The SEREDA Project: A reflection on time and stories

Professor Jenny Phillimore – Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity and Project Lead.

We are now fifteen months into the SEREDA project.  As ever time has flown and there is never enough of it to do everything that we feel is necessary to do justice to the topic of sexual and gender based violence and forced migration.  While we video-conference as a team monthly, and these events help us to stay connected, there is nothing like being physically in the same room to help progress.  In May we managed to meet for three days during which time we focused upon developing a coding frame for our stakeholder and refugee survivor interview data.  We had all read two transcripts from our Turkish, UK and Swedish studies and spent several hours identifying key themes.  As these conversations progressed it became evident how much we could learn from each other’s data through simply discussing stories. 

For example, one case retold by a team member concerned the experience of a woman who had escaped conflict and, in a bid to achieve both status and safety, married once she arrived in a country of refuge.  As the relationship became abusive, we heard how the respondent tried to balance the demands of her remaining family back home, with those of her children and her efforts to be safe.  She moves from city to city and back and forth to her husband trying to negotiate survival and meet familial expectations using ongoing mobility as both an opportunity to be safe but also a barrier to gaining any kind of permanent resolution to her situation.  Resilience and vulnerability, key themes in SEREDA, were at the core of this story but so too was mobility – having identified the importance of different kinds of mobilities we were then able to consider what mobility might mean for the SEREDA findings more generally. 

The importance of stories to aid our deliberations during our meeting have made us realise that the time has come to shift the emphasis from the functional and operational in our monthly video-conferences to the narrative.  Yes, of course we will still discuss progress, but now each meeting features a story told by the researchers who performed the interview.  These stories form the foundation of discussions around the experiences of survivors and those who support them.  They enable us to understand better the ways in which such experiences connect to the different country contexts and their associated policies and practices.  We also think that stories will be important once we reach the stage of disseminating our findings to key stakeholders.  Undeniably, telling stories takes time and there is never enough time especially in international projects based in different time zones.  So, our next physical meeting will be for a week.  We will look at the different ways that we can use stories to shape our work especially as we get to the stage of preparing outputs.  This may mean a shift from a tightly packed agenda to creating time and space to ponder the narratives and how we make sense of them and represent them to those in power.