Reading Women’s Forced Migration: Towards a Transnational Feminist Politics and Poetics

Dr Anna Ball, Senior Lecturer in English, Nottingham Trent University

Forced migration is now at an all-time global high, and women account for over 50% of most forced migrant populations worldwide. Gendered experiences specific to women – such as maternity, widowhood, female genital mutilation, and patriarchal dependency – have been shown to drive and shape forced migrant experience in profound ways (Indra 1999; Freedman 2015). Yet despite the prolific representation of forced migrant women within the cultural arena, existing literary and cultural scholarship on forced migration has not yet paid sustained attention to the ways in which gender shapes narratives of forced migration, or to the difficult politics of representation that surrounds the figure of the forced migrant woman, and access to her ‘true’ story.

This project seeks to address this critical deficit by presenting the first interdisciplinary study of forced migrant women’s cultural representation. Comparing representations of women’s forced migration across literary and filmic genres (poetry, documentary, play, feature film), and from a variety of cultural and authorial subject-positions (first-hand life-writing, fiction, collaborative account), the project develops a new transnational feminist framework through which it becomes possible to ‘read’ both the politics and poetics through which forced migrant women come to be culturally constructed. Through the figure of the forced migrant woman, the project seeks to expose the disjunctive politics of global mobility and the biopolitical mechanisms through which movement comes to be forced or curtailed. It also teases out the complex role of transnational feminist thought, activism and solidarity in the task of responding to women’s forced migration. How is it possible to forge meaningful dialogue and agency across cultural boundaries and positions of privilege or disenfranchisement? What model of feminist solidarity emerges against the backdrop of women’s forced migration? And what might a poetics of women’s forced migration look like? How might forced migrant women themselves develop innovative representational strategies that radically challenge the dominant stereotypes and structures through which their agency has so often come to be limited within the shifting global landscape?

This project is supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for the year 2018-19.