07 SES 11 A, Minority Teachers Part 2
Paper Session continued from 07 SES 09 A
The unimaginable brutality of the conflict in Syria has torn apart the nation and the death toll points to one of the largest humanitarian crises since the second world war with 2.3 million people (11.5 per cent of the country’s population) killed or wounded, thousands still under arrest, detained or missing, and 6.5 million internally displaced inside Syria (ESCWA 2016). There are also 6.1 million refugees (idib.) scattered in refugee camps, some awaiting new forms of legal status in neighbouring countries and in Europe, and many trapped in countries without knowledge of the future of their citizenship. There is clear and substantive evidence that violence and forced disappearances are a prominent feature of a politicised HE in post 2011. Drawing on human rights reports, Qayyum (2012) states that in the first year of the crisis over 10,000 people were reported missing or were placed in custody (Qayyum 2012: 7), and 4000 of those missing or detained are academics. Turkmani (2017) reports that the forms of detention, interrogation, and torture directed towards students and faculty members are so bureaucratic and routine that the security apparatus and associated networks of corruption represent intractable problems to overcome in regime-controlled areas of Syrian HE.
In this paper, we report on a study investigating the lives of 19 Syrian displaced academics, who fled Syria between 2011 and 2017 and are currently residing in Turkey. The study represents part of a larger project commissioned by Cara (Council for At-Risk Academics) with support from the British Council and Open Society Foundation. The work and associated analyses were carried out through a collaboration between a University of Cambridge team and Syrian displaced academics. The goals of the project were two-fold: 1) to build the research capacity of displaced Syrian academics living in Turkey by conducting a collaborative enquiry on Higher Education in Syria before and after 2011; and 2) to inform strategic planning on the future of Syria’s Higher Education sector, particularly as it relates to the impact the conflict on HE. The key research questions addressed in this paper are: (a) how do Syrian displaced academics understand themselves as a result of experiences of exile and protracted displacement: (b) how do they view themselves as professionals whilst in a state of exile, particularly in relation to their professional identities in the past, present and future; and (c) how might displacement and exile mediate their relationship to nation, cultural identity, security, citizenship and selfhood.
We draw upon an interdisciplinary framework for assessing the wider conceptual questions around displacement, exile and professional identity. Broadly, we take a phenomenological perspective bridging the work of Saskia Sassen (2014), political understandings of exile (see Arendt, Honig, Crawford, Said, Ahmed) and link it to a Bakhtinian approach, (Bakhtin 1981, 1986), which views the self as a narrative of meaning-making (Hermans & Kempen, 1993, p. 93), which can only be understood within the wider context of social conflict. The concept of the ‘other’ or ‘the stranger’- as part of a narrative identity - is central to one’s narrative imagination because, selfhood is framed intersubjectively whereby the discourses of ‘others’ and of ‘strangers’ become defining features of our own identity assertions (Akkerman and Mejer 2011, p. 309, see also Arendt). We also consider the role that borders might play in these lived experiences, particularly as they relate to wider questions about who we imagine we are as borders are constantly disputed, redrawn and erected, not only as a form of symbolic violence but also in relation to the language of protection and the preservation of cultural identity.
The research was undertaken in three phases: the first phase included two research capacity-building workshops held in Turkey in June and July 2017. The second phase included individual interviews with displaced academics currently residing in Turkey. The third phase included remote interviews (conduced by the Syrian research team) with staff and students in Syria. The atmosphere of the enquiry was characterised by anxiety: project participants were fearful of the consequences of the research and of the potential damage it might do to them and to others. They also they worried that this project might be ignored. The methods we had chosen highlighted many issues of safety, danger and the need to think seriously about ethics. Nevertheless, we designed a set of research and capacity building tasks, 117 consultations were held with research participants of higher education in Syria today (41 staff and 76 students), as well as one focus group with displaced Syrian academics in Turkey and 19 individual interviews were undertaken. Individual open-ended interviews, analysed in this paper, were conducted by the Cambridge team with 19 displaced Syrian academics (with translation when needed), who at the time of interviews, were residing in Turkey. The topics included the personal and professional history, displacement, mapping of Syrian HE, current situation of Syrian HE, personal and professional conditions, equity, research and teaching. The data was coded into the following themes: before the crisis, circumstances leading to displacement, civic and political participation and professional identity in exile. These were challenging and difficult interviews to undertake for both interviewees and researchers. This was so because of the sensitivity of the issues being addressed, the degree of trauma experienced by the academics in exile, and the social, economic, professional and personal losses they were experiencing. As researchers, we took considerable care to ensure that they understood the purposes of the research, that all confidentiality agreements were in place, and that they had clear choices about participation and that they did not feel any pressure to undertake interviews.
The study has identified three key areas for focused attention: 1) precarious and unsatisfying employment at low pay; 2) limited employment mobility and deskilling; and 3) the challenges of language learning and its link to employment. To respond to these challenges the study put forward a number of initiatives which are relevant to the needs of the Syrian displaced academics: 1. The clear need for a resettlement and transition programmes that have longer-term positive integration as part of its mandate. 2. Language training is essential here and hot spots or varied learning hubs across the country could be identified. 3. Establishing employment offices across the country to support academics in securing work that both capitalises on their professional strengths and offers a reasonable level of stability and a steady income. 4. Facilitating the freedom of travel and access to family members is important and intervention with authorities to establish the necessary connections to achieve that is worthy of serious consideration. 5. Normalising and equalising differences in expertise and integration support through policy interventions. 6. Community participation and collaboration with relevant NGO’s are seen as impactful. 7. New pedagogic relations (multi language teachers, critical learning models, conflict resolution as transitional support years; 8. Coherent and ethically grounded HE policies through international and regional partnerships that are coordinated across the region for displaced academics; 9. Further case studies are needed of HE programmes designed to support Syrian academics in exile, particularly as it relates to employment success in their fields of research and the evaluation of these efforts; 10. Facilitating targeted volunteer-based counselling options for academics, and their families, who have undergone serious trauma.
Selected references: Akkerman, S., & Meijer, P. (2011). A dialogical approach to conceptualising teacher identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 308–319. Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). (C. Emerson, Trans.). In M. Holquist (Ed.), The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). (V. W. McGee, Trans.). In C. Emerson, & M. Holquist (Eds.), Speech genres and other late essays. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Hermans, H.J.M., & Kempen, H.J.G. (1993). The dialogical self: Meaning as movement. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Qayyum, M. (2012). Syrian diaspora: Cultivating a new public space consciousness. Middle East Institute, Policy Brief (35), Washington, DC. Sassen, S. (2014).Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Harvard University Press. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), (2016). Syria at War: Five Years On. Retrieved January 30, 2016 from https://www.unescwa.org/publications/syria-war-five-years Zeno, B. (2017). Displacement and Identity: Exploring Syrian Refugees’ Lived Experiences.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
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