Five Questions with Deirdre McKay

This is the latest in a series of conversations with our Framing the Global fellows. It’s an opportunity for them to talk about their work as well as a chance for you to get an idea of what their process is like.

Each fellow is approaching the global from a particular entry point. Deirdre McKay’s is affect.

senior lecturer in Keele University’s (U.K.) Department of Social Geography and Environmental Politics, McKay’s project is An Archipelago of Care.

You get an idea of what that might be in this week’s Q&A.

Rosemary Pennington: What drew you to Framing the Global?

Deidre McKay: The project draws together a whole group of projects on different aspects of the global.

Since I’ve always thought about the global kind of like the four blind men encountering the elephant – you only learn about bits and pieces of it through any one project or approach – that had me hooked. I couldn’t pass up a chance to work in a group like this.

Both the diversity of approaches and opinions and the recognition of shared issues and themes has been terrifically stimulating for my own work. And that’s what I was looking for – an intellectual community for what I’d always thought were my fairly eclectic interests in global things.

 RP: What is your entry point and why did you choose it?

McKay hanging out with a migrant's sister.

McKay hanging out with a migrant’s sister.

DM: Affect is my entry point. By affect I mean that primal energy that flows between people and attaches us to each other, our ideas and institutions and relationships.

I choose affect as an entry point because I was doing a research project with migrant workers from the Philippines who were living in London. I was fascinated by the intensity of my respondents’ feelings of connection – and fallings out – with each other, with family back in the Philippines, and with their UK-based employers.

Being caught up in that intensity of feeling myself, as an ethnographer, showed me that it was a useful starting point for thinking about my respondents’ global experiences.

RP: What challenges have you faced as you’ve navigated the global this way?

DM: Probably two big ones — evidence and ethics.

Firstly, affect is very difficult to represent in black and white text. So capturing the intensity of feeling after a performance of ethnic dance on a London stage or after an argument between sisters in text on a page is a challenge.

How can I present evidence of something that so hard to represent on the page?

Facebook meme.

Facebook meme.

And this flows into the second challenge: ethics. Confidentiality, anonymity and informed consent are the key aspects of ethical research for ethnographers. Trying to ensure everyone I’m working with understands my research approach when my work is global – spanning multiple sites and relationships simultaneously, including digital fora – takes time.

I’ve had to be more conservative about publishing, presenting, blogging and tweeting insights and results because they are always connected (and connectable) to far more than I first realize.

RP: In her introduction to the upcoming book, Dr. Hilary Kahn writes that one of the questions scholars of the global are faced with is “How do we know its global?” How do you answer that question in your work?

DM: For me, it’s really straightforward. The migrant workers I’m doing research with talk about the ways they discuss “living in a global world” with their UK employers.

And they always linked up to friends and relatives all over Europe and the USA, North Africa, the Pacific, Australia – you name it – via Facebook.

Some of these people come and go as visitors in London and everyone meets back ‘at home’ in the Philippines for family events. So the global is really their element.

RP: How have your discussions on the space of global studies within the Framing the Global interdisciplinary group affected your view of your home discipline?

DM: Working within the broader group has helped me appreciate what my disciplinary base in Geography has to offer global studies. Discussions we have had on say, scale, have revealed just how much global work is building on geographical scholarship.

The interdisciplinary group has also convinced me of the utility of long-term ethnographic approaches, like my own, for understanding what are fundamental changes in the ways people all over the world are living their lives.

You can follow us on Twitter: @FramingGlobal.