We are working with the notion of ‘queer rematriation’ to account for some of our hopes and intentions in bringing back to Manchester, thirty years later, interviews carried out with young women living there in the late 1980s as part of a foundational ESRC research project, the Women Risk and Aids Project (WRAP). We are creating an open archive of these interviews and we are engaging in projects to work with that archive with groups of young women in Manchester now. We take up the concept and practice of rematriation from indigenous feminist scholars and activists (Muthien n.d.); Moro 2018; Tuck 2011; Gaztambide-Fernández 2013) to ask how we might put this to work in UK sociology, and especially UK-based feminist research, to explore what is at stake in plans to re-turn and share data with the communities where the data was originally created.
While for some it may seem counterintuitive to bring indigenous feminist theory and methodology to the UK, to Manchester, we suggest that taking seriously indigenous critiques of the colonial logics of research practice can also be revealing about the practice of research closer to home. The colonial logics of research don’t only unfold overseas and do not disappear in the UK but may seem harder to trace and unravel. Bernadette Muthien (2011) in her advice to ‘European allies’ suggests a focus on ‘rematriating [one’s] own ancient knowledge and practice as women-centred (instead of gawking at Native women as exotic and ideal)’. And while our knowledge may not be so ancient – although sometimes the 1980s do seem an unimaginably long time ago – we are committed to generating and sharing feminist knowledge across and with different generations.
In trying to take seriously the question of what it means to return these interviews to Manchester, rematriation is a challenging ambition. Rematriation is not just about a simple act of return, not a repatriation of objects or artefacts back to a point of origin, not just dumping the data and us returning to our universities (which this team never exclusively inhabited anyway). Rather we are challenged to work through the ambivalent gift (Diprose 2012; Hird 2010) of revisiting their making, 30 years later, to create new connections, to recognise the need to do the work of cultivating new relationships. Rematriation takes the politics and practices of return seriously. Rematriation asks how do we revisit a moment in place and time in order to give birth to new feminisms and new feminists, or perhaps just to create a new space of possibility. This revisit is best understood not as a search for origins but as retracing and remaking genealogies and about creating an opening for different points of departure, different lines of flight. Against Descartian ‘I think therefore I am’, Muthien proposes ‘I am because I belong’ – I am because I am connected. Rematriation is a generative relational conceptual and ethical framework for making our intentions explicit, shifting from research ‘on’ to research ‘with’ – from us using the data to also asking how communities might use the data, and to doing the work to create and forge new relationships. In this sense, rematriation is not about deferring to a reified ‘sense of place’ but rather about making a commitment to what Val Plumwood has called ‘an ethic of place’ (Plumwood 2005); that is paying attention to how places are connected and related and how some places – ‘shadow places’ – flourish at the expense of others, how universities might flourish at the expense of the geographical communities, or communities of practice which resource them (Plumwood 2008).
At the same time, given the provenance of ‘rematriation’, we also signal to the complexities of power relations in research. UK social science has often been an extractive economy, with stories and lives renamed data, recorded and removed from communities, repackaged in journal articles and books, and hidden in filing cabinets or behind the licencing arrangements of more formal archives so that communities and individuals do not have access to their own stories. Just because much sociological work tends to be done ‘at home’ rather than abroad does not mean that it is necessarily less extractive, any less bound up in complex power relations, than disciplines such as social anthropology that have had to begin to deal explicitly with their own origin stories. As with other academics, feminist academics are not innocent here, committed to creating knowledge, but also at times complicit in the extraction of stories and knowledges; at the same time feminism’s commitment to reflexivity and questions of power also provides conceptual resources and politics for thinking through some of these complexities, and drives our work here.
For indigenous scholars and activists rematriation commonly signals a reclaiming of an entangled commitment to life, to germination and regeneration, which necessarily includes land, and nature, as queer kin in an ongoing project of co-creation. Yet the very strangeness of an injunction to reclaim knowledge and return it to a generative source, seems indicative of just how instrumentalised and distant our relationship with land has become. The idea of such a return seems incomprehensible. Land has become property; or perhaps landscape, suggesting a view from afar; at best as social researchers we might explore relationships with ‘place’. What on earth could a relationship with land in Manchester mean? It seems no accident to me that it is in the intergenerational and transgenerational practice of feminist youth work, taken up in Feminist Webs, and now working through this project of Re-animating Data: experiments with people, places and archives, that we find new ways of telling stories of women’s knowledges. There was some hands-on relating to the land involved in the emergence of our efforts to rework relationships with data. I first became involved with Feminist Webs a project partner, through talking with Amelia Lee while digging on a small patch of overgrown allotment in south Manchester being worked by the Young Women’s Health Project. It was a cold wet day when Amelia mentioned a possible funding application for a participatory oral history project which would see girls and young women in youth groups interviewing older feminist youth workers across Manchester and the north west. Since then I have been drawn into the sticky Feminist Webs, where the importance of the LGBT Centre in Manchester and other youth groups, and generations of feminist youth workers, in holding tight to spaces for girls’ work and girls’ groups, has been key.
The passing on of stories by older feminist youth workers which were about the fight for working with girls, made possible in the context of a participatory feminist herstory-making project, was necessarily a project of re-making feminism with different generations. Against the gatekeeper logic of social science where the idea of the archive has at times been presented as a paternalistic protection of data, to be made available only to bona fide researchers – a ‘protection’ which means that research participants themselves were unlikely to be able to access their own interview transcripts, we explore what it means to share stories with the communities that generated them. Muthien stresses the importance of rematriation to the feminist movement more widely. She speaks of the need to reclaim women’s knowledge of feminism. So foregrounding rematriation is a way to demonstrate that our project is informed by histories of feminist theory and practice that have troubled any sharp distinction between theory and activism, academia and communities. At the heart of rematriation is a commitment to reclaiming the regenerative power of feminist story-telling and/as knowledge co-creation and sharing with and through generations, in order to give birth to new queer feminist kin and new movements of feminism.
Questions abound for us – will anyone in Manchester now want our ambivalent gift? What kinds of feminist genealogies might we remake? (How) will our invitation to work together be received? Who will speak back?
Diprose, Rosalyn. 2012. Corporeal Generosity: On Giving with Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas. SUNY Press.
Hird, Myra J. 2010. ‘The Life of the Gift’. Parallax 16 (1): 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1080/13534640903478676.
Moro, Andy. 2018. ‘DECLARATION: When Indians Act’. Canadian Theatre Review, January. https://doi.org/10.3138/ctr.173.014.
Muthien, Bernadette. n.d. ‘Rematriation of Women-Centred (Feminist) Indigenous Knowledge’. http://www.gift-economy.com/articlesAndEssays/rematriation.pdf.
Plumwood, Val. 2005. ‘Decolonising Australian Gardens: Gardening and the Ethics of Place’. Australian Humanities Review: Ecological Humanities Corner, no. 36 (July). http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2005/07/01/decolonising-australian-gardens-gardening-and-the-ethics-of-place/.
———. 2008. ‘Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling’. Australian Humanities Review: Ecological Humanities Corner, no. 44 (March). http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2008/03/01/shadow-places-and-the-politics-of-dwelling/.
Tuck, Eve (2011) ‘Rematriating Curriculum Studies’. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy 8:1(34–37).
Tuck, Eve, and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández (2013) ‘Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity’. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 29:1. https://journal.jctonline.org/index.php/jct/article/view/411.