Dr Fotini Apostolou
School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Migrant Narratives: The Stories of the Other(s)

Greece, like other countries in Southern Europe, has been transformed in the past two decades into a receiving country for immigrants. Since the 1990s, the country has been receiving large numbers of immigrants (with an unprecedented escalation last year), initially from neighbouring countries and countries of the former Soviet Union with a large Greek minority (Georgia, Ukraine), and more recently more distant countries due to geopolitical developments. An important issue that arises because of this immigrant influx is the contact of these people, who do not speak the Greek language, with public services (judicial and police authorities, health care, asylum services, etc.). This problem is of vital importance and it has been dealt with through legal interventions, mainly EU directed. Translation and interpreting services that have been legally enforced are in the area of criminal cases and asylum procedures. Moreover, through EU funding, a number o similar services are fragmentarily provided in other public bodies (hospitals, schools, etc.). However, these services are facing serious issues with quality (practitioners’ qualifications, assessment, monitoring), the fragmentation and temporary nature of these services, the lack of established training provided in cooperation with universities, the certification or accreditation of interpreters by a public body. As a consequence, the immigrants’ narratives (the stories of the other) are constantly manipulated and re(de)constructed to stories of others. This presentation will attempt to shed light on the interaction between immigrants and interpreters in asylum, judicial and health care settings.

Glenn Jordan
University of South Wales

Photography That Cares

For more than 20 years, I have been curating exhibitions – most of them using photographs and oral history to explore issues of history, memory and identity among immigrants and minorities in Wales (and Ireland). For the past fifteen years, I have been developing my own work as a portrait and documentary photographer – usually in collaboration with community groups. This has included four substantial projects:

  • Somali Elders: Portraits from Multi-ethnic Wales (2001-2004) – shown at the National Museum of Wales;
  • A Sikh Face in Ireland (2007-2010) – shown May – Sept 2010 at Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle;
  • Mothers and Daughters: Portraits from Multi-ethnic Wales (2007-2011);
  • Hineni: Life Portraits from a Jewish Community (2010-present).

This talk addresses my interest in producing work that, through its mode of address, reduces the psychological distance between subject and viewer, while challenging hegemonic notions of “Welshness”, “Britishness” and “Irishness” and stereotypes of beauty, gender and old age. While giving voice to minorities, I wish to produce work that challenges simplistic, essentialist notions of identity, community and nation.

Mina Karavanta
Faculty of English Language and Literature, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Dangerous Affiliations & Impossible Comparisons:
Towards a Transnational Poetics

Edward Said’s After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (photographs by Jean Mohr) and Michel Khleifi & Eyal Sivan’s Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel look into the interior of the Palestinian life contained in threatening borders and sculpt the human figure of the precarious subject out of narratives, testimonies and images as a culturally and politically complex bios. Documenting the precarious lives of the Palestinians across fragile and tentative borders, both Said’s text, accompanied by Jean Mohr’s photographs, and Khleifi & Sivan’s documentary of testimonies of Palestinian and Israeli peoples and their lives across tentative and precarious borders interrogate the “ontopological” politics of the nation-state through which the concept of the citizen is consolidated as the only proper subject. They thus transform the sovereign subject as the dominant narrative about the human by detailing the interior lives of the constituencies and their communities that, albeit dispossessed in their own land, persevere as a transformative, and transgressive human force. By examining the discrepant but intertwining ways by which these texts engender a transnational poetics of the human that is critical of national and international forms of exceptionalism and sovereignty, I propose to closely engage the following questions: How do these narratives represent the interiority of a life persevering through constant dispossession? What kind of frames do they construct in which their lives are recognizable (Judith Butler) as complex forms of a counter-sovereign livity and not as bare lives? How does the difficult position of the “native informant” get negotiated and, hopefully, destabilized in these two texts that construct a narrative of the human who lives in excess of her precarious condition through an archive of images, testimonies and interviews woven into narratives of counter-memory? I thus hope to demonstrate how these narratives are threaded with dangerous affiliations and impossible comparisons that disrupt the alignment of the human, and, therefore, of her/his rights to a political bios with the sovereign subject, and repeat the urgent question of the human to transform the available “frames of recognizability” (Judith Butler) that are sovereign and, thus, exceptionalist.

Professor Victor Sage
University of East Anglia

Writing, Reading and Witnessing:
Reflections on Lorna Sage’s memoir Bad Blood.

This paper seeks to confront the obvious paradox about the concept of a “personal narrative” – namely, that language itself is and is not a personal phenomenon; and that the act of putting things into a textual form, on the face of it, erodes the very notion of the personal, creating distinctions and sometimes conflicts between different levels of response – the writer, the reader, and the witness. How does the notion of the “personal” survive ?

It so happens that I am a minor character in a book that has been described as a “classic” by some reviewers and publishers, Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood. In some ways I can claim to have a personal, and even a privileged, perspective on this narrative which has had, for two generations now, an audience of largely female readers, having been reissued by its new publishers, Harper Collins, under the (hopeful) imprint, “Harper Perennial.” This paper sets out to examine the survival and alchemical transformation of the ‘personal’ through the layers of writing, reading and witnessing which feed into my own ‘first-hand’ responses to this text. 

Professor Chris Weedon
Cardiff University

Challenging the Dominant: Testimony and Life
writing as Cultural Politics in Multi-ethnic Britain

In an essay published in Screen in 1988, British Black filmmaker Isaac Julien and critic Kobena Mercer wrote of film and television representations of ethnic minorities: “If only one voice is given the ‘right to speak’, that voice will be heard, by the major culture as ‘speaking for’ the many who are excluded or marginalized from access to the means of representation.” “Speaking for” is a much debated issue that has been subject to critique in both cultural and postcolonial studies. When one black or other ethnic minority voice is heard or read by the mainstream as representative of a much wider and diverse group, such as British blacks or Muslims, it falls under what Julien and Mercer call the burden of representation. More than 25 years after Julien and Mercer’s essay, this burden of representation continues to be a real issue, currently, in particular, for Britain’s Muslim communities. Since the 1980s, it has increasingly been challenged by the articulation of a range of different voices that contest stereotypes and insist on the rich diversity of ethnic and racialised minority groups and communities. In this context, autobiography, life writing and oral history have proved particularly powerful and accessible media with which to articulate difference and to challenge racist and ethnocentric assumptions.