Sixth Sarah van Walsum Lecture: Halleh Ghorashi

Halleh Ghorashi has deliverd the Sarah van Walsum lecture on 17 September 2020, entitled “Normalizing power and engaged narrative methodology: Refugee women, the forgotten category in the public discourse”

Since the turn of the century, the discourse of othering of non-Western migrants has been growing in many European societies. And since 2015, refugees have become a quite visible component in this discourse. Although, for decades, the dominant image of refugees has been constructed as people ‘at risk’, new competing images of refugee men ‘as risk’ have recently gained ground. For refugee women, however, the image of being victims and ‘at risk’ still prevails. This shows a strong underlying gendered logic of feminine vulnerability and masculine threat. In this lecture, I show how these images are situated within the dominant Dutch discourse of migration with taken-for-granted taxonomies of the self and the other. Specific in this normalized discourse for refugee women is that their agency is either ignored or their possible position as an activist is not acknowledged to exist. Using examples from two studies in which my research team engaged with the method of narrative engaged research, I show the importance of this particular narrative method in unsettling the normalizing power of othering. The theoretical argument of this lecture engages with ongoing discussions on power and agency. It argues that, when the power of exclusion works through repetition and is manifested in the daily normalization of actions, agency needs to provide an alternative in the same fluid manner. Narratives in dialogue provides an illuminating angle for discussing this specific kind of agency, as I will show through some examples from research.

Photo by Yvonne Compier.