling is systematized through elaborate institutional mechanisms that span across borders. The creatively crafted global web of British Councils, TESO (teachers of English as a second language) associations and ESL programming exemplify transnational linguistic empires. These institutions perpetuate linguistic and racial prejudice across the scope of the academy, morphed under elaborate administrative apparati that uphold the liberal university’s agenda of “universal student success.” Consequently, the widespread practice of accent discrimination is normalized into the everyday functioning of academia (Ovalle and Chakraborty 2013; Holborow 2006).
Baugh, John. “Linguistic Profiling.” Black Linguistics: Language, Society, and Politics in Africa and the Americas. Ed. Sinfree Makoni, et al. Routledge, 2003. 155-168.
Chin, William Y. “Linguistic Profiling in Education: How Accent Bias Denies Equal Educational Opportunities to Students of Color.” The Scholar 12 (2009): 355-384.
Holborow, Marnie. “Ideology and Language: Interconnections Between Neo-liberalism and English.” (Re-)Locating TESOL in an Age of Empire. Ed. Julian Edge. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 85-103.
Ovalle, Brynne D. and Rahul Chakraborty. “Accent Policy and Accent Modification Enterprises as Potential Indicators of Intercultural Power Relations: A Call for an Updated Research Agenda.” Perspectives on Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders 3.22-23 (2013): 1-22.
Kumaravadivelu. “Dangerous Liaison: Globalization, Empire and TESOL.” (Re-)Locating TESOL in an Age of Empire. Ed. Julian Edge. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 1-26.
Europe’s “Refugee Crisis” and Dynamics of Mediterranean Migration and Reception: What Kind of Crisis? For Whom?
This episode focuses on contemporary migration to the EU, and in particular on circumstances related to Mediterranean crossing. Eleanor Paynter, a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies at OSU, speaks with Dr. Vicki Squire, a Reader in International Security at the University of Warwick, UK.
More specifically, this conversation addresses issues related to what has been termed a migrant or refugee “crisis” in Europe. For whom is the situation really a crisis, and what is at stake? Although Mediterranean migration is not a new phenomenon, boat crossings from North Africa to the shores of Southern Europe increased after the Arab Spring in 2011, and again during the Syrian conflict. Between 2015 and 2016, approximately 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the EU, Norway, and Switzerland, many of them having arrived via sea routes or after crossing the Balkans on foot. Media coverage of Mediterranean migration has focused especially on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where many migrants arrive (and which was featured in the 2016 film Fire at Sea, by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi). Yet other locations are also key sites. Since mid-2015, the EU’s hotspot approach has attempted to distribute the reception process across multiple sites, and Squire’s recent projects have focused on so-called hotspots, in Greece and Italy, as well as both arrival and transit sites in Malta, Germany, and Turkey.
In her work at EU and US borders, Dr. Squire has focused on the notion of dignity. A fundamental concept in human rights, dignity is key both to survival and, of course, in circumstances of death and burial. Migrant deaths make headlines in extreme cases, such as the 2013 memorial held in Lampedusa for a shipwreck on Oct. 3 in which 366 people died, but deaths are, in fact, a regular part of precarious border crossing. Squire has recently compared the contexts of the Mediterranean Sea and the Sonoran Desert in the Southwestern US to discuss how migrant deaths constitute what she terms “biophysical violence,” or “abandonment to death by natural causes.” In this podcast episode, Squire refers to directives such as Operation Blockade, enacted in the El Paso, Texas, area in 1993, which blocked well-trodden migration paths, prompting routes to shift to more dangerous desert crossings.
While Squire’s work aims to develop better understandings of these dynamics for scholarly and policy purposes, she is also concerned with how border issues are narrated to and understood by the broader public. The recent Crossing the Mediterranean by Boat research project involved 250 interviews with migrants, and a map featuring a selection of those interviews is now available as a public resource.
Artistic collaborations represent another way in which this academic work reaches a wider audience. Artist Bern O’Donoghue responds to these issues as a humanitarian crisis. O’Donoghue’s recent installation “Dead Reckoning,” in which origami boats represent migrants who have drowned at sea, also featured narratives from the Crossing the Mediterranean by Boat project.
The interactive dimensions of Dead Reckoning help convey research findings, including individual migrant narratives, in tangible ways, and through dialogue. This art-research collaboration joins a growing body of recent artistic exhibitions that have garnered attention for a range of issues related to forced displacement and precarious migration, including work on shelter at MOMA, underwater sculptures off the coast of Spain, and a display of objects left by migrants crossing the desert in Arizona. As Squire suggests at the end of this episode, by engaging audiences with issues and research findings through artistic media, this kind of collaboration challenges us to consider the significance of our positions as witnesses to these ongoing situations.
Sites offering additional information about Mediterranean migration:
Projects and collaborations mentioned:
Episode Five: Rethinking Representation in Diaspora: Art, Research, and Community Building
This episode takes up questions related to the potential of art for community building by focusing on a Columbus-based project with the local Somali community. Eleanor Paynter, a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies, speaks with Qorsho Hassan, an educator, researcher, and community organizer, and Ruth Smith, an artist, researcher, and educator, about their participatory photography and book project, Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between. The conversation considers the need for projects which build and share collective memory, as well as the ways in which narratives can bridge geographical and generational gaps.
Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between, the project by Qorsho Hassan and Ruth Smith, is a participatory research project, which means, broadly speaking, that research subjects are involved in the development of the project as a whole. Such projects can take any of a number of forms; participatory projects might involve the development of community spaces, such as the Edible Hut project in Detroit. Or they might involve the creation of art; Urban Art Works in Seattle, for instance, works with community members to design and paint murals in spaces around the city. The Muslim Neighbors project which Smith mentions in this episode is another such example.
Rather than entering a community to identify and collect information, participatory projects usually aim to effect long-term change by involving community members in the co-production of knowledge and, often, by offering something in return for the willingness of participants to share their time and experience. In the case of Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between, the project has involved training two young photographers and assembling narratives in book and gallery form, collections which will continue to circulate and which will likely prompt further storytelling, even after the exhibit closes.
For Hassan and Smith, one of the main ideas behind the kind of participatory research they facilitate is to challenge the circulation of a single narrative – in other words, to create and multiply the narratives communities tell about themselves and which become available to others outside the community. In their current research, Hassan and Smith are interested in how individuals and groups in diaspora build community and maintain connections between home and host countries. They begin by acknowledging “the consistent renegotiation of belonging and social norms within Somali and American cultures” and ask, “Where do Somali-Americans build their communities?” The narratives produced through the project represent both process and findings. Hassan and Smith have identified multiple unifying factors in the narratives, including “patterns of resiliency, particularly in the narratives of visible Muslim women.” The narratives suggest, they explain, that “communities are built amidst the in-between.”
This kind of project also responds to the question: who produces knowledge about a particular community? As Hassan mentions in the episode, research in Somalia and Somali communities has historically been produced by white scholars, mostly men. A variety of efforts have taken shape to speak against this legacy of colonialism. Mandeeq, a collective of scholars who define themselves as “unapologetically Somali,” actively works to decolonize knowledge production. Novelist Teju Cole discusses the broad scope of this issue in the development and humanitarian aid sectors in a 2012 article in the Atlantic on “the White Savior Industrialist Complex.” Participatory research can challenge colonial forms of knowledge production. Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between is, at its heart, a project in which Somali-Americans produce their own stories and represent themselves.
Follow Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between here:
Dublin Arts Council is presenting Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between in collaboration with guest preparators Ruth Smith and Qorsho Hassan. The exhibition will be on view from August 8 – November 3, 2017.
Episode Four: Translating the Transnational
Sujatha Subramanian, a PhD student in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, is in conversation with Jennifer Nunes and Tatsiana Shchurko about the complexities of translation in a transnational space. In their conversations, the speakers discuss the complexity of translating concepts, theories and epistemologies, and complicate the idea of translation beyond concerns of accuracy or faithfulness to focus on the political, social and cultural contexts in which translation takes place. Jennifer, a Masters student in East Asian Studies, discusses her project on translating the works of contemporary Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua and the process of using translation to interrogate the invisibility of the translator in standard English translation. Tatsiana, a PhD student in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, underlines the power context undergirding translation by highlighting how unlike knowledge produced in the Anglo-American world, knowledge produced in the non-English speaking world are not seen as theory. In their conversation, the speakers point to the possibility of using translation as a decolonial tool that can disrupt the hegemony of English language as marking literary excellence and as producing universally applicable theory.
Episode 3: What is a sanctuary city?
In episode three, we discuss the issue of sanctuary, which is now widely discussed in local governments and university campuses across the nation. With the recent rise in political rhetoric and policies that aim to detain and deport undocumented migrants/immigrants in the United States, many are asking for sanctuary policies. But, what does this mean? What is a sanctuary city? In this episode, Dr. Mathew Coleman of OSU’s Department of Geography shares a wealth of knowledge about the history and practice of sanctuary. Importantly, he clarifies that sanctuary is not a form of amnesty, but rooted in community policing practices that are tied to previous waves of Central Americans seeking refuge in the United States. Sanctuary policies have sought, through community policing practices, to have a positive impact on vulnerable populations and community safety. Listen in for an in-depth discussion of sanctuary past and present.
Episode Two: Problematizing Humanitarian Intervention in Latin America
In episode two, Malia Lee Womack, a PhD/MA student in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Latin American Studies (respectively), interviews Dr. Katherine Borland, an Associate Professor of Folklore Studies and Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. In their conversation they explore the complexities of United States students volunteering in and providing aid to Latin America, and examine human rights strategies and grassroots organizing occurring in the region. Womack and Borland consider in what ways disadvantaged communities are generally more able to identify the problems they face and the most ideal solutions to these problems. Given the value of grassroots organizing and critiques of imperial intervention in Latin America, what obligations do wealthier nations and their citizens have to contribute to the empowerment of people in Latin American countries? How should this intervention be modeled?
Episode One: Thinking Across Refugee and Indigenous (Re)Settlement
In episode one, we feature a dialogue between Professors Amy Shuman and Daniel Rivers on the interconnections between the refugee and resettlement experiences of Indigenous Americans and those coming from other countries. Not often considered in relation to one another, there are important similarities, tensions, differences, and possibilities for solidarity in thinking across the forced migration and resettlement imposed by settler colonialism and the resettlement of refugees from other countries coming to the United States.