To mark International Women's Day this year we are celebrating some of the professional and academic staff who make our College a world-leading insitution for research and teaching.
In this piece, we chat to Dr Shameem Black, Research Fellow at the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies at the School of Culture, History and Language.
What inspired you to get into your field of research and why?
I grew up in a multicultural family that now spans five continents (we just need someone to move to South America and Antarctica). That experience, with all its pleasures and pitfalls, has led me to question how different societies navigate diversity and globalisation. Because I spent most of my childhood curled up with a book, it’s to fiction that I turned to find some answers. I wanted to see what we could learn from novels that were asking hard questions: how might we imagine the experiences of others without stereotyping or exoticising such people?
Who is a woman in your field that you look up to?
I am really fortunate that literary and cultural studies have strong traditions of female scholarship, so I admire many people, especially my CAP and CASS colleagues. Even before I began a research career, I’ve always been in awe of Sara Suleri Goodyear. She not only redefined the scholarly field of postcolonial literature, but also wrote creatively in a voice that was completely her own.
What is a teaching/research project you are currently working on that motivates you?
My current research investigates the cultural politics of yoga. I ask how this newly popular practice embodies debates about India and Indianness in a globalising world. This project not only gives me a great reason to make it to my yoga class, but also takes me into fascinating labyrinths I would never have anticipated. I’ve found myself reading yoga murder mysteries, watching yoga mockumentaries, and poring over the Indian tax code in an attempt to grasp how this practice is signalling new ways of thinking about what it means to be Indian today.
What are you most proud of?
My fabulous Gender and Cultural Studies students, who stuck with my crazy demand that they design smartphone prototypes inspired by the concepts of our class. Nobody in the course (including me) had done this before. Adventuring out together was an exciting experiment, and I’m so proud of their hard work.
What’s your advice to your younger self about choosing the right path and juggling life’s different demands?
To recognise how those different demands can be enriching as well as exhausting. I have two children who are six and eight. My son appears to believe that my fulltime job is “driver,” and sometimes it has felt that way! But I am also grateful that I have learned many things from being a parent that have made me a better academic, and vice versa.