Research Showcase: Bethan Harries

Bethan Harries is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. Bethan’s article Disturbing Hierarchies: Sexual Harassment and the Politics of Intimacy in Fieldwork was recently published in Qualitative Research Journal.

The article examines how sexual harassment is often mediated through the making of imagined complicities that are constructed to imply that an alliance/compliance underpins the relationship and ‘justifies’ the harassment. It is concerned with how the making and doing of intimacies engages with broader hierarchical structures of power, including structures of inequality. Fieldwork is viewed as a site in which the politics of intimacy exposes normative expectations and structures of inequality. Specifically, the discussion shows how processes of Othering are mobilised by participants as a means to cultivate imagined complicities but expose discrimination. The paper calls for a reappraisal of the focus placed on building rapport and/or a sense of familiarity in qualitative research to take account of multiple forms of intimacies and risks they can entail. This is increasingly prescient in light of the renewed emphasis on participatory methods and co-production which entail closer working relationships.

Bethan joined Newcastle Sociology in 2019 having previously worked at the University of Manchester, and worked as an immigration lawyer in Bradford and as an international election observer before joining academia. Her research interests are broadly in youth, urban citizenship, race and nationhood, especially in terms of how young people talk about, negotiate and resist race and racism (Talking race in young adulthood) and how austerity intersects with racism. Bethan’s current research is concerned with how devolution and the independence movements in Wales and Scotland interact with, and are affected by, shifting narratives of nationalism and understandings of citizenship and carry the potential to shape new forms of inclusion and exclusion. 

Research Showcase: Abolition Feminism

Abolition Feminism for Ending Sexual Violence is a collective created by Nikki Godden-Rasul, Alison Phipps and Tina Sikka at Newcastle University in February 2022. This is a statement of its key principles:

This new collective brings together scholars with activists, practitioners and artists across the UK and overseas who are interested in abolition feminism and ending sexual violence. Our key aims are to leverage institutional funding and resources to support established abolitionist work, and to develop scholarship, pedagogy and activism around abolition feminism and sexual violence. We will do this through activities that will include hosting events, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations both within and outside academia, and sharing our skills and resources to support grassroots groups. In time, we hope to be able to make a positive contribution to the growth of abolition feminism in the UK.

We take our definition of abolition feminism from Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners and Beth Richie, as a feminism that is ‘actually focused on ending gender violence, in all its forms.’ [1] This means that ending sexual violence requires an end to state violence, especially the violence of policing and criminal punishment, and the violence of borders. Our concept of violence is expansive, spanning interpersonal, community and state violence, as well as the violence of war and occupation and violence against the planet. We are concerned with all kinds of harm, and do not believe in ending one harm by perpetrating another. 

We recognise and respect that abolition feminism has a long history and lineage, especially in Black feminist thought and activism, and that it must also be anticapitalist, antiracist, decolonial, queer, trans-inclusive and supportive of sex workers’ rights. Abolition feminism is co-produced by the local and the global, is in constant process and may have many different articulations in different places and at different times. 

We believe firmly in a feminism that is intersectional and takes into account how subjectivities are relational and multiple. Intersectionality also means understanding how the intersecting structures of heteropatriarchy, racial capitalism and colonialism make certain people more vulnerable to violence than others. We aspire to support efforts to connect gender-based violence with other issues in an intersectionality of struggles. [1]

Our collective is focused on learning, on imagining a world without sexual violence, and on supporting positive steps towards this ultimate goal. We are committed to thought and action which does not advance the interests of some groups at the expense of others. We do not see increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as a solution to sexual violence. We acknowledge a desperate need for accountability, but do not equate state punishment with justice. We do not believe oppressive systems can be reformed, and we do believe that liberation and healing must be built from the ground up through transformational acts of care and solidarity. 

As a new collective, we admire and draw upon the important work of established UK-based groups such as Abolitionist Futures, Sisters Uncut and Read and Resist, as well as international groups such as Alternative Justice in India, the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research in Greece, and INCITE!, Critical Resistance and Survived and Punished in the US. As our collective grows in knowledge and experience, we hope to work with some or perhaps all these groups to achieve shared goals. 

Nikki Godden-Rasul, Alison Phipps and Tina Sikka, Newcastle University, 1 Feb 2022

[1] Angela Y. Davis, Gina Dent, Erica M. Meiners, and Beth Richie. 2022. Abolition. Feminism. Now. London: Penguin Books. 
If you are interested in joining the collective, please click here and enter your information (and if the link does not work for you, contact Alison Phipps at

Research Showcase: Chiara Pellegrini

Chiara Pellegrini is an Associate Lecturer in the School of English. She just completed her PhD with a thesis entitled ‘Trans Forms: Gender-variant Subjectivity and First-person Narration’. This project argues for the ‘gender-variant’ narrator as a key figure in contemporary literature, through readings of first-person narratives from the past five decades in a range of genres (memoir, literary fiction, science fiction, historical fiction) that explore gender identities that are other than binary or fixed. The affordances and limitations of first-person narration (how it constructs identity through time, how it presents and questions its knowledge, how it negotiates the body in the text) allow these narratives to challenge gender binaries, explore the risks and the rewards of being embodied, and reflect on the ways in which lived experience of gender variance is articulated to others.  

Chiara is currently developing a post-doctoral project entitled ‘Crossings, Shelters, Outsiders: Trans Genders in Britain through Metaphorical and Material Spaces’, which aims to analyse how space, place and spatial metaphors (such as borders, entries, exits, peripheries) are used in media and literary texts to discuss gender, finding complicities between trans-exclusionary language and nationalist and imperialist understandings of space.

Leaving or entering a space is a movement that characterises aspects of British politics that are central to debates about justice and the nation, such as housing and immigration policies, Brexit, regional devolution, and postcoloniality. Similarly, spaces are at the centre of the recently renewed efforts of some political groups to limit and threaten the lives of trans people in Britain, such as concerns with the presence of trans individuals in ‘single-gender’ bathrooms, changing rooms, shelters, and political groups, as well as separatist lesbian and feminist movements such as ‘Get the L Out’. Politicised spaces in Britain are not only literal but also metaphorical: the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are viewed as spaces that are traversed and uneasily inhabited by trans individuals, and bodies are also seen as locations that can be invaded or transcend their limits. In this context, spatial metaphors used by different political groups have urgent and material implications affecting the lives of marginalised subjects.

This project analyses the language employed in British journalism, political propaganda, and social media platforms by individuals and organisations that are hostile to trans people, concluding that the metaphors they employ express a concern with policing borders and entries that is complicit with far-right, imperialist and nationalist politics.  At the same time, uses of space and place in British literature by trans authors such as Alison Rumfitt, Juliet Jacques, Juno Dawson and Travis Alabanza are examined in order to reveal strategies for countering the harmful effects of this metaphorical language. These writers negotiate trans characters’ ambivalent belonging in settings such as streets, houses, schools, public bathrooms, and other private or shared spaces, and they creatively reimagine the spaces of the body, the nation, and the self through metaphor, uses of first- and third-person voice, narrative structure, and other formal choices.