Research Showcase: Anne Carruthers

Anne Carruthers is an Associate Lecturer in Film at Newcastle. Her book Fertile Visions: The Uterus as a Narrative Space in Cinema from the Americas (2021) is part of the Bloomsbury Thinking Cinema Series, edited by Sarah Cooper and David Martin-Jones. It offers an analytical framework for close textual analysis of pregnancy and the pregnant body. Although the uterus and the womb are medical terms that are interchangeable, the womb is often used in literature, popular culture, philosophy and film as a metaphorical space to articulate concepts of life, death and rebirth or horror and abjection. The uterus as a term does not have the same cultural, historical, artistic or popular ‘baggage’, which makes the analyses of pregnancy and the pregnant body in the book distinct.

Building on gender theories, feminist theories of the body, film-philosophy, research into the foetal scan and theories of the cinematic frame, the book engages with the work of Julie Roberts on narratives around the foetal scan, Kim Sawchuck’s notion of the body as a bioscape and Vivian Sobchack’s theories of the frame as a premises for perception. It also brings Laura U. Marks’ recollection object, which describes how objects are changed in their exchange between people, and Eugenie Brinkema’s notion of the mise n’en scène, what is outside of the frame, to tackle subjects like adoption, teenage pregnancy, war trauma, ambivalent birth, abortion, miscarriage, reincarnation and pregnant embodiment in the films Juno, Gestation, Stephanie Daley, The Milk of Sorrow, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Apio verde, Up, The Bad Intentions, Birth, Arrival and Ixcanul.

The book brings into dialogue films from the Americas, north and south. This region has similarities in terms of reproductive justice. More than 97% of women of reproductive age in Latin America and the Caribbean live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, and, in the US, state legislation that restricts reproductive rights constantly threatens the right to abortion enshrined in the precedent of Roe v. Wade, which means that reproductive justice is becoming increasingly fragile. The discussion in the book steps back momentarily from context to offer a flexible framework for close textual analysis of film and introduce a new corpus of films that opens up a fresh conversation about pregnancy and the pregnant body.

Research Showcase: Gabriella Rutendo Mwedzi

Winner of the 2021 Master’s Dissertation Prize

Gabriella’s dissertation ‘Blinded by Faith: An Investigation into the Attitudes of Black Christian Clergy Members Towards Intimate Partner Violence in England and Wales’ was completed for her MA in Sociology and Social Research.

The dissertation investigates Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), which has been identified as being on the increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies of IPV in England and Wales typically represent the experience of white and mixed communities with no clear picture of IPV within the black community. This is not to say that researchers have aimed to exclude these women from research on IPV, but the closed nature of this community has made recruitment difficult. This study is the first in England to explore the understandings of IPV amongst Clergy in black Pentecostal Christian communities, who, due to the impact of race and religious teachings, are often the first port of call regarding IPV in the lives of black women. Taking an intersectional approach, including an understanding of migration, ethnicity, religiosity and other intersections, Gabriella’s research identifies the ways that Clergy’s transnational biographies shape the ways they understand and respond to claims of IPV.

Clergy members operate as a collective, leaning on each other for support and guidance when dealing with issues; therefore, synchronous online focus groups enabled both data collection and a space for the respondents to openly reflect and share their experiences.  As part of the focus groups, clergy members were presented with hypothetical scenarios of IPV and asked to share their thoughts, rationalisations, and potential responses. Each scenario indicated a different element of IPV including martial rape, coercive control, and economic abuse. It was important to present scenarios that varied in expression of IPV, as certain practices of male headship and female submission encouraged by certain aspects of Christian and African culture have been linked to an increased propensity of IPV. 

When responding to the scenarios presented, clergy members relied on their own experiences, shaped by personal biases, culture, and their own interpretation of scripture to influence their responses.  As a result, their interpretation of IPV and suggestions for how couples should respond were deeply rooted in patriarchy (for instance, male control of finances or right to sexual intercourse). The study found that, based on these responses, the female partner in the hypothetical scenarios would not have received supportive care and would have been placed at further risk of victimisation.

Only two women participated in this study, out of ten respondents. While numerous female clergy members were approached to participate, many were denied permission by their husbands. Further research is needed that involves black female Christians both clergy members and congregants alike to help illuminate the black female voice.