Your browser doesn't support HTML5 audio
Host: Leila McNeill
Guest: Zuleyka Zevallos
Music: Love Science by Fast Lady
Rate. Review. Subscribe.
This bonus episode is the first in a series of interviews with practicing feminist scientists from a variety of fields. To kick off the series, Leila talks with applied sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos about the history of sociology and how intersectional feminism and the framework of otherness shapes her work.
Transcribed by Rev.com
Leila: This is a bonus episode of the Lady Science Podcast. I'm Leila McNeill, and one of the regular hosts of the podcast, and one of the editors-in-chief of Lady Science Magazine. This bonus episode is the first in the series of interviews with women scientists from a variety of fields who will be talking about how feminism shapes the work that they do.
Leila: To kick off our series I'll be talking with Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist from Australia, about the history of sociology, how the work of Indigenous and minority sociologists is changing the field, and how intersectional feminism influences her work.
Leila: Without further ado, I'll let Zuleyka introduce herself.
Z. Zevallos: Yep, so my name's Zuleyka Zevallos. I'm a sociologist, and I've got a PhD in sociology. I started off doing research on the intersections of identity from migrant background women. I was really interested in how their experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and also religion made their sense of identity, and how that also interconnected with their experiences of racism and multiculturalism, and how all of that affected their sense of belonging to their communities, as well as broader Australian society.
Z. Zevallos: After I finished my PhD I've been teaching the whole way through, and then I was an academic for a little while. I taught the sociology of gender and sexuality as well as leading causes on ethnicity and race. I also looked at the impact of technology on society.
Z. Zevallos: I can just hear your dog.
Leila: I know, I'm sorry. We'll just have to plow through that.
Z. Zevallos: That's all right. That's fine. I decided to leave academia because it's ... the model of academia doesn't really suit my sense of ethics. I think there's quite a lot of problems in the way that we expect junior scholars to hang on to a career that's very difficult at the beginning for many, many years, and that there's not enough jobs and satisfying positions for junior scholars so it was really a tough decision, but I ended up going into the public service.
Z. Zevallos: I spent the first few years working with an interdisciplinary social modeling team. That was a really great experience because it really taught me different applications of sociology, but also how to speak to scientists from the natural and physical sciences, from computer sciences, and how to blend their disciplines with mine.
Z. Zevallos: After that I have done quite a lot of different things. I tend to be a very passionate-oriented, very project-based, so I've done things like working ... I led a research team working on an investigation looking at health and safety issues in the workplace for emergency service workers who had contracted high rates of cancer in Country Victoria.
Z. Zevallos: I've also worked with a couple not-for-profit organizations looking at gender equity in STEM, as well as gender violence and domestic and family violence against women and their children. That leads me to the present day where I've come back into public service.
Z. Zevallos: Now I'm working on a behavioral science team. We're looking at, essentially how to use social sciences, behavioral sciences to improve services, programs and social policy. My areas have been working with vulnerable people, as well as the educational and employment outcomes of vocational students, so apprentices and trainees.
Leila: Awesome. I guess people might have an idea of what sociology is based on what you were just talking about, but if you could give a brief explanation of what sociology is.
Z. Zevallos: Sure. Sociology is the study of society, but more specifically we look at how social structures shape people's sense of belonging as well as experiences of inequality and power.
Z. Zevallos: We're really looking at the nexus between personal biography, history, and culture. There are other social sciences that will look more at the individual in terms of their personality or group interactions. That's an aspect of psychology for example, whereas we look at individuals in their social context, so we're looking at how societies are organized across time and place, and how individuals are making choices within that context.
Z. Zevallos: Most people will have a sense that their lives are very unique, which of course every individual's understandings of their own lives is going to vary, and it's inborn by them, families, just their own experiences growing up and whatever's happening to them at the time, however sociologists are able to look at the broader social patterns that informs the social behavior of individuals.
Z. Zevallos: For example, we tend to feel like when we're making choices they're very intimate, they're very personalized, but at the same time sociologists are able to show that there are patterns in this behavior when we're making decisions, whether it's something like our finances or our families or our personal health. All of that is socially influenced, even when we're not conscious about those influences.
Z. Zevallos: Sociology's about unpacking what we take for granted, about everyday life. We're looking at things like culture, to non-verbal cues, to looking at how people can resist social dynamics or how they go along with particular trends that are set up by social institutions.
Z. Zevallos: We're also looking at some of those bigger influences, like institutions like the media, education, as well as social dynamics like class, race, gender, sexuality, and so on.
Leila: Like most scientific fields, sociology has historically been predominantly white and male to the exclusion of women of color, and to a lesser extent white women, and also of course, racial minorities, sexual minorities, so many others.
Leila: How has this exclusion shaped the field?
Z. Zevallos: Yeah, this is a question that I and many other minority sociologists think a lot about. One of the things that's distinct about sociology compared to a lot of other sciences is that we're not just founded to observe document and understand social phenomena. We're actually set up from the beginning to transform society.
Z. Zevallos: Our discipline is about driving social change, fighting inequality. We do say our charge has really been about shaping better outcomes for other people. We've developed these really important ways to think about and promote social justice, but at the same time sociology does suffer from the same afflictions as all the other social sciences, physical and other sciences, and the natural sciences as well.
Z. Zevallos: The fact is that sociology was founded by white men operating from Western European traditions, and our founders did work very deeply engaged with how sociology needed to be applied outside of scholarly racial, so that we could affect policy and lay public change.
Z. Zevallos: At the same time, there's been ongoing work since the beginning by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color across the world who took up sociology, however our work has generally pushed the periphery of our discipline. Even if we look back to the early 1900s with the black American sociologist, Du Bois, who was thinking about the double consciousness of Black Americans or even to the present day works of Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson who was looking at Aboriginal women's challenges to white feminism.
Z. Zevallos: We've always had minority sociologists who have challenged the way that we look at social problems, what it means to be a sociologist and how sociology needs to be undertaken.
Z. Zevallos: I guess what we do, minority sociologists, whether ethnic racial minorities, or sexual minorities, gender minorities, we're really trying to question whose interests are being served by the way in which sociology's being positioned.
Z. Zevallos: We're looking at questions like who leads the research. What examples are being used in our textbooks in classrooms? Who's being cited? Who's not being cited? Whose work is funded and why? How are research and policy questions being framed?
Z. Zevallos: Were really using, I guess the tool of sociology to question the way in which white, male-dominated frameworks are being used by our colleagues. Even though sociologists really place quite a lot of emphasis on reducing inequality, one of the things that minority sociologists try to do is to encourage white sociologists and people in dominant groups to turn the sociological gaze to themselves. Sociologists are very good at doing that for other groups and we tend to not do it very well for ourselves as practitioners.
Z. Zevallos: For example, white sociologists will talk about race, but then they won't really examine their own whiteness, and they see themselves as fit to lead anti-racism even though they don't do that work on themselves. They tend to just think that because they're sociologists, and because they mean well, that they're exempt from the very social structures that they're trying to critique.
Z. Zevallos: We also have other examples. The literature on sociology of gender is heavily weighted towards cisgender heterosexual sociologists. They largely still talk about gender as a duality, so they don't ... for example they say that they're looking at inequality in relationships, when actually they're looking at inequality in heterosexual relationships, and that distinction's really important, because it means that even though sociology is set up to look at a spectrum of gender and sexual experiences by presenting our work as having universal principles, which we wouldn't accept of other sciences.
Z. Zevallos: It means we're ignoring transgender people, agender people, and other genderqueer people, so I guess there's always been a lot of resistance to the way sociology reproduces some of the problems that we're trying to unpack. There's a lot of really important work that has always been done and continues to be done by minority sociologists there we're trying to bring out towards the center of our practice.
Z. Zevallos: A lot of us are very committed to decolonizing sociology, so unpacking how colonial history has impacted the way in which we think about knowledge and our methods.
Leila: Considering how the field has changed, but still needs to be decolonized, how do you think that sociology has shaped some of the ideas that we have today about race and gender? And then also how that can bleed into social policy.
Z. Zevallos: Sociology definitely has had an impact on race and gender, and absolutely as we're going to talk about, there's still new perspectives that need to be brought in. If we look at the work of ... let's say, if I start with an Australian example, so Jane Marden was a sociologist, a woman who worked for many years in the field of both race and gender. She looked at the interconnections of class, gender, and race.
Z. Zevallos: Her work was instrumental in taking sociology as a tool to move our national policies away from forced assimilation into shaping the policies of multiculturalism that are in place to this day. Her body of work has had a profound impact in moving our, what used to be very rigid ideas about race relations, into opening up some of those discussions.
Z. Zevallos: Maybe some of your listeners may not be aware, but Australia's official immigration policy since the time of invasion in 1788 and officially implemented in 1901, one of our first laws was our immigration policy, which was known as a white Australian policy.
Z. Zevallos: That meant that immigration by people of color was outlawed and then heavily restricted up until 1973. It's very recent in our history and gives you a sense of how deeply ingrained colonial understandings of race and gender have been in place in my country.
Z. Zevallos: It was actually Professor Marden's work, along with several other influential researchers, and front line workers, and other practitioners who worked very closely to promote the benefits of diverse cultures. They really worked hard to get their race issue in front of policy makers so that they could lead the change together. That's one example of where sociology's been able to have some influence on race relations.
Z. Zevallos: If I go back to Aileen Moreton-Robinson's work and other Aboriginal women in Australia, they've always done quite a lot of work to also see how these mainstream perspectives, even when they were having benefits for white women and other non-Indigenous women didn't go far enough, and her work was very important in putting a challenge to the way in which feminism actually, and Australian feminists, sociologists and anthropologists and other researchers, would take these very Western understandings of race and gender and try and impose them on Indigenous women.
Z. Zevallos: Very famously, throughout the 1980s, generally speaking mainstream feminism has this idea that the person was political, which means that every individual case of gender violence is a public matter, however, again with probably good intentions, but very paternalistic intentions, white social scientists, white feminists would want to tell Aboriginal communities how to deal with domestic and family violence without listening to the work of Aboriginal women, the work of Aboriginal elders, which is a very different approach to thinking about issues of gender violence and race.
Z. Zevallos: It's always been really important to see how we can shift race relations using sociology, but making sure that we're always listening to the leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, as well as other minority women.
Leila: That leaders pretty well into the next question that I had for you about methodology. You talked a little bit about some sociologists when studying inequality in relationships were choosing to study heterosexual couples, white feminists imposing a Western understanding of gender equality onto non-Western people.
Leila: Those kinds of things kind of play into methodology a little bit. That's one of the goes that we're really interested in on this podcast and in the magazine, and how prejudice and bias is often baked in to the very methods that scientists use. Can you talk a little bit about what methods sociologists use, and how this can affect outcomes?
Z. Zevallos: Sure. I think ... I'm always interested by other disciplines who have this fear that sociology is not objective and that our methods are not as rigorous, when that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, throughout most of our history it was quantitative sociological methods that tended to shape our understandings of the world.
Z. Zevallos: There've been a lot of very famous studies that have made a very big impact on social policy and in scholarly research and in delivering services. One really famous one would be the work by Durkheim looking at suicide, and he had quantitative data, looking at patterns of suicide in different societies, and he looked at the social influence, the social forces that gave rise to certain patterns in some societies over others.
Z. Zevallos: He looked at the influences of religion, marriage, and how these dynamics could shape effectively this very intimate area of suicidal behaviors. That was all quantitative methodologies. For most of our history we've tended to use surveys, statistical analyses to study social phenomena.
Z. Zevallos: It was only really ... it started to develop further in the 1960s, although I should say sociology has also relied on ethnographic methods, which are qualitative methods, so that's about going into the society that we're trying to study, or the social group, and living amongst them, observing their behaviors, speaking to people. Those are qualitative methodologies that have always been a part of our history as well.
Z. Zevallos: Really from the 1960s to 1980s, there was a shift in sociology as a lot of, particularly women, sociologists were trying to get other forms of qualitative methods to be recognized as equally valid as quantitative methodologies. That was very transformational for our discipline.
Z. Zevallos: That was things like using interviews, focus groups, and other creative methods where we're getting people to talk about their own lives. That actually, although it's very commonplace now in sociology and we are excellent at using qualitative methodologies, even right up until the early 80s, it was very hard for sociologists using these methods to have them taken serious, because effectively this was mostly women who were trying to use conversation and understanding, which are more traits that are more associated with femininity, trying to bring those into sociology and trying to advance the idea that the individuals we study are their own experts of their experience, and trying to have stories and narrative be central to the way in which we generate data.
Z. Zevallos: That was really quite an important way in which sociology has been able to embrace the qualitative methodologies. Some of the other methodologies that I think we still need to do a lot more work on, is to look to, let's say more Indigenous ways of knowledge, Indigenous methodologies and for this I really go back to my Indigenous colleagues who have done a lot of amazing work to document these ways of obtaining data.
Z. Zevallos: For example, associate professor Kathy Butler has done a lot of work to promote ways in which we could be bringing in Indigenous methods into the classroom, into the field. She's done some lovely work getting us to consider yarning circles, which is literally just a group of people sitting around together and emulating the way in which Aboriginal people usually come together to talk through problems and have set question.
Z. Zevallos: Obviously the researcher has the research topic that they're interested in, but it's about letting that group have the conversation evolve amongst them to follow their stories in whichever way they want that journey to go. Then to be more collaborative in the way in which we develop and analyze and interpret that data.
Z. Zevallos: A lot of the time Indigenous researchers, Indigenous sociologists have been very critical in the way non-Indigenous people go into Aboriginal culture and other Indigenous communities and take that knowledge, put it through our Western lens, and then publish it. It's non-Indigenous people getting PhDs, getting funding, and who get to have conversations with policy makers about Indigenous people rather than with Indigenous people.
Z. Zevallos: There's a lot of methodologies that we could be harnessing by having Indigenous people laid, having more Indigenous people have ongoing and satisfying roles within academia, making sure that we've got pathways for Indigenous practitioners to continue on with their careers in senior roles, so that it can help shape what methods, how methods are developed, how methods are documented, how people are trained in these methodologies, and then having more of a transformational relationship with Indigenous researchers. Working closely with them where they lead the work, and non-Indigenous people are really there to let them either step aside let them lead, or to be in a truly collaborate partnership with them.
Z. Zevallos: There's a lot of really exciting and very important ways in which we could be developing methods in a lot of knowledges that Indigenous people have that many of us are interested in having that leadership coming to the way in which we think about sociological methods more generally.
Leila: I wanna talk a little bit about how otherness functions in sociology, and how it functions in your work specifically. Your blog is titled The Other Sociologist, so I know that it's pretty integral to what you do.
Z. Zevallos: The otherness has always been a theme in my thinking and in my interests from when I was actually still very young. My blog is ... it always has a central factor on otherness because it's a way to push us to always think about who's, I guess how social relationships and dynamics are framed. I guess to take a step back, the concept of otherness is a way to think about how different social relationships are set up as oppositional forces.
Z. Zevallos: There's been a lot of work from Simone de Beauvoir to Zygmunt Bauman and other theorists who have tried to capture the way in which we as a society categorize difference. Otherness is about these dichotomies where the primary reference point, so it might be man, is set up as having more power than the secondary social identity.
Z. Zevallos: The opposite of man might be woman for example. The second reference point is being degraded, is being oppressed, and that first social reference point is the one that becomes the norm, the one that's seen as universal. If woman is the other of man, then stranger is the other of native, enemy is the other of friend. It's them versus us.
Z. Zevallos: That's what the concept of otherness is really trying to get at. It's an important concept because it has applications in every social realm we could think about. The work on the sociology of gender for example, otherness allows us to think about how humanity's being defined as being male throughout history.
Z. Zevallos: It's men who define what it means to be both a man, and what it means to be a woman. Women don't really have a value other than being a reference point for men. Women regarded as not being autonomous. Women are being defined and differentiated in reference to men. Women are basically not essential. Women are subjects. Women are different, less than, other to men.
Z. Zevallos: It's important in bringing out ideas of power as well, so otherness is about how if we have one group, in terms of race it might be white people, a group of people who are dominant either in numbers or dominant due to their resources and social standing. Their identity becomes naturalized. It's just taken for granted.
Z. Zevallos: Others, people who don't conform to that ideal, who can't belong to that dominant group, they tend to be punished. They tend to be seen as not worthy of the same respect. Otherness is also important in showing us who owns material wealth, who owns symbolic power in society.
Z. Zevallos: Symbolic power are things like the benefits that we get through our social networks. Otherness is important in thinking about how social institutions reproduce, who is the ideal versus the other. Media, education, religion, tend to have particular representations of who is the authority, and then everybody else is subservient to that ideal group.
Z. Zevallos: In terms of racism, basically a group of people who will always have more power than other groups, even if they as individuals feel like they're not particularly powerful, and again in a Western country it might be white people. Certainly that's the case in Australia, United States and other colonial nations. There's a lot of power that comes with being the group that is never going to be defined as the other, as different, in Australia, which are very reminiscent of ongoing characterizations of race, in the United States and in the U.K.
Z. Zevallos: For example we're really seeing these resurgence of white nationalism. We're seeing a senator who tried to bring in a motion of ... literally says that they wanted to discuss that it's okay to be white, and that person is white. Almost all of our politicians are white. So there's this resurgence of nationalism which is trying, it is working through a notion of otherness because they're taking the fact that there are multiple platforms for minority groups to challenge whiteness that's seen as a threat to the authority, the power of the primary reference group, so that's white people.
Z. Zevallos: Even though white people continue to have decision making power, continue to have all of the resources, including the fact that white people can bring in these motions to discuss, to defend their whiteness in our parliament, this functions through otherness because it's trying to reassert oppression that white nationalism has always perpetuated in trying to make it normal, so trying to invert this idea of reverse racism, which doesn't actually exist. This idea that white people are being disadvantaged because minority groups are using social media in their own publications, their own media to actually question narratives of whiteness that that's somehow taking away the power of white people, when in fact we have such a long way to go.
Z. Zevallos: Our parliament doesn't reflect the diversity of Australia. We have a very low number of Indigenous people in parliament and other decision-making roles. The importance of understanding otherness is that there's always a group that uses resources and public dialogue to continually reassert that their reign is natural, that their power is preordained, that the only way that we can establish law and order, it's the only way we can have stability, and it's a way of really reinforcing oppression in 2018, as it always has been since colonial times.
Leila: One of the things that you emphasize in your work is that you approach it from an intersectional feminist point of view, and this is different from the white feminist that you were speaking about earlier. Could you explain a little bit about how an intersectional framework shapes the research that you do, and how that makes your work different from a sociologist who does not adopt that point of view.
Z. Zevallos: Yeah, so intersectionality is a concept that was developed by Professor Kimberly Crenshaw, who is a professor of law by training. She is a Black American woman. The concept of intersectionality looks at how gender inequality's impacted by racism and by other types of structural inequalities.
Z. Zevallos: It's important to understand that it was first and foremost developed by a Black woman to better understand the disadvantages that are faced by other Black women. In that early work published in 1989, it was about industrial relations law, and it used a case study of Black women in the workplace showing that even in the late 1980s the law was forcing Black women to choose when they sought support, that they could only choose bringing forward a case on the grounds of sexism or on the grounds of racism, when in fact Black women face both of those dynamics at the same time.
Z. Zevallos: One of the things that often gets confused in the way people now use the term intersectionality is that, white women in particular, continue to remove the racial dynamic out of that. It's really important to always have a focus on both race and gender, and then to also think about other issues like sexuality, class, age, location.
Z. Zevallos: Intersectionality's really encouraging us to look at problems as being multifaceted. It's really a framework for thinking about how multiple social dynamics have a compounding disadvantage for minority women. That's not to say that white women can't use intersectionality usefully. In fact it would be advantageous for everybody to adopt these lens when looking at social problems, but it just means that we also need to interrogate our own race, our own gender position, and other social dynamics when we're thinking about problems.
Z. Zevallos: It's interesting actually to watch, particularly in social media, when white women will adopt these phrase of being an intersectional feminist, which is a label that doesn't really make sense and that's really rejected by women of color because it's not a label, it's not an identity, it's not something you can crown yourself to be intersectional feminist.
Z. Zevallos: Intersectionality is a theory that needs to be applied. It's a verb. It's about putting those ideas into practice into the way in which we position our own situation, as well as how we look at social inequality more broadly.
Z. Zevallos: An example that might resonate with some of your listeners might be what happened during the first March for Science. There was a lot of public discussions about how the march had been set up to really exclude issues of gender and race and other minority groups. Many of us, especially Black women, were at the forefront of trying to bring an intersectionality perspective into the way in which you were thinking about social activism for science.
Z. Zevallos: There was a very corrosive pushback from the organizers, from elements of the media that started to cover it, and also from the broader public who were interested in coming along to the march. We were hearing from the organizers that the focus was going to be science, not scientists, so trying to compartmentalize the practice of science from the people who do the science, and taking an intersectionality perspective doesn't make any sense because the fact is that our differences as scientists, we bring those differences into the lab, into the classroom, into our interactions with our stakeholders.
Z. Zevallos: To use a phrase you used before, it's baked into science that individual characteristics are played out, and in terms of the social activism around the March for Science, there was this idea that "identity politics" were taking over. Now that phrase is ridiculous. It makes no sense whatsoever because the identities of white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men, it's part and parcel through the way in which we talk about science, whose research is published, whose research is cited.
Z. Zevallos: Who are the scientists that most people, including other scientists are able to name, it's mostly white, male, cisgender people, able-bodied people. It was really about thinking well some science practices have really hurt minorities. Science has been, for example, tested on minority populations to detrimental effects.
Z. Zevallos: Minority groups have been really harmed, continue to be harmed by scientific endeavors that try and push Indigenous people off their land. For example, the way in which the funding model and career trajectory also push out Black people, Indigenous people, other minority people. We learn from research that LGBTQIA researchers face a lot of multiple hurdles in the workplace, in science.
Z. Zevallos: All of these things bear out in the types of questions that science tries to answer in the tyoe of answers and approaches that we take in science. Intersectionality is trying to tell us that it's important to understand how multiple social structures impact on justice, outcomes, work, every other aspect of life.
Z. Zevallos: I did also want to point out that intersectionality's not actually about identities, and Crenshaw has always made that point really explicit. People who think about this as identity politics in the negative way, or people who, even when they're trying to show solidarity will adopt intersectionalities and identity, it doesn't actually make sense because the power of intersectionality is a framework. It's that it's allowing us to think about social structures and how they lead to very material outcomes.
Z. Zevallos: For Black women in the workplace who are experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage, that impacts on their health, that impacts on their job prospects, it impacts on their income. It impacts on their ability to raise complaints when negative things are happening to them in the way in which they're being managed.
Z. Zevallos: One approach of using intersectionality in sociology, although sociology in the way in which we are set up as I mentioned about social justice, it's very compatible to intersectionality, and sociologists have for many decades studied the intersections of social oppression.
Z. Zevallos: In Australia this work began in the 1970s and built up over the 1980s and 1990s, looking at the intersections of race, gender, class for Aboriginal women, and for migrant background women. That is the work that I draw on for my honors thesis and my PhD thesis.
Z. Zevallos: It impacts my work because rather than looking at these things in isolation, it's important to look at how, let's say migrant background woman in Australia, how she experiences her family is intimately woven into how both the migrant community and border Australian community sets up gender dynamics, sets up powers of racial relations, and how religion as an institution also has both gender, class, and racial and other dynamics built in.
Z. Zevallos: It's about having a more complex understanding of social institutions and their impacts on all people, but especially Black women and other minority women as well.
Leila: Yeah, no, this actually leads into kind of getting to a concrete example of what you do with your work. In your article “You Have to be Anglo and Not Look Like me: identity and belonging among young women of Turkish descent and Latin American backgrounds in Melbourne, Australia,” you look at how racism and social exclusion have impacted a sense of belonging among the women in this study.
Leila: If you could talk a little bit about that study and we can kind of bring together these different threads that we've been talking about.
Z. Zevallos: Sure. That work was looking at intersections of identity, but looking at the social structural influences on identity and belonging as you mentioned. I guess, just quickly, I was looking as you mentioned at minority women. People sometimes have a bit of a difficult time understanding the concept of ethnicity and how it applies to different groups.
Z. Zevallos: People should know that everybody has ethnicity. It's interesting when people talk about ethnic food or ethnic people, everybody has ethnicity, so ethnicity's just a concept. It talks about how people understand concepts like culture, ancestry, and what they do in their daily lives in connection to their cultural heritage or their cultural identification.
Z. Zevallos: I was looking at how migrant background minority women, all of whom were women of color. A lot of them had been born in Australia. Some of them had come to Australia from a young age, but they had all spent their formative years in Australia. The work was really looking at how do these women understand their connection to their migrant communities and the broader Australian society through a concept of diaspora.
Z. Zevallos: Diaspora's the idea about how people can feel connected to a homeland that's far away from where they currently live, and how a lot of people who have multiple homelands, whether they're symbolic or ancestral or having family still living in another country, how do those transnational relationships influence their ideas about what it means to belong to the place where they live currently.
Z. Zevallos: I set out to look at Latin American women from various different Central and South American origins. All of them had a Catholic background. I also looked at Turkish Muslim women. All of them had a very strong connection, except for one, to their migrant communities.
Z. Zevallos: All of them were shaped by their experiences, not only here, but when they traveled back to their families of origin. I developed a topology to look at how they made sense of their social influences on their identity. Some women, a lot of the women actually, tended to fall into a spectrum of either saying that they were not Australian.
Z. Zevallos: Most of them had a harbored identity saying they were partly Australian, and only one woman said that she was only Australian and she rejected her Chilean origin. That came about as a relationship to what was happening to them in Australia. All of the women had experienced racism, both at the interpersonal level, and also overt discrimination.
Z. Zevallos: That was things like being yelled at, having racial slurs told to them at school, from at work being followed around by police, being spat on as they walked down the street, so they sort of interpersonal and very negative interpersonal experience that happened on a daily basis in some way or another.
Z. Zevallos: They also had to manage those experiences of racism with more overt forms in the way in which they were mistreated by teachers or at work, which are more examples I guess of institutional discrimination. Some of the women, in fact most of the women, felt like they really couldn't call themselves Australian because most people didn't see them as Australian. Even though they recognized that they had been born here, or even though they recognized that they had a strong affinity to Australia and loved what Australia represents, they felt that because other people didn't see them as Australian because they didn't "look Australian" they really had a difficult time reconciling that they could simply just be Australian, because no one accepts them as just being Australian.
Z. Zevallos: The idea of rejecting Australian identity for some of the women, it was about the discrimination they faced, meant that even though they were taking influences from Australia, they didn't want to constantly have to deal with having their identity second guessed. It's this idea of where are you from? Where are your parents from?
Z. Zevallos: They were constantly being berated about their identity, so they tended to reject Australian identity. Most of them had this hybrid identity of being partly Australian. Those women said that even though other people didn't see them as Australian because they weren't white, they still wanted to call themselves Australian.
Z. Zevallos: In particular, they really drew their influences from gender. They saw that Australia has commitment to egalitarianism. They thought that Australia had taught them not to accept gender inequality. They brought that to their own community, so they were constantly having discussions and challenges with their parents, with their community members, trying to get them to really support gender equality.
Z. Zevallos: Of course they faced a lot of gender inequality as migrant women outside of their migrant community, so that constant challenge of gender inequality was one of the things that they were drawing heavily on from more of what they called their Australian side. There was the one woman I mentioned who, because she basically rejected Chilean culture because of the gender inequality in her migrant community, particularly after she traveled overseas, but she was the only one.
Z. Zevallos: The interesting thing about diaspora and intersections of different intersectionality really plays out interestingly when they would travel back to their modern communities overseas. Over there they weren't treated as being Turkish or Salvadorian or Peruvian. Overseas people, even though they looked like everybody else, people recognized that they weren't like everybody else. They had different ideas. They spoke differently. They dressed differently. Their outlook was different.
Z. Zevallos: Overseas they tended to say, "I'm Australian," which is something that ... and people would just accept it, whereas here they really felt like they couldn't really say that they were Australian because they got questioned so much.
Z. Zevallos: The intersectionality dimension is because of these multiple experiences of gender inequality and racial inequality and religious inequality, especially for the Turkish Muslim women who were facing a lot of scrutiny and a lot of xenophobia. My research was conducted right after 9/11, so these experiences of multiple inequalities, I guess, influenced the way that they thought about not just their present day reality, but how they started to think about the future decisions that they would make.
Z. Zevallos: It was really this idea of multiculturalism that helped them to deal with all these different inequalities. They had this notion that multiculturalism should be the norm, even though they recognized that white Australian people didn't live up to the ideals. They always came back to this perception that everybody can be Australian and that the only sort of ... if anybody's gonna question what it means to be Australian and what multiculturalism is, they said it was Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people, but non-Indigenous people had no claim to the Australian identity, and that multiculturalism should really be a way to promote harmony.
Z. Zevallos: They often used that in arguments with other people. It helped them to center and to work out, work through the multiple forms of disadvantage that they were facing in their daily lives.
Z. Zevallos: I guess it brings together the notions of otherness and intersectionality because these were women whose daily experience was of being othered. They were seen as different, whether it was with their migrant communities or with the border Australian society. They were constantly managing multiple forms of difference in trying to really challenge other people's expectations of the way in which they presented themselves, the way in which they thought about themselves, the way in which they connected with other people.
Z. Zevallos: Otherness comes through because they would be set up as the other, regardless of which group they were being referenced against and really pushing back against that because they had multiple experiences of disadvantage they could say that you don't have to choose one or the other. They had this sense of hybridity, this sense that you can bring in lots of different influences from different places.
Z. Zevallos: The idea that you can recognize that even as migrant women, what they faced was nothing compared to what Indigenous women go through, and that gave them a sense of responsibility to fight for what they thought was right, which for them it was to use multiculturalism as an argument to argue their place in society.
Z. Zevallos: Intersectionality is a way for us to make sense of how multiple forms of inequality have a real impact on the everyday experience of different groups, and also to rather than force these groups to focus on one issue or another to be really liberal in understanding how racism isn't just about race, it's also about sexualized racism.
Z. Zevallos: Religious discrimination impacts Muslim women very differently than say, a Uruguayan woman who was raised Catholic, who was a woman of color, because I've got that Christian background that's not necessarily a big sense of difference to say a woman of color who's Turkish and is Muslim.
Z. Zevallos: My work with migrant women and my work seems to really be to amplify the experiences of minorities, especially minority women. In this case to see how they navigate the world, how they navigate discrimination, and also how they have a sense of autonomy, even with lots of discrimination bearing down on them from multiple angles and how they make sense of that and how they keep going despite the barriers that are placed there, and that they will always resist.
Z. Zevallos: The act of rejecting Australian identity or the act of embracing a partly Australian identity, these are forms of resistance against multiple disadvantages and it's important to not just hear and document these types of perspectives, but to also think about how can that help us do research better. How can that help us to improve social services? How can it help us to make better policies and make better decisions instead of always coming at social problems from a very tunnel vision perspective.
Leila: All right. That's gonna do it for us. Be sure that you check out Zuleyka's website TheOtherSociologist.com and give her a follow on Twitter @TheOtherSociologist. Thanks for listening. Be sure that you subscribe to the Lady Science Podcast to catch our next bonus episode in the series.