#388      34 min 12 sec
The power of a warm welcome: Forging a humanitarian response to refugees amid negative media imagery

Are refugees fleeing persecution today generally seen as people who need help, or problems to be pushed away? Migration and refugee researcher Prof. Uma Kothari discusses how media representations of asylum seekers influence us in how we attend and respond to the plight of individuals and groups fleeing their countries in search of safety. Presented by Peter Mares.

"It seems to me that it's problematic to talk about people coming in with a bounded homogenous culture that is going to be threatening. What about the excitement and the opportunity of what people bring?" -- Prof Uma Kothari




Prof Uma Kothari
Prof Uma Kothari

Uma Kothari is Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Manchester in the UK and Director of the university’s Global Development Institute. Professor Kothari was recently made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal for her contributions to research on global development. Her work in that field intersects with interests in humanitarianism, migration, refugees and diasporas. Recent projects include an Australian Research Council funded project on International Volunteering and Cosmopolitanism and a Norwegian Research Council project on Perceptions of Climate Change and Migration. Professor Kothari’s current research is on Visual Solidarity and Everyday Humanitarianism. She is currently writing a book on Time, Geography and Global Inequalities and documenting her parents overland trip from UK to India in 1955.

Credits

Host: Peter Mares
Producer: Eric van Bemmel
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Louise Bennet
Series Creators: Kelvin Param and Eric van Bemmel

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VOICEOVER

This is Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia.


PETER MARES

Hello I'm Peter Mares, welcome to Up Close. States that signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees are obliged never to return someone to a country where they're being persecuted. This part of the Convention was designed to prevent a repeat of events in the 1930s and 1940s, when many Jews escaping Germany were forced back into the clutches of the Nazis. But in the 21st Century we seem to be forgetting the lessons of history. Like European Jews in the 1930s, refugees fleeing persecution today are not generally seen as people who need help, but as problems to be pushed away.

Our guest today is trying to understand how it is that we've come to be so inhumane and she thinks media representations of refugees and asylum seekers have a lot to do with it. Uma Kothari, is Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Manchester in the UK and former director of the university's Global Development Institute. Professor Kothari was recently made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Busk Medal for her contributions to research on global development. Her work engages the topics of humanitarianism, migration, refugees and diasporas. Uma Kothari, welcome to Up Close.


UMA KOTHARI

Thank you.


PETER MARES

Let's start with the image of Aylan Kurdi. Many listeners may remember it, the Syrian toddler or Kurdish background who drowned trying to reach safety in Europe. His dead body washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015. There was a photograph of his body that flashed around the world and provoked an enormous and immediate response. How did that image, or why did that image have such an impact do you think?


UMA KOTHARI

Well, for me there's two main issues there. One is about the image itself and the other is about what we might call impact. We know there's been iconic images in the past in the context of famine, conflict, poverty, war.


PETER MARES

We might think of the famous picture of the girl burned by Napalm in the Vietnam War.


UMA KOTHARI

Absolutely, yes.


PETER MARES

Or the Afghan girl with the green eyes. Those famous images.


UMA KOTHARI

Well and they're iconic because the visual does have a sensual immediacy that is unrivalled really in text. So, in this particular context there's been lots of previous images. For a long time the news have published photographs of Syrian refugees, images of the dead, the wounded, the displaced. But few of them had such an impression and I've been trying to think through as well, why is it that this particular image was so powerful? I think in a way amongst that kind of noise of image that one image breaks through. Why is it that that image breaks through? Of course, it's something that makes us stop, for a moment, perhaps, maybe longer and it hits people in the heart and not the head. So this kind of instantaneous response to it. For some people it was the familiarity of the child that resonated. The Velcro strapped shoes, the red t-shirt that he was wearing.


PETER MARES

Yeah, like anyone's child.


UMA KOTHARI

Exactly. Looked like a child that you and I know. Some people have said well it was racialized too. It was a light skinned child, that it resonated in the sense that we could understand that this was somebody who might be our neighbour, this is somebody who we might see on a daily basis. So there was an acceptance around that child, a familiarity of that child and it looked like he was sleeping. He looked innocent. I think one of the things that particular image did is that it broke through the other images which were of a faceless mass of Syrian refugees on overcrowded boats. This picked out one individual. Of course we saw all the Syrian refugees on the boats and we recognised them as being human, even though they were faceless, but they weren't humanised. Hannah Arendt talks about that in terms of in the Second World War about refugees in the Second World War, that we saw them as human, but they weren't humanised.


PETER MARES

Hannah of course herself was a German Jewish refugee from the Nazis.


UMA KOTHARI

Yeah, and what she says is that they were invisible. They weren't invisible because we didn't see them, because we had images. They were invisible because they had no agency to act or to do anything. In a sense, here we have this image which is of a child, innocent, it looks very much like a child that we know. At the same time, it broke through that kind of noise and the chaos of the other photographs, because this child was, it was an individual. It wasn't a faceless mass.


PETER MARES

Let's talk then about the impact of the image. Because certainly in Australia it provoked a response from the Federal Government because of the public's response to the image and that meant that Australia promised to resettle an extra 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. I think there was a similar response in the UK.


UMA KOTHARI

There was.


PETER MARES

So, how do you rate this impact if you like?


UMA KOTHARI

I've been starting with the question, what do we mean by impact? I'd like to think of it in terms of response. What does that image do? Does it make us care, not care, pity, cry or does it actually motivate us to donate, to protest, to change policy? I think there was a whole range of responses. I don't think we can only identify the policy response. I think in a sense that the impact depended on whether the power of that single image could move us beyond feelings of compassion for an innocent child, to thinking about the wider context and the wider issue and I think it hinged on that. Were we able to move from that single image and feeling care and compassion to actually thinking about this is a big issue. This is a big problem that a lot of people are facing. I think the timing was very important, because a lot of governments, I mean the UK Government, they were under public pressure to take refugees and they didn't want to be seen to do a u-turn in their policy. So this image gave them an opportunity to say but we are humanitarian, we can do something.


PETER MARES

There's also the question of the duration of the impact if you like. It might prompt people to write a letter or ring their local politician or go to a demonstration and it might prompt a one-off increase in a refugee intake by a country like Australia or the UK. But does it just inevitably fade into the background as we are swamped by other images and that noise if you like, the visual noise that is so every day in the media?


UMA KOTHARI

Yeah. Again, I think that really depends on whether we were able to shift from seeing this as an individual to seeing it as a wider contextual issue. Was this individual representative or a symbol of a wider problem? Could we make that leap? If we made that leap, that image lasted, much longer in terms of its effect. I think there was two different types of temporality at play there. One is that the image didn't remain with us for a very long time. We moved on. That's the temporality of the news and 24-hour news and images and the whole kind of explosion of images and visual representations. But at the same time, everyday there's something about refugees. On the one hand it's temporary, it's momentary, it's fleeting and on the other it becomes embedded further and further because it's continuously reproduced.


PETER MARES

There's also a question of how we respond to the image. As you say, what questions does it prompt us to ask? Does it prompt us to ask why did people get on this boat? Or does it prompt us to ask how can we stop people getting on boats?


UMA KOTHARI

One of the issues there is that we need to track the development of this debate over a period of time. Because what we see is that at the beginning we had a lot more news about what the conflict was about, why people were leaving, why were they compelled to flee persecution, violence etcetera. What's happened over time is that we don't really hear very much about that anymore. A lot of people reading the news now don't actually know why are they leaving in the first place? What's the context that they're fleeing from? We hear about the journey. I think we hear about borders and I think we hear about arrival and settlement. I don't think we hear very much now about the context and the root causes. I think a lot of people are asking the question, well how could they risk such a hazardous journey, rather than asking why the journey's so hazardous? It seems to me it's partly a consequence of border regimes.


PETER MARES

As in why aren't there routes to safety for people?


UMA KOTHARI

Why aren't there safe routes? Why aren't the routes safe?


PETER MARES

Yes indeed.


UMA KOTHARI

Why aren't they being flown over? I mean Trudeau, in Canada, the Prime Minister in Canada, he commissioned a plane to bring people safely over. So while in Germany they said well we'll take a million refugees, but if you can make it here. If you can get here.


PETER MARES

If you can get past all those, across the Mediterranean.


UMA KOTHARI

There was no safe passage, yeah.


PETER MARES

Past all those borders.


UMA KOTHARI

Absolutely. I think that the mass media has tended to conceal the wider context, what's happening in Syria, why are people being forced to flee? I think that would change our disposition and our approach to refugees if we understood that a bit better.


PETER MARES

Is there also a risk with a photograph like the one we've been discussing of Aylan Kurdi, a three year old toddler, an innocent child killed in the search for safety. A risk that it tends to reinforce the view of refugees as passive victims, rather than as people who have agency, who make their own decisions, who forge their own way in life.


UMA KOTHARI

That revolves really around a key discussion and debate that's being had in the media which is around choice and about agency and whether people are making decisions and what kinds of decisions they're making. It seems to me that we have for long, kind of, constructed this dichotomy between those people who are free to move and those who are not, who are constrained in certain ways or movements which are voluntary and those which are forced or compelled. I think that's a really unhelpful dichotomy. Because what do we mean by choice? If somebody is fleeing a situation where they're likely not to survive if they stay, is that voluntary? Is that making a decision to move that's voluntary, that is out of choice? That they're making a decision themselves. Or is it a compulsion? Is it something that they have to do? In the area that I work in in Global Developments, there's a lot of discussion around people moving out of poverty and whether moving out of poverty is a choice or whether actually it's forced in some sense? Because there is no option to stay put.


PETER MARES

And because every human being, it's a universal drive amongst human beings to try to create better life for your children, all those sorts of things. So to flee poverty, if there's a better opportunity somewhere else, that's a natural, human thing to do.


UMA KOTHARI

And some people do that and some don't and that's why they think it's a choice, because not everybody moves. Some people are understood to have a choice rather than being compelled to move because other people don't. I think the British Somali poet Warsan Shire, she wrote a poem. She said well you have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water's safer than the land. So where's choice in that? Where is the decision being made in that kind of context? I think the term voluntary is really problematic.


PETER MARES

Yeah because we tend to think of the water as being the dangerous point. But that quote you gave from the poem, it's suggesting actually it's the land that's the dangerous place.


UMA KOTHARI

It's the land is dangerous and I think that's why the policies of saving lives at sea is just so inhumane, because it's founded upon the idea that refugees have a choice. They still have to flee, but now they can't arrive anywhere.


PETER MARES

There's another sense in which the concept of choice comes in here and it goes back to what I was suggesting before about agency, that we have a distinction in the west, we tend to make a distinction between good and bad refugees if you like. Good refugees are ones who wait patiently in refugee camps, so they're passive. Bad refugees are ones who break our visa laws or our border control laws and make their own way to claim refugee status, seek protection in another country. That goes again to the question of choice because refugees have a choice to stay in the camp and wait patiently for something to happen or to move.


UMA KOTHARI

In a sense, being a refugee, embodying that sense of being a refugee, of having to flee, it's very difficult I think to then follow institutional procedures. I mean people have been talking about they need to wait in the queue. What queue? It's not that organised. It's not that sort of structured. It's much more complicated than that and people have been waiting in refugee camps for many, many years and we see that historically, not just in this contemporary moment, but we see that historically with Palestinians in Amman for example, intergenerational, exactly. So yes, I think people are making all kinds of different decisions. But I think they're based on their particular understanding of their context. Of course they have agency. They're also victims. We can't say that they're not. How difficult it must be at a particular moment to have to make a decision for you and your family. I think that must be very hard to do, based on the knowledge that you have, which might be quite sparse.


PETER MARES

When refugees do seek safety in other countries, what they're doing is really putting the international convention on the status of refugees to the test aren't they. They're saying to countries like Australia, Britain, Germany, you signed up to this convention. Here we are needing help. Now act on the convention. This is very uncomfortable for developed countries.


UMA KOTHARI

It is very uncomfortable for developed countries and I think there's all kinds of ways in which attempts are made to circumvent those conventions. One of them is, in terms of labelling, you're not really an asylum seeker or you're not really a refugee and we'll have to do some really rigorous interviews and sort of questioning around an individual's particular status. I think you're absolutely right. I mean that's the convention and that's what people are looking to. But we don't really have many rights for people to stay put. People don't want to move. They actually don't want to all come and live in Australia or in the UK or in the rest of Europe or in Canada. People want to be in their homes and in their environment. Not everybody, but most of them would rather be returning to their homes in Syria than they would be arriving somewhere else. These are choices that they're making under very constrained situations.


PETER MARES

And there's a sense in which policy responses and the actions we take shape those privileged citizens of the west as well. I'm thinking here in the Australian context, we've had detention centres and offshore camps for asylum seekers and refugees. These are initially presented as a kind of exceptional circumstance, a one off necessary in this particular moment in time. They've now become normalised. So as citizens we now have come to accept that this is the way we behave to people seeking our assistance. What does that do us and our citizenship and our sense of responsibility to the other and so on?


UMA KOTHARI

I mean that's such an important question, because so many things have become normalised. There are so many ways in which we see other people which appear instinctive and spontaneous but are founded upon many years of assumptions and preconceptions about other people. I think that one of the issues around the detached geography of a lot of refugees have been over there contained and confined is that it has become acceptable. That people live under certain kinds of conditions, yet we valorise our humanitarianism, our global responsibility and at the same time we're containing people.


PETER MARES

Somehow we've hardened our hearts or compartmentalised our minds in ways that we can say oh we're humanitarian, we're generous on the one hand and we can lock people up on the other.


UMA KOTHARI

It's more about what you say that it's become normalised. That we have certain kinds of behaviour that's become normalised. It's acceptable for every cover of every newspaper to depict a boat and to say something about a group, a mass of faceless migrants coming, the threat. In Britain there isn't a day that goes by without some negative image and representation of refugees and it's accepted. Accepted in the sense that it carries on. It's not necessarily accepted by everybody that reads and looks at it, but it's accepted because it exists and it continues. But I think that this particular context has raised a really important issue around our fundamental fears. Is fear foundational to the human condition? We see a lot in newspapers around the fear that people have of refugees, particularly Muslim refugees. I think that we have to think about where those preconceptions and fear comes from. I think part of the welcoming and part of the discourse of arrival and of refugees, can shape also those preconceptions.


PETER MARES

This is Up Close. I'm Peter Mares and I'm in conversation with Uma Kothari, Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Manchester. Uma Kothari, this issue is not going to go away is it? Because if we think about climate change, predictions are that there will be a whole new group of displaced people forced to move from low lying parts of Bangladesh for example, from Pacific Islands, or islands in the Indian Ocean, because of growing deserts and so on. So how we manage displacement, human displacement, that's an issue we just have to get better at isn't it?


UMA KOTHARI

Well, people have suggested and have coined the phrase environmental refugees. Some people find that problematic.


PETER MARES

Why is that problematic?


UMA KOTHARI

Well, I think it's problematic because migration is much too complex a process and so's climate change, environmental change to label simply as environment or climate change induced mobility. People move for a whole range of reasons and environmental change might be one of them. I'm not talking about the extreme where there's an environmental disaster so to speak.


PETER MARES

A flood or a…


UMA KOTHARI

A flood, yeah. But that kind of incremental climate change. It's very difficult to say that person moved because of climate change. Because there's always in population mobility, always in decisions to migrate, there's a whole range of complex factors that shape an individual and the collective's decision. I think it's very hard to associate and to see a clear course of relationships.


PETER MARES

Just as we can't say this thunderstorm or this drought was caused by climate change.


UMA KOTHARI   

Exactly, exactly. Also there are many different responses to climate change and population mobility might be one of them. The term environmental refugee, I can see why it was coined and invoked and has become quite widespread. But I think it's also problematic. Because it's actually playing into some of the things that you were talking about earlier about that kind of normalisation of the ways in which we see other people, the ways in which we label people as refugees. As soon as we say environmental refugee, we're going to invoke all the kind of discussion that we're having at the moment about Syrian refugees and that's going to come into play.


PETER MARES

But on the other hand, don't we need some kind of notion of environmental refugee because the current definition of a refugee has nothing to say about someone who's Pacific Island has gone under water. As an international community don't we need to be able to define someone who needs protection for reasons other than persecution based on their political views?


UMA KOTHARI

Yeah, but I think in a way we're thinking again about how people are attempting to secure their livelihoods. That's what it's about. There's all kinds of things that are taking place, conflict, war, famine, climate change which are challenging. But I think there are broader issues about looking at the relationship between an individual trying to secure their livelihoods and remain in their homelands and I think those are widespread issues and they reflect all different kinds of context.

I think what's interesting about what's happening in small island developing states, is that there's a bit of a tension between scientists that have a longer term view, who might say in 2050, sea levels will rise by two metres and none of your land is above two meters and you will sink. Then there's people who are securing their livelihoods on a daily basis who aren't thinking about climate change the minute they wake up in the morning or when they go to bed at night. They're thinking about clothing their children, getting them a good education, securing their livelihoods. So there's a bit of a tension where the scientists say why aren't you listening? Why aren't you doing anything? Actually, people in their everyday lives are and always have been adapting. The everyday is so important and I think that we need to do more research on what the everyday means. That's not just about people's agency in the everyday. How they adapt, how they change, how they go fishing in another area to where their parents used to go because there's more fish there now. That's the kind of way in which people are responding to environmental change.


PETER MARES

You've talked about practical humanitarianism and a warm welcome. What do you mean by these things? What do you mean by changing the response that we have currently to displacement and the forced movement of people around the world?


UMA KOTHARI

Well, I think as we said before, there's so many ways in which our responses have become normalised in negative ways, in the ways in which we see refugees and the ways in which we understand or perceive them as a threat and I think that's hugely problematic and I think the media's had a big role to play in reproducing that kind of imagery. But I think at the same time we've made many advances in our representations and there are many people who are doing incredible work. I mean here the Refugee Council of Australia is doing amazing work in trying to raise awareness and to respond to those kinds of negative representations. I think there's a number of issues there.

I think the first is that even though we've made lots of attempts and many advances in the ways in which we see and respond to refugees, I think there's something that continues to bedevil those attempts at achieving social justice and that is that we just don't see others as our contemporaries. They're not like us. They are always migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. One of the ways in which I think we can move beyond that, I mean charities do the same thing. I mean if you want somebody to donate, if you want someone to feel care and compassion, they cannot be exactly the same as you, because then there's no space left for you to give. Right. There has to be some distance between the donor and the beneficiary. Otherwise charities are not going to be able to muster any resources. So there's this continuous process of kind of pulling people apart, the donor, the beneficiary, the carer, the cared for. I think that in a way they're constructing that distance and what we want to do is to forge some kind of solidarity and similarity. How do we do that? Well I think there are many hopeful signs. There's been an incredible outpouring of compassion and signs of welcome.


PETER MARES

Can you give some examples of what you mean, what you see as these hopeful signs?


UMA KOTHARI

One of the hopeful signs is that in Europe there was at Malmö Station in Sweden, in Copenhagen, in all kinds of places where refugees were arriving. There were hundreds of people with handmade banners and placards and blankets. That moment, that moment of arrival after this arduous, torturous, hazardous journey, to see people who are welcoming I think we can't really deny that. Particularly in an age of disconnected social media in many ways. Here is the tactile response, physical response. Somebody putting a blanket round someone's shoulder. Maybe I am too optimistic, but I just can't believe that that wouldn't have a longer-term impact, on the ways in which people view other people and the ways in which they see the places that they've arrived at.

At the same time, the affective power of standing next to 100 other people holding placards is very important for our local politics, is very important to see that you are part of a group of people who feel similarly to you in a world where you like or dislike a political statement on Facebook or you tweet. That here is somebody standing next to you and I think it's very visceral, I think it's very embodied and I think that's incredibly important. The other thing that we're doing, we've provided a space for alternative representations and voices. I'll just give two examples there.

We've got Yasmin Fedda's documentary Queens of Syria which follows the journey of a group of 50 female refugees living in exile in Amman. The last one I went to was just, it was absolutely packed. It was a packed room and very interesting questions. It's not just speaking to the converted. There were people there I think who wanted to just know a bit more, wanted to hear a bit more. The second example is the Syria Mobile Film Festival. Many Syrians are recording the events on their mobile phones. I mean they're trying to get a signal and it's been something that's very interesting about this particular movement is that people further down the line waiting to cross the border in Hungary have got texts saying they're going to close the border in two days. They're sending information to each other. So this Mobile Film Festival has given the voice to a lot of Syrian refugees. I think opening up that space, provides an opportunity to listen to alternative voices. I think that's been very important. It's re-energised local politics. I mean I walk around Melbourne and I see posters that say refugees welcome.


PETER MARES

Welcoming people at railways stations at the end of the journey is one thing. But what about sustaining that welcome over time? Because of course the challenges for newly arrived refugees are great in terms of language, culture, finding jobs and so on. People can get a bit exhausted by the amount of assistance that people may need. I mean can we sustain that welcome beyond the symbolic blanket at the railway station?


UMA KOTHARI

That's a good question, because of course it's easier to welcome people than to have other people live amongst us. A lot of the work on the welcome's been on this site and the moment of arrival. It's a good question to think about well what happens after that? What happens when they put those banners and placards away and people have moved and are able to settle? There's a long history around whether we use the term simulation or integration and how that works. I think it works at many different levels. On the one hand, there's the ways in which governments provide resources which I think is important to enable people to settle in other places. I think there's also, in terms of representation, there's the ways in which other people start thinking about newer people in their communities.

In Britain there's been a whole different trajectory around integration and in simulation and people use the discourse of multiculturalism. So what's happening at the moment in Britain is that there is campaigns in different cities to get governments to resource refugees in settling in terms of housing, in terms of schools for children. I think that's very important and I think that does extend from the welcome.


PETER MARES

The language of multiculturalism of course is also itself very contested and one of the responses would be, well multiculturalism means letting people live exactly as they choose rather than live by the established norms and laws and understanding and culture of the host society, the society into which they have come. This is one of the fears that in fact people will bring cultural practices or traditions or behaviours that are not acceptable in the new country.


UMA KOTHARI

But that's the problem with thinking about cultures as being bounded and homogenous and static. Because no culture is. So that's the problem for me with multiculturalism, is it's as though there's many different bounded identifiable cultures and that they're going to come together and they're going to clash in some way or perhaps merge in other context. There isn't a homogenous culture. There isn't a homogenous gender culture amongst Syrian refugees of example, as there isn't in Australia. Australia is made up of people who've come from many different places as is Britain. It seems to me that it's problematic to talk about people coming in with a bounded homogenous culture that is going to be threatening. What about the excitement and the opportunity of what people bring?


PETER MARES

Is there though an expectation on people who arrive or an obligation on the people who arrive to also be sensitive to the community they're coming into and the fact that as newcomers, they do present challenges to the existing social order, social behaviours, resources and so on?


UMA KOTHARI

Well to resources, yes. I mean is there a singular social order and behaviour culture, no. But resources yes, I think that's one of the biggest issues that places where refugees are arriving are concerned about. What does this mean for resourcing? What does it mean for the provision of welfare? How is that going to distinguish or disadvantage people who already live in those countries? I think those are real problems, real issues and that they need to be addressed. I think everybody has a civic responsibility. Maybe people who arrive where they understand their civic responsibility differently, then clearly there are issues there around what do we mean by that? What can we demand from the state and what roles and responsibilities do we have towards the state? I think that is important. That's important for everybody. But I would be very wary of thinking that people who come from outside are going to threaten a homogenous static culture that is living happily and has lived happily together for many, many years, but instead has always been shaped by the flow of ideas and people and finance and technology and resources. This is another flow and we need to manage it really well.


PETER MARES

We began by speaking about the media and let's end again with the media. Is there any point in expecting the media to be of assistance in this area or is the very framing of the story of refugees, as a story of crisis and threat in the media? Does that mean that actually we should forget about the media and concentrate on the sorts of practical humanitarian welcome that you've been talking about?


UMA KOTHARI

All those things and many different kinds of media as well. I think the media has a huge role and responsibility and there's lots of groups of journalists who have come together who now have organisations and events around responsible reporting. I think that that's incredibly important. Of course the media has a role. It's amazingly powerful. I think there's definitely work to be done there and I think people are doing that. There's different kinds of media. Of course there's social media and there's people who are producers and consumers of media now. I mean there's not just a producer out there and a sort of passive recipients as consumers. We're decoding what we read and we're challenging the representations that we're seeing. We're also not passive consumers.

It seems to me that there's that on the one side. There's about the media and the ways in which we challenge it. But there is what Paul Gilroy calls convivial culture and that's what I mean by everyday humanitarianism. It seems to me that's what we really need to be pushing. We need to be thinking about that. What he says and this is referring to multicultural Britain in the 1970s. He's saying look you can't legislate for multiculturalism. You can't say you have to like so and so. You have to think they're a good person. You have to be kind to them. You have to feel compassion. You can't legislate for that. That happens at a very grounded level of convivial culture. It's rubbing up against, it's thinking about the ways in which we can demonstrate care, solidarity, compassion, kindness towards other people, which we want irrespective of people coming into or leaving particular societies. I think it's about that kind of convivial culture.

The chancellor of my university, at the University of Manchester, Lemn Sissay, he says migration is at the heart of who we are. When we press send and he's talking about social media and the power of social media. When we press send, we've populated the world with new ideas, without visas, border controls or baggage allowance. So there's another space there for us to be global and to be political and to be compassionate.


PETER MARES

Uma Kothari, thank you for joining us on Up Close.


UMA KOTHARI

Thank you.


PETER MARES

Uma Kothari is Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Manchester where she founded the university's Global Development Institute. Professor Kothari's current research is on visual solidarity and everyday humanitarianism. She is writing a book on time, geography and global inequalities and she's documenting her parent's overland trip from the UK to India in 1955. You'll find more information about her research and writing and other relevant links on the Up Close website.

Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne, Australia. This episode was recorded on 9 February, 2017. It was produced by Eric van Bemmel with audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer. I'm Peter Mares. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join us again soon.


VOICEOVER

You've been listening to Up Close. For more information, visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook. Copyright 2017, the University of Melbourne.


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