2022 Master’s Dissertation Prize for Gender Studies

The GRG is pleased to announce the 2022 Master’s Dissertation Prize for Gender Studies, open to all Newcastle University students.

To enter, submit a single-spaced PDF document with:

  • Dissertation title
  • Student name
  • Degree title
  • Dissertation supervisor name(s)
  • School
  • Newcastle & non-Newcastle email addresses
  • 150-word statement of the significance of the dissertation topic to the field of Gender Studies (in any discipline)
  • 500-word dissertation summary/abstract
  • 100-word supporting statement from the supervisor(s), which speaks to the dissertation’s high academic standards, the contribution it makes to its respective field, and confirmation of the dissertation being completed in 2022

Submitted to stacy.gilliis@ncl.ac.uk by Friday, October 21st 2022 (5PM GMT)

This document should not be more than 3 pages in length. Late applications will not be considered.

This is a competitive award, and it is expected that submissions will be Distinction-level work, and will be making innovative and dynamic contributions to the wide field of gender studies.

The applications will be reviewed by a panel, and the top six entries will be requested to submit the full dissertation (in PDF) for consideration by a panel. The prize will be announced in the spring term.

The GRG understands the field of Gender Studies to be broad and diverse; any dissertation topic which is engaged with gender, sex, sexuality, studies of the body, and/or intersections between these (from any discipline, and from any period of study) is welcome.

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 alison.phipps@newcastle.ac.uk).

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.

Research Showcase: Chris Haywood

This is a guest post by Chris Haywood, Reader in Critical Masculinity Studies in the School of Arts and Cultures.

What happens in sex club…’: Erotic Hierarchies, Affective Atmospheres and Cultures of Desire 

As I look through the calendar of events, I see a list of themed evenings that include Greedy Girls nights, an evening for Couples and Unicorns, Black Man Fan Clubs, daytime meetings with MILFs and a night with the Young and Hung. I am in the world of the sex club, clubs that are marketed to heterosexual men and women. These are not strip clubs, lap dancing clubs, gay/lesbian bars or sex entertainment venues; rather, they are often simplistically and heteronormatively referred to in the popular media as ‘Swingers’ Clubs’ or ‘Swap Clubs’. Such clubs provide a collective sex environment for men and women to have (often anonymous) sex with other individuals, couples and groups.

Despite their prominent online marketing and their episodic spectacularizing in the media, sex clubs are quite difficult to find. By day, a sex club might be mistaken for a hotel, a recently closed pub or a factory lock-up. As such, they often appear emblazoned by the ordinary; remarkable and unique places erased in their pursuit of discretion. However, by night, clubs become transformed into what Delph (1979) refers to as ‘erotic oases’: places for ‘edgy sex’ or ‘sexual behaviours and activities that might be considered to be at the borders or the edges of the permissible, desirable or conceivable’ (Pheonix and Oerton, 2013, p.163). Despite recent media reports estimating that in the UK alone, there are over one million visitors per year, we continue to know very little about what happens in a sex club, who visits them and why they continue to grow in popularity.

That is until now.  

Through the use of ethnographies, online profile data and in-depth interviews, I have been mapping out and exploring cultures of desire with the aim of providing an insight into the ways that sex, sexuality and desire are configured in clubs. Whilst sex clubs have primarily been used as a place to access and understand the identities, cultures and practices of the swinging communities, the transgressive and transformative potential but also the scope for social and cultural inequalities impact of the sex club has been underplayed.

Sex clubs are ultimately involved in the selling of fantasies. By using concepts such as affective atmospheres, de-subjectification, abjectivity, sexual hierarchies and commodity fetishism, I capture how the commodification of the erotic both reinforces and transcend traditional gender, sexual and racialized identities and practices.    The research provides an insight into how clubs with their classic pornscapes, their highly theatrical wipe-clean faux satin and leather furnishings and voyeuristic spatializing, provide the erotic circuitry for charged moments of staged desire. It is a desire that is always haunted by a temporary resolution that has visitors to the sex club, always coming back for more.

Sex Club: Recreational Sex, Fantasies and Cultures of Desire by Dr Chris Haywood is due to be published by Palgrave later this year.

Research Showcase: Mary-Jane Holmes

Mary-Jane Holmes is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing in the School of English. Here, she answers some questions about her project.

What is your research project about? 

Drawing on feminist translation theory and poetic formalism to investigate whether translation can be successful in releasing the target text from its own gendered constraints, my PhD investigates the ancient poetic form called the Muwashshaha (Arabic for ‘girdled’; plural Muwashshahat) to ask whether translation of form across languages can create a new route to understanding how gender can be voiced in poetry today. I am working on a sequence of English ‘girdle songs’ in order to enact and respond to the effects of formal transference while critically exploring the regenerative act of performative and dialogic translation. 

How do you tackle topics of gender, the body, and/or sexuality? 

Through the study of poetic form. Many feminist poets have considered formalism to be a legacy of patriarchy and thus relinquished it, others find it compatible with progressive, feminist political engagement. The central drive of this research is to test and explore the nuances of those opinions by investigating the relationship between fixed form and female identity in poetry being written now in English. Its central aim is to ascertain the ways in which a new form in English language poetry might open a discursive space that facilitates the amplification of the female voice through the development of innovative formal strategies ‘carried over’ from another time and culture. 

What prompted you to do research in this area? 

The muwashshaha was a love poem written in either classical Hebrew or Arabic, but its last stanza, called the Kharja or exit stanza was often spoken in Vernacular Arabic or in Andalusi Romance (the language of the colonised) and by a speaker different from the speaker in the rest of the poem. This ‘other’ was often a female voice, a rare event at the time.  For modern readers, the kharja opens a window to the hidden domain of women: to that realm where women do speak and sing and love. But also underscores the tension between this male-authored first person female persona and the general paucity of recorded female voices form the time. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the relationship between your research project and the study of gender? 

‘The future of feminisms is in the transnational and the transnational is made through translation’ Olga Castro states. Over the last hundred years poets such as Phyliss Webb with her ‘Anti-Ghazals, Jo Shapcott’s ‘rebukes’ to Rilke, the American haikus of Amy Lowell, have looked to other voices, cultures and contexts via translation to find ‘other ways of thinking’ (Marilyn Hacker). Hacker, who engages with various Eastern forms and languages, describes her poetic vision as a ‘colloquy’:  ‘an ongoing, open-ended conversation with poets both contemporary and long-gone, spanning generations and transcending national boundaries.’ I hope to further this conversation. 

Research Showcase: Xueman Cao

Xueman Cao is a PhD candidate in Translation and Interpreting in the School of Modern Languages. Her research project explores the translation of sexually explicit language in popular fiction from English into Chinese. Adopting a systematic data-driven approach to the translation of sex, she compiled a corpus of 25 English-to-Chinese translated bestselling fiction novels published between 2008 and 2017 for analysis, paying special attention to the patterns and strategies observed in translating sexually explicit language, as well as the various social, cultural and linguistic factors shaping the translation of sex.

While the emphasis is laid on how sexually explicit references are translated and why they are translated in certain ways, this study finds that sometimes the translation of sex reveals stereotypically gendered notions. Though the majority of the sexual references are translated directly, a small number of references to body parts, in particular parts of the female body, are translated using more sexualised expressions, highlighting the physical attractiveness of women as recognised and enjoyed by men. The translation of body-part vocabulary sometimes accentuates the ideal status of female beauty under the male gaze. For instance, women’s “skin” is sometimes translated by adding the adjective “柔嫩的” [delicate, tender, soft], emphasising the tenderness of the female body, which is presumed to be desirable to men. Furthermore, the translation of sex occasionally stigmatises women’s sexual desire. In some instances, women’s moaning during sex becomes “骚” [slutty] or “浪” [lustful] in translation, which associates female sexual desire with loose sexual morals, suggesting the sexual promiscuity of women. In effect, the translation of sex forces the female body and female sexual desire to conform to the aesthetics of the patriarchal culture in order to exhibit physical sexuality that is desirable to men, to titillate their erotic imagination.

Xueman’s project also pays attention to the translation of references to sexuality. Although the corpus contains very few references to sexuality, it is observed that slang references to sexuality (such as “queer”, “fag” and “gay”) are almost always translated by utilising the term “同性恋” [homosexual, literally same-sex love]. Such a formalising, generalising and devulgarising word choice may have been the result of the lack of established slang terms for sexuality in modern Chinese suitable for written discourse. However, they are also, and probably more importantly, indicative of a more conservative ideology in China regarding discourses of sexuality, which directly leads to considerably less discussions in the public sphere, hence fewer lexical choices available to the translators.

Research Showcase: Abi Hockaday

“She had always been good with her hands” (Machine Made, 53)

Abi Hockaday is a PhD Researcher in Literature in the School of English. Her research project explores the connections between the rise of the computing industry during WW2, and how the relationship between women and computers was figured in British science fiction (SF). The representation of women and computers in British SF reflects the significant anxieties about gender and technology in the post-war period.  Looking particularly at British SF magazines, we can see the complex relationship between gender, affect and technology. The project considers the gendered divisions of labour and desire in stories such as E.R. James’ “Robots Never Weep” (Nebula, 1952), and examines women’s responses to these representations, such as Kathleen Downe’s “Why Not A Woman?” (Authentic Science Fiction, 1955), to explore women’s affective responses to these anxieties. 

This research stems from Abi’s B.A., in which she completed a conference paper on the emergence of American SF pulp magazines, and her dissertation, titled: “The Cyborg and the Goddess: (Im)Possible Femininity in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992)”. Building on from this, her M.Litt. looked more closely at post feminism, conceptions of the cyberwomb and posthumanism, and power and desire in British SF magazines. This PhD project builds on this previous work, examining who is allowed to use, and therefore control, the computing machine in these texts, to understand what implications this has for wider cultural anxieties about the technofuture. Using Joanna Russ and Lisa Yaszek’s work on Galactic Suburbia’s – that is, SF texts set in the future, but which uphold conservative values – the project explores the stereotyped images of women around and as technology. Sexualised and stylised, these women are repeatedly figured as evil and dangerous villains that the male protagonist/hero must overpower. This work (re)frames British SF around the cultural relationship between women and computing, utilising digital humanities, periodical studies, SF studies, gender studies, and affect theory.

Research Showcase: Sam Shields

Sam Shields is a Lecturer in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences. Her book Working-class Female Students’ Experiences of Higher Education: Identities, Choices and Emotions (2021) is part of the Palgrave Studies in Gender and Education series.

The book is premised on the concept of gender as culturally-mediated understandings of femininity and masculinity and the concomitant roles and expectations associated with these. Twelve working-class women, six middle-class women and two working-class men were interviewed from three universities in the North of England. This research was prompted by a desire to understand what factors enabled working-class women to gain entry into university and in what ways this was a different experience to their middle-class counterparts and/or men. Teachers cite ‘feminine’ attributes of conscientiousness, hard-work and compliance for the educational success of young women. Furthermore, the debate on educational underachievement in young men has led to assumptions that all young women are academically successful. Yet this discourse is flawed, when socio-economic backgrounds are considered, working-class girls often underperform in the education system.

Neoliberal educational narratives tend to ignore the structural disadvantages of gender and social class. As individuals are involuntarily placed within society, they are structurally impacted by different sets of ‘enablements’ and ‘constraints’. ‘Internal conversation’ considers how individuals reflexively mediate between structure and agency and provides insights into how meaningful the ‘successful girl’ discourse is to women. Furthermore, gendered insights are offered through Archer’s concepts of ‘morphogenesis’ and ‘morphostasis’. Morphogenesis meaning transformation and change and morphostasis meaning the reproduction of existing structures.

The book illuminates the contextualising role socio-economic background can play in shaping gendered expectations of women being supporters of family or supported by family. The meaning-making of the working-class women undergraduates did not generally reflect the sense of competitive ambition and individualism that is often needed by neoliberal approaches to academic success and careers, which frequently necessitate geographical mobility and a readjustment in balancing the needs of family and friends. For many of the working-class women, the strength of familial bonds and locality-ties meant that educational or career aspirations would never supersede these priorities and commitments. This was a very different experience to the middle-class women undergraduates who were expected by their families to be geographical mobile and were supported in embarking on postgraduate qualifications to facilitate career aspirations. For the few working-class women in the study undertaking morphogenetic life-projects more akin to their middle-class counterparts, they undertook these against a backdrop of an increasing fracturing of their natal familial contexts.

Further Reading:

Archer, M.S. (2003) Structure, agency and the internal conversation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Al-deen, T. J. (2019) Agency in action: young Muslim women and negotiating higher education in Australia, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 40 (5), pp. 598-613

Baker, J. (2010) Great expectations and post-feminist accountability: young women living up to the ‘successful girls’ discourse, Gender and Education, 22 (1), pp: 1-15

Jones, S.  & Myhill, D. (2004) ‘Troublesome boys’ and ‘compliant girls’: gender identity and perceptions of achievement and underachievement, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25 (5), pp. 547-561

Lips, H. M. (2019) Gender the basics, Abingdon: Routledge, 2nd ed.

Pinkett, M. & Roberts, M. (2019) Boys don’t try? Rethinking masculinity in schools, Abingdon: Routledge

Research Showcase: Jake Pointer

Jake Pointer is a PhD researcher in Sociology in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. His project concerns a sociological understanding of migrants working in the UK Industrial Meat Processing sector (IMP); specifically, abattoirs and cutting plants.

IMP is a migrant-dominated occupation in the UK, but it’s also male-dominated. One of the aims of the project is to understand why there are so many migrants in IMP, but another question raised whilst conducting the project was, why are there so many men in this sector? To answer this, the project utilises a combination of theory and interviews with meat workers, and the conclusions (thus far) are split into two sections: the physical and the emotional. Regarding the physical, IMP work demands the use of the body. Often tasks involve hard manual labour such as heavy lifting, cutting, skinning, de-boning, packing and, of course, killing, with physical competence being prized as a masculine ideal. This is true for other manual jobs such as building or factory work. Furthermore, IMP is often seen as undesirable by society, but the aspects that make it so are gendered. Meat work is dangerous; cuts and slips are common, with amputations and on-the-job deaths occasionally recorded. Dealing with raw flesh is seen as repugnant for many. These aspects can be framed through masculine ideals; pride in the ability to ‘stomach’ such work or to ‘man up’ and tackle dangerous tasks on the job.

The emotions in IMP are also gendered, with workplace norms dictating which are acceptable and unacceptable. Empathy, for example, may be regarded as a feminine emotion and is, therefore, inappropriate. The successful slaughterhouse worker deploys a stoic approach, detaching themselves from the morality of killing. Some scholars have noted discourses around ‘providing’ for the community almost like a hunter/gatherer, a sort of primitive breadwinner role. As with the hunter, the slaughterman cannot feel pity or remorse; the animals are merely a means to an end, like wood used to make furniture. This does not mean other emotions are not ‘appropriate’. Humour has been found in many IMP facilities, with jokes often aimed towards those who do not fit the desired masculine ideal, which helps to exclude outsiders. However, humour may facilitate pernicious forms of banter such as harassment. Whilst unpleasant, the successful receiving of harassment is often judged as a demonstration of toughness, almost a rite of passage. Men who can receive these will then be accepted into the workplace culture.

Migrants make up the majority of meat workers, but so do men. IMP work is both physically and emotionally embedded with traditional notions of masculinity; it’s physical, dangerous and needs a strong stomach, with these sacrifices being for the good of wider community. Whilst there is a slowly growing number of women in this sector, for the foreseeable future meat work will remain a ‘man’s job’.

Further Reading

Ackroyd, S. and Crowdy, P. A. (1990) ‘Can Culture be Managed? Working with “Raw” Material: The Case of the English Slaughtermen’ Personnel Review, vol. 19, no. 5, pp. 3-13. 

Hamilton, L. and McCabe, D. (2016) ‘‘It’s just a job’: Understanding Emotion Work, De-animalization and the Compartmentalization of Organized Animal Slaughter’ Organization, vol. 32, vol. 3, pp. 330-350.  

McLoughlin, E. (2018) ‘Knowing Cows: Transformative Mobilizations of Human and Non-human Bodies in an Emotionography of the Slaughterhouse’ Gender, Work and Organisation, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 322-342.