Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Reworking Space, Re-Narrating Belonging Workshop Abstracts



Transregional Perspectives on Contemporary Media, Gender and Visibility Practices


FRIDAY, 09.02.2018

Keynote Address


(University of Pennsylvania)

Igniting the Caliphate: How “Islamic State” Uses Fire to Articulate Space, Belonging and Gender


Panel 1

Translocal Networks, Self-Making and New Modes of Situatedness and Relatedness

Chair: Marwan M. Kraidy

(University of Pennsylvania)


(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Ravidassia: Neither Sikh nor Hindu? – Challenging Caste-Based Discrimination and Ascriptions of Situatedness through Mediated Practices of Self-Making


This presentation concentrates on a recently evolving translocal mediascape in the context of the highly mobile and globally interconnected (religious) Ravidassia community. On January 30, 2010, the religious organization Dera Sachkhand Ballan, based in the Indian state of Punjab, declared the split from Sikhism and the establishment of the Ravidassia religion. The affiliation to that religion seems to be strongly entangled with a specific caste background related to the traditional occupational field of leather working. Both in India and abroad, people associated with this background have been facing caste-based discrimination, which also causes exclusions from the Indian media sector and misrepresentations in its news coverage. Despite persisting discrimination and exclusion, the related mediascape and a large variety of communicative spaces have unfolded their visibility in the course of the formation of the Ravidassia religion. Although these phenomena point to an ongoing change, they have not been the focus of scholarly research.
I hypothesize that the currently emerging mediascape of global dimensions and new modes of articulating belonging are expressions of an upheaval taking place at the intersection of the processes of media communicative, socio-religious and economic change. The presentation exemplifies the ways in which different actors are currently establishing new communicative spaces for re-narrating belonging and are creating visibility aiming at achieving social upward mobility and equality. Insights are based on a on a media ethnographic study, a sample analysis of online discussions as well as on a multimodal qualitative content analysis



(Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz)

Intimate Pictures: Gendered Images and Mobility in Senegalese Transnational Social Relationships


Transnational social relationships are characterized by the geographical separation of closely socially related persons, sometimes over long periods of time. Many studies on transnational migration argue that new technologies can effectively compress time and space to overcome distance – making the physical movement of people (almost) obsolete (Baldassar 2008). Yet rapid or instantaneous communication across distances is not always enough to produce close social relationships, as some scholars remind us (e.g. Hannaford 2014:4). Visual media such as photography, collected in photo albums and/or shared via Facebook, and videos of life-cycle events that are accompanied by conversations on mobile phones or Skype, are crucial to the establishment and maintenance of such transnational social relationships. In this paper, I explore how images are circulated and appropriated by Senegalese migrants and their families and friends in Senegal. Tracing how absences are acknowledged and presences constructed by means of montage and collage in wedding albums and videos demonstrates the fundamental significance of images – and sometimes their absence – during processes of migration, and in everyday life in translocal settings. Images of absent people travel with people, become digital and mobile, and create gendered spaces of mobility and immobility. Relating the practices of presence and absence during ritual practices and transnational social relationships to discussions on (mediated) co-presence, I show how local notions of absence and presence are strongly linked to wider configurations of love, care, and responsibility, and do not always relate to the ideal of being physically present. The gendered perspective of immobility doesn’t mean that women are not moving - they do so in meaningful ways through the wedding and the image production and become socially mobile also through the geographic mobility of the brother or husband. The „regimes of mobility“ (Glick Schiller and Salazar) form the basis of the relationship of mobility and immobility. Thinking visual media and (im)mobility not as separate but as highly entangled fields, I show how a focus on mediation and experiences in and with images can help to understand the “complex assemblage of movement, social imaginaries and experience” (Salazar 2017: 6).



(Freie Universität Berlin)

Claiming Visibility and Staying in Control: Feminist Counter-Publics in Times of Multi-layered Transformations in Tunisia


Entering a new era of social networks and ubiquitous connectivity in the web 2.0 era, as Radloff (2013) states, means that an equal number of threats as opportunities for women and human rights defenders have surfaced globally. One might rightfully ask whether a country-based approach to analyze politics and media in transformation can be fruitful in light of post-colonial dependencies and interwoven communication infrastructures. I argue that the analysis of transregional feminist networks incorporate both the national context and its local specific scriptures of power and resistance without losing sight of international developments in the ecology of media systems. Departing from my empirical research in Tunisia, I will look at different examples of feminist digital cultures whose developments were enabled by the political process and the opening up of the public sphere since the uprisings, but are restricted and challenged by the infrastructure they are co-constituted by. I will attempt to present this dialectical relationship for feminist actors in Tunisia’s transformation period by pointing out what I understand as “Multifaceted Visibilities”. As for a comparison, I will present the feminist art festival Chouftouhonna that took place in its third edition 2017 in the urban space of the medina, as an offline “event” that is however embedded in the same critical infrastructure.



(Freie Universität Berlin/Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

You Are My Love Charger: Media Technology and the Dera Sachcha Sauda Community


This presentation describes some of the media practices and platforms used to construct, consolidate and expand the support base of Guru Ram Rahim Insaan, the spiritual head of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda. The Dera is an ecumenical sect, which reportedly has a following of 10 million and is devised as devotional liberation from various forms of marginality – untouchability, alcoholism, and sexual labour. While it shares some media practices with other devotional sects, it has been singular in producing feature length films for commercial release in the past three years. I will examine the cinematic output of Hakikat Entertainment Limited as an assemblage, which while extricating the controversial Guru’s image, also re-territorialises the Dera Sacha Sauda phenomena by dissolving the local into the national.



(Northwestern University)

Decoding Income Inequality: An Examination of Interpretive Spaces on Digital Platforms


Growing economic inequality has caused upheaval in American society in the past decade, bringing the once taboo topic of class identity to the forefront of national debate. In the spring of 2014, Dan Price, the CEO of a credit card processing company, made a surprising announcement that purported to address this social problem. In an event coordinated with news crews, Price informed his 120-member staff that he planned to raise the minimum salary of all employees to $70,000 per year. He also pledged to cut back his $1.1 million compensation to $70K. As this story spread in the media, it elicited reactions that ranged from liberal outlets framing Price as a modern-day Robin Hood to conservative outlets labelling him as a clueless socialist. Informed by a theoretical interest in the concept of polysemy (multiple meanings), my work examines how media audiences reframed this news story on Facebook. Using a grounded theory approach, I analyzed 6,223 comments, probing the content of the individual comments, and whether each comment thread demonstrated an “open” debate (i.e., multiple interpretations) or a “closed” debate (i.e., homogenous interpretations). I will demonstrate how commentators used this story as an anchor to discuss contested notions such as class, capitalism, social inequality, and well-being in manners that both affirm and undercut traditional lines of political partisanship and social identity. The talk will explore two types of spatial configurations. Focusing on the multiple frames that emerged in response to this story, I will discuss the interpretive space that media audiences carve out on digital platforms of reception. Focusing on methodology, I will discuss how I conceptualized open and closed debates along spatial dimensions. The distinction I make between open and closed debates contributes to an understanding of the power that media frames have over the interpretive space of receivers, and its limitations.


FRIDAY, 09.02.2018

Panel 2

Performance, Narration and Remediations of Space and Belongings


(Universität Leipzig)


(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Spaces of Migration: The Production of Space and “Homing” as Artistic and Social Practice


In my presentation, I focus on the methodology of my PhD research on visual artists' transnational migration and their spatial perceptions during the migratory process. Echoing my data, I built a methodological approach for my cases, based on a synthesis of specific theoretical concepts that derive from diverse fields of study such as intersectionality, space-sensitive migration research (Scheibelhofer, 2016). I argue that the category of “space” may be currently an especially appropriate tool of a migration analysis that ought to be attentive to the informants' and the researchers' social and geopolitical standpoints. A standpoint-focused, spatially-attentive production of knowledge could reveal the seemingly unrelated factors that may influence an artist's migratory biography and spatial practices. This methodology seeks to challenge dominant perceptions of concepts, such as migration, borders, mobility and refuge in migration and artistic research, as well as in popular migration and art discourses. Finally, I will refer to my personal art project Babuna Enterprise. For the purposes of the project, I developed an invented persona, Ayşenur Babuna, a Turkish feminist and Islamic activist. This persona has been a methodological tool to engage as an artist but also as an ethnographer in multiple artistic (and geographical) discourses regarding my fields of research.



(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Desert (Be)Longings: Space Bending and Identity Play in Contemporary Israeli Pop Culture


My project tackles questions of spatial presentation and negotiations of belonging in contemporary Israeli audiovisual cultures. The past years have seen a surge in the online visibility and popularity of young Israeli musicians with origins in Asia and North Africa, especially amongst audiences in the Arab and Muslim world. These emerging artists engage in new creative practices of visualising complex subjectivities and spatial instabilities, which challenge preconceived notions of Israeliness. Polysemiotic references, parody, spatial ambiguity and polyglossia are just a few examples of the playful practices involved in re-narrating and bending dominant discourses on nationalised and ethnicised identities. The very real dilemma of national territorialisation is temporarily suspended by spatial representations which favour diasporic allusions, fantastical worlds and landscapes of escapist wishmaking. Desert imageries prominently feature as exemplary of such ambiguous un-placed space for the enactment and performance of critical (be)longings.



(Utrecht University/University of Florence)

Bodies Making Spaces: Understanding the Airport as a Mediated (European) Cultural Heritage Site


The current European ‘migration crisis’ is a crisis of identity. National borders are becoming ever more fortified in an effort to halt the arrival of ‘unwelcome others,’ but perhaps even more drastically; ideological borders are also drawn around the figure of the European citizen. Sara Ahmed reminds us in Queer Phenomenology that spaces are not external to bodies: out there, waiting to be inhabited, but they are actually actively created through the arrival and movement of subjects that pass through them. (2006: 9) If bodies create spaces, then those bodies allowed freedom of movement are more active agents in creating a space than bodies whose movement is hampered. How does ‘the migrant’ or ‘the refugee’ figure into the creation of a European space? This paper is a work in progress based on my research in the ERC project Bodies Across Borders in Europe: Oral and Visual Memory in Europe and Beyond. I have conducted interviews with people with a forced migration background who are currently residing in the Netherlands, which focus on people’s journeys to and through Europe. The results showcase that the movement a body makes is not merely spatial or temporal but also a cultural, political and physical phenomenon; bodies inhabit spaces differently according to the ways they are positioned in those places. In this work, I want to read the space of the airport in general, and Schiphol airport in Amsterdam in particular, as a complex cultural archive, simultaneously ‘Dutch’ and ‘European’ as I explore what it means to be a (non-)European citizen through notions of spatiality and movement. My argument is that a restriction of movement and confinement, processes that migrants and refugees are subjected to, also actively produce Europe and the European citizen (one whose movement and spatial comportment is uninhibited) together with the non-European Other (one whose movement is always hampered). I thereby want to draw attention to internal borders as building blocks of European cultural heritage. While I explore the notions of Europeanness and Othering in more depth in my paper, in this presentation I will mainly focus on the embodied spatial experience at Schiphol, drawing on the experience of one of my interviewees as well as my own experience of this place. Taking the Netherlands as a case study, I will draw on interviews with migrants in order asses how the borders of the Dutch cultural archive (Wekker, 2016) are delineated. As the archive is built on a colonial legacy of racism and white superiority, I will tentatively draw parallels with the larger European cultural archive to showcase that European identity is protected by erecting “a myriad of new invisible borders that are ideological, radicalized and politicized.” (Ponzanesi & Blagaard 2011: 3).



(Loughborough University)

Embodied Partitions: Exploring Women’s Embodied Memories of the 1947 Partition of India through Dance


This project will explore the gendered nature of Partition memory in the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, London. By introducing the category of dance as a carrier of memory and identity, this study aims to deconstruct discourses of the historiography of the South Asian partition. Focusing on non-written and non-verbal accounts, this project can contribute to include racialized, sexualized, gendered and religionized women to the making of history and pays respect to their diasporic identities today. Alongside traditional qualitative research methods, such as interviews and observations, this project will approach first and second hand memories of Partition and their role in the formation of contemporary experience and identity with critical dance methodologies and community dance practice. Fieldwork will be conducted in collaboration with East London Dance as a key partner.


Panel 3

Gendered Spaces, Urban (Im)Mobilities and Visibilities


(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


(Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Painting Visibilities: An Analysis of Women’s Protests in Indian University Spaces


The Pinjra Tod Movement came about in 2015 as a response to discriminatory hostel rules within the country. What started as a local and online movement through the social networking site of Facebook, soon became a national phenomenon, as stories from women all over the country started pouring in about discriminatory rules within their universities. A university space is often purported as one that offers equal opportunities to people of all genders, however these narratives prove otherwise. For instance, the hostels in the Delhi University have inequitable rules for women, such as 7 P.M. curfews, two night-outs per month with parental consent, etc. Some even have bars on the windows, so women cannot ‘fraternize’ with people outside. This leaves PGFAB (person/s assigned gender female at birth) with not only an incomplete experience of the university and the city space, but also a feeling of not belonging within the public space. For example, a PGFAB university student said that the university seems to have become a training ground for women to prepare them for a life where their rights will be denied. When one says that space is gendered, it means that space is not only experienced differently by various genders, but it is an experience marked by discrimination. In this paper, I focus on the interviews and the visual art produced by PGFAB from Pinjra Tod to understand their experience of the university space. The movement articulates the combined identities of PGFAB and student and lays bare how often student identity is primarily thought of as male. It utilizes the strategies of street art, demonstration marches, dance and parody music, to not simply protest against the hostel rules, but to also re-define their relationship and identity within the university. In the process, they also challenged the idea of women in constant need of protection in the various, and the false binary between public and private. The participants of the movement especially employ their art to mark an uncomfortable presence, and with it produce themselves as active and rightful users of that space, thus breaking the cycle of reproduction of a masculine university space.



(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Reclaiming Urban Space: Senior Women protesting the City


Debates on urban space and urban development processes are - even in the 21st century - mostly a (white) male dominated arena on various levels (Mansplaining the City, Walker 2017). Given this gender disparity, my research focus is (elderly) women, who reclaim and appropriate urban space as their stage for resistance. The rising role of digital networks for the appropriation of urban space and visibility of resistance are central in this field of research. I analyze how (elderly) women are developing new digital and analogue forms of collaborative resistance practices against urban neoliberal developments, which are defined by the limitations of their age, gender and body (Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street, Butler 2011). In this workshop I present my case study of the Retiree Rebels in Berlin. Furthermore I will focus on the Raging Grannies, a female activist group operating in USA and Canada with the guiding principle to fight for "social justice". My case study of the Retiree Rebels and the Raging Grannies bring to light new actors in the field of urban development from below: female senior citizens, aged between 75 and 90 years. The research explores the challenges and adaptations that face female senior citizens, as they seek to change the urban fabric by reinterpreting space. They protest against their landlords and neoliberal urban development politics, squat their retirement homes, organize online-petitions and flash-mobs. These new actors influence the discourse on the transformation of the housing market, the government's urban policies, and negotiate questions about how we want to live in the future. At the core of their resistance practices is the question: what kind of democracy and urban society do we imagine? I draw attention to the kinds of urban resistance and organizational aspects that are unique to this specific group of actors, and ask: what is the role of their special physical circumstances, their deteriorating health and limitations to urban (im)mobility? I argue that the urban resistance practices of the actors are a way to counterbalance their own immobility, and by using transregional digital strategies they push boundaries on a global scale and therefore become active role models for female protesters.



(University of Illinois)

Waiting for the Promise: Visibilizing Zones of Desire through Digital Media in Contemporary Gay Manila


In this paper, I examine practices of waiting among gay dating app users in Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines. Based on several months of ethnographic research on and off since 2015, I trace how gay Filipinos make sense of digital media technologies among the social and material infrastructures of the “distributed city”- a complex, complimentary relationship between “real” and “virtual” environments. I argue that the temporal practice of waiting (re)organizes the spatial imaginaries of Metro Manila despite its temporal obstacles of vehicular traffic, poor public transportation, and slow internet connectivity. By tracking shifts in communicative practices within digital spaces, my project investigates how offline and online lives are mutually—yet unequally—constituted.



(Bowling Green University)

Understanding Subversive Performances of Women in Indian Beauty Parlours


The construction of gender takes place through the introduction of various signs and significations right from when a child is born. Growing up, signs and significations extend to how particular genders are supposed to behave, which spaces they are expected to occupy and so on. For women, these codes have always been oppressive. They are expected to posit themselves as submissive individuals. According to Judith Butler (1990), this gender assigned to us is performative, a ‘stylized repetition of acts’ performed by the body. Therefore, when women are expected to be demure, fragile and shy, they are partaking in a performance of sorts which reiterates their femininity and their female gender. A beauty parlour changes that performance. An intrinsically gendered space in its conceptualization and physicality, the parlour is a space meant for beauty treatments that will make sure women are in tune with the behavioral codes allotted to them – perfect hair, perfect eyebrows or hairless skin. However, the parlour also is the place where perfected behaviours of women are subverted. As soon as they enter the beauty parlour, they adapt to ‘un-feminine’ behaviours, includes sitting with their legs open (manspreading), not keeping the pallu – an essential Indian cloth signifying honour – on their heads, discarding the bindi even if for a few minutes and speaking freely. I posit the beauty parlour, fundamentally a patriarchal space, is actually a space for subversion of the gendered performance of the Indian women who visit the parlour.