Hair, power and politics

Professor Joanna Bourke from Birkbeck’s Department of History, Classics and Archaeology explores the cultural and political significance of hair.

This is a summary of a free public lecture Joanna Bourke will be giving at Gresham College (30 Holborn EC1N) on 31 October 2019 between 18.00 and 19.00. It is part of a lecture series she will be presenting as the Gresham Professor of Rhetoric. Other topics include: Eye, Breast, Stomach, Clitoris/Penis, Foot.

Then NAACP President Rachel Dolezal speaking at a rally in downtown Spokane, Washington. Credit: Aaron Robert Kathman

 

In June 2015, Rachel Dolezal was exposed for having lied about being of African American heritage. Dolezal was head of her local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); she had given talks at the Eastern Washington University on African American politics, including a class on the role of hairstyles in the Black Power Movement; she was active in the African American community. The problem was: she was not African American. In making the transition, spray tans were never enough. Crucial to her “passing” as Black was the way she styled her hair in long dreadlocks, weaves, and box braids. Even one of her critics had to admit that she “definitely nailed the hair, I’ll give her that”.

In May 2019, Anna Sorokin (alias Anna Delvey) was imprisoned for scamming her way to the top of New York High Society by pretending to be a German heiress with a £60 million fortune. She may have worn Alexander Wang outfits but her “ratty” hair with split ends betrayed her. In the words of one commentator, “No real heiress would be seen dead without immaculately coiffured hair”.

These two cases illustrate the importance of hair to the staging of the self. Numerous historians, anthropologists, and sociologists have observed that the body is a site for the cultural production and staging of the self. Hair is one of the most visible of these social markers. Hair can be cut, coloured, curled, braided, knotted, crimped, twisted, straightened, backcombed, teased, moisturized, oiled, gelled, sprayed, shaved, and wrapped. People wear wigs, weaves, hairpieces, and extensions; they cover their hair with scarfs and hijabs, taqiyahs and yarmulkes.

Hair signals gender, class, status, age, generation, marital status, religion, group membership, familial ties, politics, social norms. It is personal, but it is also a highly visible cultural artifact. In Victorian society, it was taken for granted that a hair conveyed social and emotional messages. Indeed, it is difficult to find a Victorian novel that does not linger on the hair of its characters. Hair shows a character’s inner character. Thus, in Wuthering Heights, Isabella Linton had artfully arranged curls until, when upset, “her hair uncurled: some locks hanging lankly down, and some carelessly twisted round her head”. In contrast, Dracula had “hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose”. Hair was also a major part of relic culture in Victorian culture, particularly between the 1850s and the 1880s. The Great Exhibition showcased at least 11 displays of hair art. A lock of hair encased in a locket or ring was a powerful relic, creating binding connections between lovers.

Aesthetic judgements about hair are fundamentally political. Slave-traders, prisoners of war, and female collaborators are routinely shaved as a form of dehumanisation. In 1905, Madam C. J. Walker became the wealthiest self-made female millionaire in America by marketing hair softeners to African American women; decades later, the “Black is Beautiful” movement repudiated such products. As Marcus Garvey (the Jamaican activist who, incidentally, came to Birkbeck in the year immediately before he co-established the Negro Universal Improvement Association) proudly proclaimed: “Don’t remove the kinks from your hair! Remove them from your brain!”. During the 1968 protests against the Miss American pageant, feminists not only threw bras and girdles into the Freedom Trash Can, but wigs, hair-curlers, and false eyelashes as well.

Today, schools routinely apply rules that stigmatise Black hair styles. It was only in July this year that California became the first US state to ban discrimination over natural hairstyles. Hair remains a system of power.

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Examining the class system in British museum employment

Sam Evans, a PhD researcher at the Department for Organizational Psychology, is leading a series of focus groups which will ask participants to reveal what it takes to get in and get on in the museum sector, and how social class shapes career chances and experiences.

I’m interested in how inequality is reinforced in the workplace. Class, until recently, has been surprisingly absent from the debate. Research into diversity or equality, often overlooks class, as does occupational psychology in general. Part of the reason for this absence is that class is not a legally protected characteristic, like age or gender, but also it is argued that there has been a more fundamental ‘individualisation’ of Western culture.

Class identities have become more difficult to see or express in the workplace. Our careers are thus seen as our responsibility, and we don’t often think or talk about the structural inequalities that might frame this. However, there is research suggesting inequality at work is increasing, professions are becoming more not less exclusive, and social mobility is declining.

I want to explore these issues in-depth in my research project, The Museum of Them and Us; I am interested not just in how people are classed, but also occupations, roles and organisations. I am particularly interested in why some careers and types of work favour some groups of people and not others. We assume anyone can get in and get on, no matter how tough, given they have the right personal qualities. But what is this really like for people from different backgrounds? I have chosen to look at museums, partly because I am familiar with the field, but also because visiting and working in museums is described as middle class. But why is this, does this account for all types of work, and what does this mean for people who might not be from middle-class backgrounds.

I don’t have a fixed definition of the term ‘class’ (this is a subject that has been debated for 150 years and most researchers recognise there is no one single definition), but am using Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of capital of class. This involves looking at the types of economic, social or cultural capital that are valued within different types of museum work and how this relates to the type of capital people actually have, or are able to acquire. Cultural capital is particularly important as this relates to accent, dress, education and knowledge of particular types of culture, and is often highly valued in cultural work.

I have already conducted interviews with representative bodies, trade unions and membership bodies as well as analysing reports and websites to look at how ‘getting and getting on is described’. I have found that, as with other research, museum work has become less secure and more competitive. The onus seems to be on the person to develop themselves as specialist and professional, and yet also flexible and versatile. This potentially makes it riskier and less beneficial for anyone entering the field. Class was talked about but was often described as difficult to see or measure, and most diversity initiatives were aimed at developing the individual to fit the required ways of working, rather than look more closely at how ways of working might be creating inequalities.

With the focus groups and interviews, on the one hand, I am asking people to talk about their work – what it takes to get in and on, how this might have changed, how this might be different for different roles, are some roles held in higher esteem than others and why. On the other hand, I want to talk about social class – what does it mean to people, do they think class matters and if so, how? I am also asking people to contribute images or photos that they think represent their work.

Take part in the focus groups:

If you have worked or volunteered for a museum you can take part in a focus group or an interview. If people think that class has mattered to them in particular, I am also conducting private interviews.

Taking part is confidential, enjoyable and you will be helping the sector. To take part in a focus group or an interview and for further information, please contact me or visit my website.

Thursday 5 April
6PM – 7.30PM, Birkbeck Main Building, Room MAL 420, Malet Street, WC1E 7HZ  

Wednesday 11 April
6.30PM – 8PM, Birkbeck Main Building, Room MAL 420, Malet Street, WC1E 7HZ.

Thursday 26 April
6PM – 7.30PM, Museums Association Offices, 42 Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0AZ

Friday 18 May
2.30PM – 4PM, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3DH

Wednesday 23 May
6PM – 7.30PM, Museums Association Offices, 42 Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0AZ

Thursday 7 June
4PM – 5.30PM, Whitworth Gallery, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER

Thursday 14 June
5.30PM – 7PM, M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol, BS1 4RN

Or schedule an interview:
If you think social class has mattered to you personally in your work or career then you can take in part in an individual interview, by email, Skype or face to face (depending on your location).

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Sam directly.

About Sam:

I studied History originally, and then spent about 25 years working in marketing in the museum, cultural and public sectors. A lot of my work was really about understanding people and organisational cultures as much as ‘doing’ marketing, hence my interest in studying organisational psychology.  I started studying part time about 8 years ago, first obtaining a degree in psychology at OU, then moving on to the MSc in Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck.

About the same time as graduating, I was made redundant, which forced a decision – stick to the marketing “battleship” I knew, or jump onto the less stable “raft” of psychology. I had already met some PhD students and Dr Rebecca Whiting who became my supervisor, and thought I would really like to study for a PhD here. So when I was offered a studentship, I took the leap. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

From Dr Rebecca Whiting, a lecturer in the Department of Organisational Psychology and Sam’s PhD supervisor:

Sam brings a wealth of experience to her research from working in this sector and an intellectual rigour from her academic training. Class is a challenging concept to research because of the many and sometimes conflicting ways in which its conceptualised and measured.

Many definitions reflect the relationship between class and socio-economic and cultural status. However, since class is not a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010, it doesn’t always appear as an aspect of diversity in organizations, so is ripe for critical investigation. Museums are key locations of our socio-cultural heritage but are an under-researched context in organizational and occupational research.

This highlights the importance of Sam’s research which brings together this topic and context to explore how class impacts on museum work.

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Crossing borders with new Internationalism centre

First International conference on oral polio vaccine at PATHO Headquarters in Washington DC, 1959. (Photograph by Cameramen Incorporated. Sabin Archives)

The Centre for the Study of Internationalism has formally launched, as a new home for a lively community of researchers from a range of disciplines (from history to political science, law to linguistics and architecture to biochemistry) and at all stages of their careers, who share an interest in “internationalism” and questions about the make-up of our world.

And it certainly is a time for questions. As the news continues to be dominated by debates about the future of international organisations and the roles played by individual nation-states within them, we are as convinced as ever that there is plenty of work to be done for scholars of internationalism.

The Centre emerges out of conversations and collaborations begun during The Reluctant Internationalists research project, funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator award and led by Dr Jessica Reinisch from the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology. This four year project studied international organisations and networks in 20th-century Europe through the lens of public health, medicine and medical science. It brought to light a history of overlapping and competing internationalisms built around a variety of political, cultural, religious, economic and linguistic factors that determined whether and how local actors thought or acted “internationally”.

The Centre takes a broad view to make sense of internationalism in its various guises, both in the past and the present. Indeed, internationalism can refer to a number of very different ideas and practices: the search for intergovernmental agreements and conventions; the practice of international assembly; the projection of national agendas across the globe; the transfer of ideas, resources, objects or people across national boundaries. These different models of internationalism each draw on different intellectual and political traditions, and in practice are shaped by different constellations of foreign policy objectives, economic policies, humanitarian concerns, and the priorities of self-governing professions.

The Centre seeks to facilitate wide-ranging dialogue and debate by organising workshops and seminars, and running a blog. We are happy to host external funders’ grant applications in relevant fields. Membership is drawn from across Birkbeck College and beyond – a full list of members and a selected guide to relevant publications and online resources is available on the Centre’s website.

You can also follow the Centre and its activities on Twitter and on Facebook or contact us via: centreforinternationalism@gmail.com.

Further information:

Centre for the Study of Internationalism

The Reluctant Internationalists

Department of History, Classics, and Archaeology

Dr Jessica Reinisch

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What drives efficiency in knowledge transfer?

Dr Federica Rossi, lecturer in business economics discusses increasing expectations on universities to demonstrate the positive economic and social impacts of their activities, and her research into measuring the efficiency of their efforts. 

Knowledge transfer is a term used to encompass a broad range of activities to support mutually beneficial collaborations between universities, businesses and the public sector. In the face of demands from funding bodies and ultimately taxpayers, universities all over the world are increasingly expected to demonstrate that their activities have a positive economic and social impact. Direct knowledge transfer to businesses, governments and society in general allows universities to make a visible contribution outside the ‘ivory tower’ of academia and can also help them to raise additional funds.

Measuring efficiency

Since knowledge transfer has become as important as a university’s longstanding commitment to teaching and research, the question of how well they perform this mission has gained prominence. Most universities attempt to measure performance in knowledge transfer, but focus on a quantity of outputs rather than the quality or efficiency. Even studies that measure efficiency tend to focus on a limited set of knowledge transfer activities, like technology through the commercialisation of patent licenses, creation of spin-out companies or research contracting with industry.

However, universities fulfil their knowledge transfer mission through many other activities, which include delivering knowledge-intensive services such as consultancies, clinical tests, prototypes and professional development courses, engaging in informal networks and staff exchanges with industry, contributing to community regeneration programmes and engaging with the public through different media.

Findings

The efficiency of 97 universities in the United Kingdom was measured for a range of knowledge transfer activities: research contracts, consultancies, professional development courses, generation of intellectual property and public engagement. Compared with a restrictive definition of knowledge transfer that only includes research contracts and intellectual property, this broader approach produces a different ranking for the most efficient universities: more universities achieve efficiency, and the distribution of efficiency scores is less skewed.

The universities that increase their efficiency when a broader definition of knowledge transfer is used have a lower share of staff in medicine and natural sciences and a higher share of staff in the arts and humanities; they are less likely to have a university hospital, and are more teaching-intensive. By adopting a broader approach to measuring knowledge transfer, some universities that are less research-oriented and less focused on science and medicine can better demonstrate their efficiency. More efficient institutions have a larger amount of staff and students; they are older, but have a more recently established knowledge transfer office; and they are specialised in a few subject areas (although some diversified universities are also efficient). Research, teaching intensity, and geographical location do not have a significant effect on efficiency.

Implications

The findings suggest that universities with different production models can be equally efficient in generating knowledge transfer outputs, and that research intensity is not a prerequisite for efficiency. Universities can achieve efficiency by adopting a model of knowledge transfer engagement that is consistent with their resources, without needing to replicate the knowledge transfer strategies of prominent institutions whose resources may be very different. By improving their reputation for excellence in specific activities that best fit the institution’s resources, universities may increase their ability to generate further knowledge transfer outputs. In fact, institutional reputation appears to increase knowledge transfer opportunities, with more reputable older, larger and diversified institutions achieving greater efficiency.

Another implication of the findings is that, rather than having an established Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO), what affects efficiency are its practices and policies, and the professionalism of its staff. KTOs therefore need to invest in staff training and in the development of best practices. Developing specialised, subject-specific skills and structures to support knowledge transfer, rather than generic ones may also pay off.

While performance is often measured by looking at outputs, thinking about performance in terms of efficiency helps us recognise that universities work with very different resources, which affects the nature of their knowledge transfer engagement. Changes in the resources available to universities, through potential changes in the rules governing the allocation of public funds, will also change their ability to engage in knowledge transfer.

Policymakers need to think systematically about the effect of changes in funding for research and teaching (for example, the replacement of recurrent grants with competitive funding) on a university’s ability to engage in knowledge transfer. The relationship between funding sources and knowledge transfer strategies, which has been largely unexplored to date, would merit greater attention from both researchers and policymakers.

The detailed empirical analysis on which these results build is presented in:

Rossi, F. (2017) The drivers of efficient knowledge transfer performance: evidence from British universities, Cambridge Journal of Economics.

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