The final GDRD workshop of the spring term took place on Friday 5th of March 2021. The session, hosted by Research Division Lead Alex Arnall, covered a broad range of topics centring around the theme of inequality and intersectionality.

The first speaker was Ruth Evans who presented her work on the intersecting inequalities that affect care in transnational families. For many of us, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted existing challenges and deficits in care. It has brought into sharp focus the importance of migrant labour in provisioning the sector. However, discussions relating to migrants are often limited to their role as workers and seldom consider their own complex care needs and responsibilities. Ruth’s research focuses on care in the context of transnational families, who retain a sense of collectivism and kinship despite being in different countries. Care in these families is viewed as highly reciprocal and multidirectional but also often involving asymmetric exchanges. In recent years, there has been an increasingly hostile environment aimed at migrants who encounter structural racism at multiple levels. Ruth’s pre-pandemic research has already demonstrated the profound impacts of systemic discrimination against migrants have on caring and grieving at a distance. In her new project, Ruth and a team of collaborators across Europe will build on this work to gain a deeper understanding of how existing care-related challenges intersect with those created by the pandemic. Of particular interest is the effect of reduced mobility, which circular transnational care arrangements have typically relied upon.

The next presentation was given by Sarah Cardey who discussed her work on the impact of climate change and variability on indigenous communities in the Philippines. The region’s propensity to extreme weather events combined with its heavy economic reliance on agriculture and fishing means that managing climate variability is essential to sustaining local livelihoods. Working in conjunction with Aurora state College of Science and Technology (ASCOT) to establish a variety of community-based strategies amongst indigenous communities, the project has analysed existing indigenous climate knowledges and how to build on them to enhance local innovation and climate change capacities. Sarah and her team have also been working to help strengthen ASCOT’s research and analytical approaches so that they can provide improved institutional support to communities. Their research ultimately found that, for climate adaption strategies to be successfully implemented, it is necessary to take into consideration a broad range of other interacting, structural issues faced by communities. These include, but are not limited to, lack of land access and ownership, low literacy and food insecurity, which in turn are compounded by pervasive stigmatisation of indigenous people.

Harry Pettit, the final speaker, discussed his research on the emerging disconnection amongst Egypt’s middle class. The first of these disconnections refers to the widening gap between Egypt’s lower and higher middle classes created by Post-Nasser economic liberalization policies. While one portion of the middle class benefited from the new economic model and were able to accumulate wealth, the other portion failed to assimilate and got ‘left behind’. This second group became predominantly engaged in low-paid public sector work and lost access to the privileges previously afforded to them. The second form of disconnection explored relates to mismatch in aspirations and actual opportunities available to individuals of the lower middle class. In particular, Harry focuses on exploring everyday practices that perpetuate this disconnection by following young, educated, underemployed men trying to forge aspirational livelihoods. He found that notions of a meritocracy were instrumental in legitimising inequalities while enabling them to hang on to higher middle-class ambitions. These neo-liberal inspirational narratives are seductive to the young men because they shift the focus away from structural issues towards individual tenacity as the sole determinant of success.

Together, these presentations highlighted how an intersectional understanding sheds light on the formal and informal structural and everyday mechanisms responsible for creating inequalities. Furthermore, they demonstrate that persistent inequalities are seldom the product of single form of discrimination but are usually the result of intersecting forms of oppression.

Written by Sophie De Pauw