Wednesday 08 February 2017 – Lunchtime seminar with Dr Kalpana Wilson (Birkbeck, University of London)

Image from Kalpana Wilson (Birkbeck) seminar

Speaker: Dr Kalpana Wilson (Birkbeck, University of London)
Title: Mediating ‘Diaspora Girls’ in Development: Race/Gender and ‘the Core of Smart Power’

Dr Kalpana Wilson teaches in the Department of Geography, Birkbeck, University of London. Her research explores questions of race/gender, labour, neoliberalism, and movements for social justice and transformation, particularly in the context of South Asia. She is the author of Race, Racism and Development: Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice, Zed Books, 2012.

The recent rapid rise of representations of adolescent girls in the Global South as idealised agents of development and hyperindustrious neoliberal subjects has been oriented towards the specific contemporary requirements of global capital accumulation. The figure of the ‘girl’ in these representations, in need of help in order that her potential may be unleashed, is always understood in relation and in contrast to her already empowered Northern counterpart, mobilising postfeminist discourses which assume that gender equality has been achieved in the global North. These representations rework multiple colonial tropes to reproduce racialised global inequalities. But how do representations of ‘diaspora girls’ – young women who have grown up in the global North but have origins and family connections in the South – both reinscribe and complicate these patterns? How do they engage with questions of gender, race, and belonging? Of imperialism and global geo-politics? With international institutions increasingly highlighting the role of ‘diasporas’ in development, and diaspora organizations identified as an instrument of ‘Smart Power’ by the US administration, such representations are increasingly prevalent within development discourses. In this paper I examine the relationships and contradictions they make visible, and those they obscure, through a consideration of an ongoing series of documentary films produced for the BBC in which young British people return to their countries of origin. In the cultural productions discussed here, ‘diaspora girls’ are constructed as embodying postfeminist gender values seen as ‘British’ and heroically carrying them to ‘dangerous’ spaces of gender oppression and violence. Yet at the same time their perceived empowerment is understood to be fragile and contingent, precisely because of their affective connection with these spaces (which include both countries of origin and diasporic communities). Within the framework of wider discourses in which gender inequality itself has become a racial marker, these ‘diaspora girls’, I argue, are made to symbolically do the work of both the saviour and the saved.

1.00PM – 2.00PM


See here for details of other seminars in the series.

All SHU staff and students are welcome to attend the C3RI Lunchtime Research Seminars. If you are from outside of the University and would like to attend a seminar, please email C3RI Administrator to arrange entry.