Refugees are a group who typically have experienced forced migration, oftentimes related specifically to their own – often fiercely defended – cultural activities and values in their country of origin. This migratory biography makes for a complex, rich contribution to how we think about the value of arts and culture, and cultural expression, in the UK today.
We aim to investigate the standpoint of refugees on British cultural values, benefiting from their ‘outsider within’ perspective. British cultural values are not unitary, nor are they precisely definable, they are shaped and refined by participation and engagement. We will seek to identify the components of cultural value embedded in a set of typically British arts and cultural pursuits, based in and around the city of Brighton. We want to examine carefully what constitutes the experience of involvement in the arts and cultural sphere, so we will also be collecting information on the cognitions and emotions that are attached to such experiences.
Refugees constitute a unique case: migrants pay acute attention to the acculturation of British values. This attention can be a protective mechanism, a philosophical choice, an attempt to move away from a traumatized past or culture of origin, an imposed set of norms, or a way of making their enforced dislocation intelligible. Refugees are legally required to learn.
British cultural values in order to be ‘awarded’ citizenship, via the Home Office instrument, the ‘Life in the UK’ Test (which will be interrogated in group discussion). Whatever the reason, refugees have an acute sensitivity and prescient awareness of ‘what makes us British’. Yet, often their access to the cultural industries can be severely restricted, due to explicit factors such as economic barriers, and due to implicit factors such as the perceived ‘Whiteness’ of some art/cultural pursuits (eg. premier league football, and the opera – two performances that will form part of our programme).
As researchers we have our own cultural values: our model is taken from feminist praxis. Feminist epistemologies focus on the way “in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification” (Anderson 2004). At the core of feminist epistemology is the concept of the situated knower, who produces situated knowledge. Donna Haraway (1998) famously argued that most knowledge, in particular academic knowledge is always “produced by positioned actors working in/between all kinds of locations”. Collaborative learning,
respect for social difference, creating an environment of mutual support, listening and consideration for others, these characteristics are all markers of the feminist classroom, cultural values which we hope to emulate in the process of the research.