A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

Header image with the text Marginally Fannish

Tag: Decolonisation

Episode 20 Because We Couldn’t See Ourselves: Cultural Representations and Cultural Imperialism in Western Media/Fandom

Episode Resources:

1) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: What’s So Bad About Cultural Appropriation?

2) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds: Fantastical Feasts 

3) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: Imaginary Immigrants And Time-traveling Refugees

4) Fan podcast – Alohomora: Muggles & Squibs – Not On The List

5) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who: Imperialism and the Doctor

6) YouTube Video – Empire and Imperialism In Children’s Cartoons—A Super Light Topic

 

Episode Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. If you would prefer the original, unedited version, please let me know!

[Intro music]

Welcome to Marginally Fannish, a show where we aim an intersectional lens at some of our favourite media and their fandoms.

[Intro music]

My name is Parinita Shetty and you’re listening to the twentieth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, I talk to Rita Faire about cultural imperialism in Western media and its online fan communities. As fans from the Philippines and India who have grown up in these fandom spaces, we also talk about how our participation has helped us decolonise our imaginations.

Media fans usually don’t start off by interrogating ideas that they’ve internalised about different cultures – including their own. The norms and structures within both media and fandom dictate which kind of fannish identities and cultures are considered superior. In many Western media fandom spaces, the cultural references and assumptions about people’s origins tend to privilege the US and the UK. For fans from certain backgrounds, online fandoms can erase parts of their identities. These spaces can offer limited narratives of both dominant and marginalised cultures.

However, critical discussions in fandom can help people think about issues in new ways. Encountering fans and perspectives that reflect identities which are otherwise marginalised in these spaces can disrupt taken-for-granted narratives. Talking about differently marginalised and privileged representations can help fans reflect on their assumptions and critically analyse their experiences, resulting in a collective process of decolonisation. It can also help people develop the confidence to challenge cultural inaccuracies and biases. Identifying colonised minds can offer the first step in moving beyond them and go on to diversify imaginations.

Find our conversation about all this and more in today’s episode.

Happy listening!

 

[Intro music]

Parinita: Today I’m so happy to welcome Rita Faire to the podcast. Rita is a Filipino doctoral researcher and associate lecturer in Edinburgh Napier University’s Scottish Centre of the Book. Her current research is on picturebook co-edition practices in Europe’s periphery publishing environments. Rita is a board member of Researchers Exploring Inclusive Youth Literature (REIYL) and developed ‘Coming into View’, a literacy programme that’s aimed at understanding children of colour’s sense of belonging in children’s literature. She is currently co-developing a critical reading programme exploring the intersections of oppression in the creative industries. A lot of Rita’s work is after my own heart as is her participation in online fandom. And since we’ve both grown up in Asia in different countries, in this episode, we’re going to explore the different national cultures in global online fandom and we’re also going to chat about the different kinds of labour undertaken by fans from marginalised groups, especially when the creator of their favourite fictional worlds shares bigoted views. Before we get into that, though, Rita could you share your own experiences within online fandom?

Rita: Hi! So my experiences in online fandom, I think is very similar to a lot of people in their early 30s.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs] I got into it because of Harry Potter.

Parinita: Yes! Me too!

Rita: Actually, that’s not accurate. Sorry, as soon as I said it, I realised like I don’t think it was Harry Potter that brought me in.

Parinita: Oh!

Rita: I think it was anime. Because my first foray into fan communities was actually fanfiction.net and I was writing anime fanfiction. And then for some reason stumbled into Harry Potter fanfiction and that just owned my soul after that.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So from there, I went into fan art communities that made banners for stories on fan fiction collectives or archives. I did online roleplaying as well in various sites; created online role playing sites as well.

Parinita: Oh my god that’s amazing.

Rita: Oh yeah I was definitely one of those people who lived on the internet and just got a lot of my social interaction from there because it was so different from the daily interactions that I had. I discussed things there that I didn’t discuss in real life.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely. It’s similar for me as well. I’m an extremely online person and I’ve been since I first got a computer. And even before that, when we used to visit cyber cafes in the neighbourhood, me and my friend.

Rita: [laughs] Oh my god.

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah that was a thing when I was a teenager. And we used to go and do that. But also what you’re saying about the quality of interactions being so different. I find that even now. I connect most with people who are fannish as in they have that enthusiasm about a text or media or something. Even if I’m unfamiliar with that particular fandom, I’m still connecting to them in a way that I wouldn’t possibly with another person who wouldn’t identify as a fan. Even though now I think because mainstream media is so prevalent in everybody’s lives, everyone is a fan of something. But I think that there’s a difference as well between how you’re a fan online and if you’re a part of a fan community in whatever way, even if you’re a lurker. It’s very different from just, “Oh I like that thing.”

Rita: Yeah. I think at least in the Filipino context, a lot of it has to do with how we view enthusiasm. Or open enthusiasm. ’Cause fan cultures online is a space that really celebrates enthusiasm. You can never be too keen about something. So there’s this concept in the Philippines, it’s called [says Filipino word]. And I guess it translates to keenness. And it’s like when you’re too keen about something or you feel something too much, then that gets kind of looked down upon. And you couldn’t be that massive of a fan in real life ’cause then I don’t know, it would be too vulnerable. It would be too revealing. Something like that. But you’d definitely be judged for it. Whereas online, you get to shed that artifice. And just be your authentic nerdish self.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: In the Philippines, is that just in terms of books and things?

Rita: No.

Parinita: Or is that just fandom in general?

Rita: That’s not even just fandom in general, it’s even in the arts. If you’re a singer and you just feel like you’re such a good singer, oh you’re feeling it too much. And I don’t know where that comes from. ’Cause I’m really hesitant to say that it’s a sense of Asian reservedness because Filipinos are also really well known to be big personalities. We are the karaoke people of the world.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs] I think that’s something that Filipinos are really well known for. We karaoke without shame. And regardless of talent.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So why we would have that kind of reservation when it comes to fandom or when it comes to talent is beyond me. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah that’s really interesting because in India, even though something like  Harry Potter is more mainstream, most people would still read the books and even if they love it, they might not necessarily want more out of it like going online and engaging with fan productions or fan texts or fanfiction or whatever. But we have different regional cinema. So we have a Bollywood which is Hindi language and then we have many -ollywoods depending on which state you’re from. And those have massive fan followings. As in actors and musicians and singers. There were fans of this South Indian movie star called Rajnikanth.

Rita: Um hmm.

Parinita: And there’s this group of fans that went to the US because that’s where he premiered the movie first. So they flew to the US, even though I think the Indian premiere was two days later or something. And they create these altars like not temples in the religious sense, but they might as well be. Because they have the photographs and they put flowers on them and things you would do in a Hindu temple. So there is a huge craze which is quite mainstream in India. But that would be more for movies and singers and things who are more accessible to a larger mass of people than say something like Harry Potter or Doctor Who or these Western media fandoms that we’re talking about. So when I was growing up, I did feel like it was just me because when I was online. Nobody really seemed to say what country they’re from. Or if they did, they largely seemed to be American. Not broader Western but specifically American. So all these references and all the slang and everything that I picked up on was not just through fandom, it was through media as well. And it was largely American. I remember the first and maybe only fanfic that I wrote – it was a Harry Potter thing. And I had made a reference to a Star Trek fan. Do you remember they used to be called Trekkies?

Rita: Yeah but now they’re called Trekkers.

Photo of two men standing beside an altar with a photo of Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood actor

Image courtesy India Times

Parinita: Yeah. I referenced it in a way that was sort of derogatory. And I had no familiarity with Star Trek. [laughs] I did not know anybody who watched Star Trek. But because if you’re on the internet, you pick up on these references. And the corner of the internet that I inhabited, Star Trek fans seemed to be a very specific kind of fan. And in my fanfiction I’d written a random reference to that without really understanding what that meant. And now my boyfriend, he’s a huge Star Trek fan so I can’t show my fanfiction to him [laughs] because it obviously marginalises him. But yeah just thinking about how you internalise these ideas without really interrogating them.

Rita: Yeah. Well listening to you talk about fandom with the different -ollywoods of India, I started thinking … actually there were instances like that in the Philippines. There definitely were. But they just never were around the things that I liked. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Rita: Or maybe I took pride in not liking those things. I don’t know why. And I think that judgement of how much you’re a fan of is very reserved for a specific identity or like a specific class. I think some of it is definitely attached to class.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: But then another part of it I’m now thinking is that that’s slowly being eroded by the fact that the Philippines is crazy over anything Korean. I don’t know if this happened in India. But around the early 2000s, that was when the Philippines stopped being obsessed with Spanish language telenovelas and that’s when we started being obsessed with Asian telenovelas. At first it was Taiwanese with Meteor Garden and F5 And then it became Coffee Prince (?) and stuff like that. And I think at that point I was too into my online fandoms to engage with those fandoms. Because you can only have so much space in your life to obsess.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Rita: And while you were talking about that internalisation of certain values, I realised that I grew up around fans. ’Cause my two uncles were huge Trekkies/Trekkers. They made models of gundams.

Parinita: Oh!

Photo of a gundam i.e. robot model

Image courtesy whatNerd

Rita: And they had little figurines of Dragon Ball Z stuff. So I grew up around people who really were demonstratively and monetarily engaged in their fandoms. But I find that since I was young when this happened, when I engaged in fandoms, online communities were a free way for me to do that. Because you don’t have to buy the merchandise. I can create art. I don’t have to build models because I can write fanfiction. And those kind of internalised things that you said, I’m thinking now that I think you’re right, we never really discussed our nationalities. Although I can remember in this very distinct instance when I was in the fan art community, I met one Asian person who was very demonstratively Asian. And it’s because their handle or I think it might have been their real name was very distinctly Asian. You could not mistake that for any other kind of nationality or ethnicity. And that was the first time I realised, “Oh there are Asian people like me online.” Because we’re not all just erased of our identities.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: And I guess it’s easier for some than others. But then that person was the only person I remember really putting their identity forward. They were Chinese-American and they were writing fanfiction with Chinese-Americans in them. They were making art with Asian faces on them. And at first I thought, it’s not the most popular thing to do. And I never really critically engaged that until now. Now that I think about it, now I’m wondering, whatever happened to this person – are they still a writer?

Parinita: Yeah! And they were way ahead of their times as well.

Rita: Yeah. ’Cause  it was the kind of open reclaiming that you didn’t see as much until now over the last few years.

Parinita: Yeah. I mean now it is more of a thing where people are identifying themselves belonging to not just nationalities but also you know other groups. But especially ten or fifteen years ago, that was not a thing at all. So there were these ICQ chatrooms. Again this is like [laughs] way back when I was a teenager when I first started engaging with fandom. And I think there was this room for fans of books or something – I don’t know. And we were just talking. I think I was like 13 or 14 or something. And that was when someone had recommended Harry Potter to me – not Harry Potter, sorry. Lord of the Rings. And I’d never heard of Lord of the Rings before just because the people that I knew in my offline life, nobody was a big reader and nobody would have known to recommend fantasy texts to me. But this person recommended Lord of the Rings to me because I loved Harry Potter so much and they were like, “Oh you like fantasy so you read this.” And then I think they said they were from somewhere in the US and then I said, “Oh I’m from India. Have you ever heard of India?” [laughs] It was such a colonised mindset. Of course now I would be like, “How could you not have heard of India?” And I would judge someone for not having heard of India if they’re online and they’re an online person and read things and engage with the world. But at that time, I had this mindset because of all the media that I was consuming, not just movies and books and things but also fandom. Because all the fanfiction and everything was set in the West. So it was in the UK or in the US – very Western contexts. So obviously I thought that everybody, even the fans, would only be in that context. And then who cares about India? Why would anybody know about India? Which now thinking back about that, oh my god what a naïve little child I was. [laughs]

Rita: Well to be fair, I still get people who don’t know where the Philippines is. I kid you not. And I have to tell them yeah, it’s in Asia, it’s in Southeast Asia. And people will still confuse Southeast Asia with East Asia and South Asia. I’m glad that now we’re having these discussions. And that we can openly say, “Oh actually, that’s wrong.” And you don’t feel embarrassed for correcting someone. Because that’s usually what happened before. If people mistook you for something else or had misinformation about your identity or anything within your context, you were really embarrassed to correct them. I remember saying that I was Filipino in an online space before and then realising that actually the other person I was talking to was also Filipino.

Parinita: Oh!

Rita: And we never realised. And now the thing I’m thinking about is whether or not we were both Filipino in the Philippines. ’Cause she made a comment on the university I went to. That’s how we realised we were Filipino. I mentioned what university I was going to that I’d just … I can’t remember if I’d just gotten into that university at the time. It was brought up, I mentioned it. And she said, “Oh! Certain comment.” Might have been derogatory.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: … Oh actually! Sorry I’m just replaying this entire conversation in my head right now as we talk on a podcast. Which really shouldn’t be the time when you do this. But no, she mentioned which university she was from. And I said, “Ooh!” Possibly derogatory as well. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So yeah, she was from the Philippines as well! I didn’t even realise it. Oh see now that I’m thinking about it, who else did I talk to who was possibly a secret Filipino?

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Rukmini Pande’s work at all? She’s an Indian fan studies researcher who has written this book called Squee From The Margins. And I know you’re not really into fandom studies as much but a lot of her conversation is looking at postcolonialism and race and racism but in fandom, rather than in children’s literature.

Rita: I love it!

Parinita: And she draws on her own experiences as well growing up as a fan in India. And when reading that book, I felt so seen! Because she spoke about the same things that she thought she was the only Indian because like her and unlike you, I’d never met anybody at least in Mugglenet or any of these other spaces, ICQ whatever – who loved the same things but who were also from the same country. I don’t know if you ever had Orkut. Is that a thing that ever made its way to the Philippines?

Rita: I’m not sure now.  I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Parinita: It was huge in India and Brazil of all places. [laughs]

Rita: Oh the intersections of India and Brazil.

Parinita: Yeah. I mean currently it’s fascism so earlier at least it was better. But it was this social networking website. It was strange and really popular for a while. And now that I’m thinking about it, that was very much drawn on national lines. Most of the people that I knew there or had on my friends list or whatever they called on Orkut were Indian. They had things that resembled forum posts and we spoke about Harry Potter in that. So now just thinking about it, that’s the only Indian interaction I had. But I think in my head, because of the colonised mindset – and I obviously wasn’t able to articulate this at the time – but it wasn’t as much transformative fandom as it was just, “Oh we love this thing.” So there would be games and stuff on the forum but not really fanfiction or fan art. Maybe some roleplaying but not really creative things in the way that something like Mugglenet for example would have. So in my head I think I drew a distinction between the two that, “Oh Orkut full of Indian people and obviously not as good as this American website that is full of Americans and I don’t know secret Filipinos [laughs] who are talking about this thing.” So then as a teenager, just because of the social conditioning that you’re prey to, I decided that this was better than the other. And just now talking about it, I’m thinking that, oh wait I did have interactions with Indian fans but just obviously not in a way that I respected. [laughs] Which is hmm!

Rita: Well that’s the thing about it, isn’t it? We remember being outsiders that we associated so much with our experience online that it kind of drowns out the experiences where we weren’t outsiders, where we weren’t the only people of colour in the room.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: Or in the online chat as it were. I don’t know if you had the same experience and I would love to hear if you did. When your online and your real-life life crashed together. Your online and your real-life fandom.

Parinita: Hmm. In what way?

Rita: So when I went to university, the continuing saga. This is very chronological now. [laughs] When I went to university, in my final year of university I think, there was and I kid you not, a Harry Potter class.

Parinita: [gasps] What?!

Rita: There was a Harry Potter class. Shoutout to Anne Sangil – Anne Frances Sangil who created this module because it was [chef’s kiss] the most engaged literary criticism I ever experienced in university.

Parinita: [gasps again] I am so jealous!

Rita: It was so good. We discussed things like activism, through the lens of Dobby and freeing the house-elves and that sort of thing. Sorry, through S.P.E.W. I’m trying to think if we discussed race. I’m not sure that we did. But I’m sure current iterations of the module are still doing that. But yeah, it was a really in-depth discussion of Harry Potter. And so everyone in that class was either a huge Harry Potter fan online or they were newbies who thought this was a really easy class. They were very wrong.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: But then it brought the stuff that I experienced online into its physical form. Which was we created art, we translated Harry Potter and did a play of Deathly Hallows. That was a thing that I’m still weirdly proud of to this day. [laughs] And then that class introduced me to because that class engaged with Pinoit (?) Potter. Which is the Filipino chapter of the Harry Potter fandom. And so I got to go to events.

Parinita: Oh my god.

Rita: I got to go to a live reading of my professor’s critical analysis of Voldemort’s anti-hero’s journey. Fantastic. We speculated about the last book because it hadn’t come out yet at that point. But instead of doing it in a chat, we were doing it in a real space. Even though we all existed in those spaces.

Parinita: Wow.

Rita: And that was such a surreal experience for me.

Parinita: Oh that sounds amazing. The closest I’ve come to that in my university – so for my undergrad, I did mass media and focused on journalism. But in my second year, we had a module called Culture Studies and it was a very introductory thing because it was just for a semester. But one of the final assignments was to either describe or to write an essay about a specific subculture of anything in the world. [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: I don’t remember the guidelines. But because I was deep into my Harry Potter online fandom then, I thought that Harry Potter fandom would be an interesting subculture to write about. And I ran it by my lecturer and she was like yeah, yeah that sounds great. So I spent so much time putting this together. And I wanted to also not make it a boring essay which I would for any other class because it was something that I loved so much. It was such a labour of love, much like this podcast really, that I wanted to present it in a different format. I made it this whole art thing where I cut out Platform 9 and 3/4 tickets. And I made all these wands and things and just made this huge thing. So she was familiar with the text, with Harry Potter itself. But she wasn’t familiar with the fandom or with me as I found out. I was a maximalist. [laughs] Minimalism has never been part of my aesthetic. So there was just this one small corner that was looking very empty to me so I found the smallest bit of text that I could fit into it which was Accio brain? Accio brain? [tries different pronunciations] I don’t know how you

Rita: I never know how to pronounce it.

Parinita: Yeah, me neither. So whatever Accio – Accio [tries different pronunciations] brain. And I only found that because I literally looked up quotes of Harry Potter, you know how they have these compilations of quotes online. And that was the smallest that would fit. It’s from the fifth book when they’re in the Ministry and they’re running from the Death Eaters and they’re in the brain room.

Rita: Oh yeah.

Parinita: [laughs] So I put that in. But obviously she knew the text enough to take great offense at that phrase because she thought I was implying that she was brainless.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: And she failed me on that! And I was the most Hermione of Hermione students. And I was just so heartbroken that my labour of love was rejected so I never brought fandom into any of my other university projects.

Rita: You never brought it into real life.

Parinita: Never again. Well, until my master’s. [laughs] And now. So what about when you moved to the UK? Have you been engaging with fandom now?

Rita: I think it was just being so busy with studies that actually took me out of online fandom.

Parinita: Hmm.

Rita: Because up until the first two terms of my master’s, I was fine with engaging in online fandom. I was still on RP [roleplay] sites and stuff. And I still joined in the discourse, I still created art. But because I got so busy with my dissertation, I kind of disengaged. And I don’t know if you felt that way with online fandom as well but there is that sense of like if you don’t engage enough, you lose relevance.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: You do. You quickly disappear from the zeitgeist. Not just in your understanding of the fandom but also in the way that people interact with you. Because you’re no longer a daily part of their life. And there were times when I tried to regain that. To regain that space. But it didn’t really feel like it was my space anymore.

Parinita: Hmm.

Rita: So I kind of gently bowed away. Oh no actually I switched platforms for a while. I went to Tumblr. And I think Tumblr – R.I.P. – was a beautiful, beautiful space for me. Because it allowed me to engage in multiple fandoms at the same time. It wasn’t just a dedicated site anymore. I could do whatever the hell I wanted. So I had a lot of Sherlock engagement, I engaged in a lot of Pacific Rim, there was a lot of Deathless. So I was all over that. And I don’t know how I petered out. It might just be my exhaustion with social media now [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: It’s just I don’t engage with fandoms anymore. But then I realised my engagement with fandom is now just a two-way channel where me and my sister just text random things to each other. In the same way that we used to message people on chat boxes when something happened. So that’s been the extent of my fan engagement now. Which is kind of sad. I don’t want to say, oh you grow up and then you’re no longer a fan. That’s false. That’s completely false. It just kind of lose its place.

Parinita: Yeah. It’s just different ways of engaging with fandom, I think. Because I know there are a lot of older people – older as in like 50s, 60s – who are still active members of online fandom.

Rita: So true.

Parinita: But for me I was the same as you. I have a really obsessive personality. So I was online and in fandom for many years. But then once I got busy with other things, with work and stuff, I just didn’t have enough time and brainspace to dedicate to that. And I was largely a lurker, apart from that one time I wrote fanfiction. And now with this fan podcast. Otherwise, I’ve largely just been listening and reading and looking at art and things.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: And even that requires so much more time and brainspace than I had to give at that time. I was a part of Tumblr as well, briefly, but that is a not a good space for an obsessive person.

Rita: Oh it’s really not.  You just get drowned in all of the retumble – what is it called again? It’s not retweet oh god.

Parinita: Uh …

Rita: Reblogs!

Parinita: Reblogs, yes.

Rita: You just drown in all the reblogs and stuff.

Parinita: And it’s a great space for fandom

Rita: Wonderful.

Parinita: But then it just gets a lot!

Rita: Yeah. It gets overwhelming.

Parinita: Yeah. So for me, I also sort of bowed out. But then during my master’s, it was a master’s in children’s literature. But I’m not a huge literary analysis person. Because I’ve worked in schools and with kids and books and bookshops and activities and children’s literature festivals and things separately, so I like more reader response things, and reader interpretation than my solo individual interpretation of the book. So for me, fandom just made sense. And that’s why for my master’s, I looked at Facebook fan pages which were much less demanding than if I’d gone on say Archive Of Our Own or Tumblr or something.

Rita: Oh my gosh yeah.

Parinita: Because that would have been … I would have quickly lost sense of any boundaries. But Facebook is this contained space and it has a lot of screenshots and links to other websites and platforms. So it’s a nice accumulation. And then now for my PhD, I’m doing the fan podcast. And I’ve become a fan of fan podcasts.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: I think when I was younger, I used to love fiction and art and now I love critiques. I love the critical fans who love the things that they are watching and reading and whatever.

Rita: So true.

Parinita: But they love them enough to critique them as well. Critique elements that fall short because they want it to be better.

Rita: Well see, now that you’ve put it that way, it just feels like academia especially, kids lit academia, is just fandom.

Parinita: Absolutely!

Rita: It’s just another form of fandom. It’s fandom that’s legitimised by universities.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: That’s essentially it. All of this talk of PhDs and fandom, reminds me of when I was on one of the platforms I was part of, one of the admins there was doing her PhD on Victorian literature while actively being part of the fandom. And now in retrospect I think to myself, how the heck did you have time?

Parinita: How!? How.

Rita: [laughs] How!?

Parinita: Oh my god. Maybe it was a way to distract from the endless, [laughs] endless pit of despair that the PhD eventually becomes, as much as you love it

Rita: So true.

Parinita:. Much like fandom. [laughs] Academia, fandom you put in so much into it and you become a different version of yourself.

Rita: Well now I’m starting to think, was Harry Potter part of her PhD? Because a lot of the things that she wrote were very Victorian – the Victorian set or Victorian themes, gothic. Now I’m starting to think, did she do that? Or am I just hoping that she maintained her sanity by doing that?

Parinita: Yeah! Because I know a few people who are doing their PhD – and someone in one of my previous episodes as well – who found herself in an academic block because of the pandemic and the world and everything that’s going on. And she couldn’t really think in terms of academia and couldn’t bring those ideas to the fore. So she just went back to fandom after a break of five years or so and now is just churning out 10,000 word fanfics on a fandom I’ve forgotten. That’s her way to maintain something that she can control, I guess, in a world that you can’t control any longer.

Rita: Just even thinking about that – writing 10,000 words a day. I used to be able to do that in fanfiction. I cannot do that for my PhD. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Because as much as you love your PhD, it’s not the same kind of love.

Rita: Well, you don’t have to cite theory in your fanfiction now, did you? [laughs]

Parinita: But saying that, I think the sort of conversations fans are having is similar to academia – which is another reason for this project, because I’ve learned so much from fandom. After I moved past the – not past the – moved from the fanfiction part of fandom to the more nonfiction, critical aspects of it, I found that the way that they have arguments and articulate these arguments, they do a lot of stuff that I recognise in academia.

Rita: So true.

Parinita: I don’t know how the schools in the Philippines were but at least when I was growing up, the mainstream education system then and even to a large extent now, in India, isn’t really conducive to thinking about things in a way that places them in context with the real world. It’s more like you’re learning these facts.

Rita: Yes! Yeah.

Parinita: And you’re not learning how these facts are relevant or how they work together. You’re not learning how to think. You’re just learning what to think and you’re not learning anything beyond that. And for me, I was really good at that. [laughs] I was really good at learning what to think and memorising these things and spouting them out in exam papers. But it’s fandom that made me think about how to think. And also helped me unlearn some of these things. When you talk about decolonising, for me, that whole process started and continues online and in fandom as well.

Rita: So true. I remember in one of my experiences before, I was either an admin or one of the mods for an RPG site. And one of our members called out the fact that our panellists was mostly white faces. And that was the first time I’d ever encountered that – like think about the faces that you’re putting forward for people to portray themselves as; portray their characters as. If you don’t give them a choice, then you’re whitewashing your community. I don’t think at the time I critically engaged with it. But I did take on those lessons without the theory that academia forces upon us.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: But it’s just this real-life realisation like, oh of course you are erasing identities in a way. And I’ve had several experiences of that before where fandom critically engaged me into checking my privilege. Or checking how I portray a world, especially in original RPGs where you do a lot of worldbuilding. Like why is your medieval world so Westernised? And don’t just say it’s because it’s based off of Game of Thrones. Because that’s not an excuse anymore. So yeah it was really, really interesting going through that process. And I feel that the online community we left is so much better than the online community we went into.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Rita: It kind of makes me feel so jealous that I am not part of this online community. Because you’re right, it does critically engage. And one of the major topics that we’re discussing today is problematic authors. And the way that fandom has engaged with this discussion of problematic authors is something that I don’t know if I would have seen a couple of years back; ten years back. I don’t know if there would be fans who would say, no, actually I can disengage from this because this is problematic. And not just say, oh this is problematic but give out reasoned arguments as to why it is. Fans are reading up. Fans don’t just know the book, they know the context that the book exists in and they know the discourses around that book. That’s part of what being a fan is. That’s part of the obsession that comes with fandom. And the fact that they’re marrying that with critical engagement is just something so beautiful and gives me hope for the world in this year of our lord 2020.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: Not to say that fandom can’t be problematic because it can.

Rita: So true!

Parinita: I for sure in my own podcast and in my own experience as well have largely encountered the more progressive aspects of fandom. It’s a deliberate construction as well like the podcasts that I choose to listen to and the articles that I choose to read and the people I choose to follow on Twitter or wherever. So it’s obviously a deliberately constructed echo chamber, which I’m very happy with. I know echo chambers are dissed frequently.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: But I don’t want to engage with the horribleness that exists. I mean the world is horrible enough as it is.

Rita: Well part of the echo chamber is really protecting yourself against harmful discussions that could harm your mental health. And I understand that has detrimental aspects to it but I guess you could say echo chamber is a neutral term. It’s not something bad and it’s not something good. It depends on what it brings back to both sides of it.

Parinita: Yeah. People who are in leadership positions, who influence politics or culture where they have the financial, social, structural capital, is different from someone like a fan. A fan has other contexts as well but we’re not really influencing on a large scale how elections work, for example. Or how media is created and media is made or shared. So I think that it’s okay for us to have echo chambers because I don’t need to know what this terrible person who thinks Indians or immigrants should be deported all the time or thinks like England is for white people. I don’t really want this person in my online life.

Rita: That being said, one of the fan sites that I was part of way back during the Obama versus McCain election, there was an actual thread on the forums that discussed people’s political beliefs when it comes to them.

Parinita: Ah!

Rita: Yeah there were actually political discussions on platforms. I know that Paul Ryan was brought up a lot and fiscal conservativism. There was space for that. And our politics still show in the things that we write, I think.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely.

Rita: In the way that people get reviewed and stuff. But it wasn’t a neutral space. And I think that’s where the fallacy is. We’ve been talking about how online fandom erased certain parts of our identities. But they were never really erased. They were always there. But people either just chose to ignore them or we weren’t part of the discussions where people talked about those identities.

Parinita: Yeah. Also this forum you’re talking about, even in my master’s dissertation, there was this thing about comparing Kingsley and Fudge to the current political leaders. It was something to the effect of I wish we had a Kingsley Shacklebolt

Rita: Yes!

Parinita: Rather than all the Fudges that we have. And it led to this discussion from different countries and also different political leanings. About who is really Kingsley and who’s really Fudge. And there was I think a Pakistani fan and there was an Indian fan. Again, I wasn’t interacting with the fans, so it was mostly through lurking.

Collage of Harry Potter characters Kingsley Shacklebolt and Cornelius Fudge. Text says; We need more leaders like Kingsley instead of all the Fudges we have at the moment

Rita: Yeah. This was the lurking party.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs] But it was very focused on the US elections at the time. And that was during Obama and Hilary Clinton. Even the forum that you’re talking about, how many fans online would have this kind of discussion with Filipino politics or Indian politics?

Rita: Exactly! Yeah. And the fact that I was a Filipino discussing American politics. To be fair, there is a degree of how much American politics does affect us because of our colonial past. But at the same time, we wouldn’t talk about Filipino elections on that. You’re absolutely correct. That’s one way of almost cultural imperialism that happens in fan spaces. Because the things that we talk about more often than not are US or UK.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: I mean in Harry Potter, you can clearly see that because the preoccupations of the Harry Potter fandom is the UK. It’s sounding more UK, using UK terminology, slang terms. If you sounded more British in your writing, then that meant you were a good writer. It didn’t even take into account the story but it’s just like if you sounded – if your work read that way, then you were a good writer.

Parinita: Yeah there was a term for it, right? Brit-picking.

Rita: Yeah! As a Filipino, I remember when I first read Harry Potter at the age of eleven or something, I was so confused when they said jumpers instead of sweaters.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: [laughs] There are a lot of things that confused me as a little eleven-year-old. And it’s not just because of my youth. It’s because I never consumed media that called it like that. And because I loved Harry Potter so much it develops this Anglophilia in you.

Parinita: For sure.

Rita: And then you start living this life of aspiring towards Anglicanising yourself.

Parinita: Absolutely. And in terms of cultural imperialism and cultural politics, that takes over all aspects of your life, right?

Rita: So true!

Parinita: It’s not just the things that you read but it’s the language and what sort of food seems cool to you and what seems not as aspirational.

Rita: Exactly!

Parinita: It is so … Eurocentric.

Rita: Yeah. And even when I think about why I decided to go to the UK for my master’s degree, unfortunately because of how language and imperialism works, I spoke English and I was not entertaining learning a different language at that point in my life.  [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: I sincerely regret that. I wish I’d learned a different language. So I was choosing between the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. And, of course, one of the considerations was the fact that education in the UK is actually cheaper. Especially in Scotland compared to all those different countries. But there was also that little tick in my brain, that’s the land of Harry Potter.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: And it wasn’t just me that saw that. It was every person that I knew who was like, “Yeah you love British culture; you know British history.” Why was I interested in that? Because of Harry Potter and this thing that it kicked into gear for me. It felt like coming into a place that you kind of already knew.

Parinita: But also what you know is so limited as well, right?

Rita: Exactly! It’s so blinded by –

Parinita: And you don’t learn to identify this when you are not in that context yourself.

Rita: Exactly.

Parinita: When I was in India, I had this idea of the UK and the US – and a large part of Indians do as well – that you know the West! It’s wealthy and they don’t have problems. Because in terms of actual comparison, the kind of poverty Indians face and the kind of poverty the UK faces just structurally, socially, everything is very different. So it would be like comparing apples and oranges really.

Rita: Well you’re talking about poverty, it’s that thing about we were presented with the Weasleys as a poor family.

Parinita: I know!

Rita: But they’re clearly not how I understood poor in the Philippines.  I mean the Weasleys are kind of like landed gentry?

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: I guess? [laughs] I mean maybe not to that extent but the fact that Bill could inherit a house from his great-grandmother, that they had heirlooms.  [laughs]

Parinita: I grew up without a lot of money. The kind of problems that me and my mum faced, the Weasleys would never have faced. But I was like, oh this is how poor people are in the UK, I guess. [laughs] This is their idea of poverty. And it was only when I moved to the UK, and was engaging with the discourse here and with the kinds of problems that exist here which aren’t transferred to India at all – the news and things don’t communicate any of this to India. I guess why would they? But also then that leads to a very narrow idea of the UK and also a narrow idea of India.

Rita: Exactly.

Parinita: Which I could only disrupt once I was away from that context and in this context.

Rita: Once you absorb the actual context where that culture comes from, yeah, exactly right. For instance when you come here into the UK, you learn that a lot of poor families use food banks.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: The Weasleys never had a problem with hunger. I mean it was Molly’s stamp of pride that she always fed her family and she fed poor Harry. There are many living a much poorer life than the Weasleys.

Parinita: Yeah and she didn’t have to worry about what kind of food she was going to be feeding them. Maybe she did like in the background; maybe she was trying to reach into the back of the pantry or something, I don’t know.

Rita: Yeah because they always seemed to have fresh food. They never seemed to eat something that was canned or frozen. And then when you think about clothing and poverty, the Weasleys had new jumpers every year. They had new jumpers. And then when you think about poverty and space, the moment that they needed more space, they could just extend the house through magic.

Parinita: Yeah and each of them had their rooms.

Rita: Exactly!

Parinita: This was me, reading the book, living in this tiny one-bedroom Mumbai flat where me and my mum slept in the same bed.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: And I was like oh okay, I guess this is how poor people in Britain live. Because even in the US, when media talks about a person who’s poor in the US or a character who’s poor, they still always have their own rooms. Which to me was unimaginable!

Rita: Forget them, even Harry had his own room. It was a cupboard; but it was a room!

Parinita: But then he moved to a bigger room. I mean he had lots of abuse issues and trauma in that house.

Rita: Yeah Harry had a lot of trauma.

Parinita: But yes, he had his own space! Sometimes he was trapped in it. But it was his. [laughs]

Rita: It was his space. And yeah that’s the kind of thing that you realise when you come here. One of the things that I never really absorbed until I came to the UK, was regional identities. And the fact that if I’m not mistaken, Harry is a Londoner.

Parinita: Oh! That’s true. He is. Yeah, I don’t know where Godric’s Hollow is but yeah for sure he is.

Rita: Yeah. Harry grew up in London. So there are no markers of which part of London he was from. Because that is something that definitely comes into play. When you’re a Londoner, you very much attach yourself to certain parts of London. That’s part of your identity. Regionally, we don’t know who belongs where unless they have an accent that is written out. Like say Seamus Finnigan. Although even Seamus, I’m not sure if he was like Northern Irish or if he was Republic of Ireland.

Parinita: Hagrid as well. We’ve spoken about this before how he was othered for many diff erent reasons. And there’s also a choice between whose identity is reflected and whose isn’t.

Rita: Exactly yeah.

Parinita: I’ve been rereading the books recently and Minerva McGonagall – Professor McGonagall, I didn’t realise she was Scottish until I moved to Scotland and realised what the Scottish tropes are. She wears a lot of tartan.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: Has a lot of tartan bags, has a thistle on her hat. And I’m like oh okay, I understand now.

Rita: But see that’s the annoying thing. You’re representing Scotland as just this woman covered in tartan.

Parinita: But also in a way that I wouldn’t have – I didn’t pick up on when I was in India. When I was in India, I didn’t know about the UK politics as well. How Scotland is fighting for independence and how Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have their own issues and Wales has its own issues. I didn’t know all of this until I came here. And what you were saying about regional identity, that is also so superficial or non-existent in the books.

Rita: So true. Now people accept that Cho Chang is Scottish. The only reason why we think that is because a Scottish actress portrayed her in the films. Other than that, Cho Chang is a blank slate. Other than her name and her accent in the film adaptation, Cho Chang is a blank slate of a character. We don’t know any context to her whatsoever.

Parinita: This was something that Jack brought up. He doesn’t read Harry Potter. But somebody he follows on Twitter spoke about this. So this was what written in the 1990s?

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: And I think this was more of a function of the films with Seamus than in the books where I think he set one or two fires accidentally. But in the movies, they just went with it. Like he was the firestarter.

Rita: The firestarter. [laughs]

Gif from the Harry Potter movies of Seamus Finnigan looking into a cauldron which blows up in his face

Parinita: Yeah. And then that person on Twitter was like, this was not very long after the IRA bombings.

Rita: Oh my god.

Parinita: And people dying.

Rita: That’s true!

Parinita: Yeah! [laughs]

Rita: Oh my god I didn’t even think about that, the implications of making your only Irish character a fire guy.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs] Which again, I haven’t been keeping that much of an eye on it when I’ve been reading the books. I don’t think it was that big a thing in the books themselves than in the movies. But of course, a lot more people watched the movies than read the books. I think there are a lot of people who only watched the movies and didn’t read the books. So their idea of Seamus must have been this Irish person [laughs] who loves fires a bit too much.

Rita: But even when you think about racial identity – race and ethnicity in Harry Potter – you are not a person of colour unless it’s mentioned explicitly that you’re a person of colour. And the people that were explicitly mentioned as people of colour were very few and far in between. So as fans, we had to imagine a more diverse world than what J. K. Rowling put forward. And I think that’s why there’s this idea that Harry Potter is a diverse world. It’s not because of what she did. It’s because of what fans created after her.

Parinita: When I was reading the books, honestly, I didn’t even have the ability to imagine it to be more diverse.

Rita: So true!

Parinita: I’m still unlearning this but at that time, my mindset was completely colonised. I was like, oh of course the UK only has white people. Oh and there are one or two Indians

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: And just a vaguely East Asian sounding person. And there are a handful of black people because they’re mentioned as black. And I was like, okay yeah this must be how it is in the UK. I didn’t really question it. I didn’t really think about it. I never identified with Parvati or Padma Patil because they were not really the centre of anything. There are fans who were thinking at a much higher level than me because they were inserting Parvati and Padma into stories or into art and things. And they’re doing that now as well; centering them even though the narrative didn’t. But I had no ability to do that. Then I moved to the UK and I looked around. Scotland is not the most diverse part of the UK, but even Glasgow is much more diverse than what you would find by reading just Harry Potter.

Fan art of Parvati and Padma Patil dressed in saris which match their respective Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Hogwarts house colours

Patil twins by monsieurartiste

Rita: Yeah. And even thinking about Padma and Parvati and Cho Chang. These women of colour that you put into your story, all of them are kind of presented in slightly negative ways in one part or the other. Was it Padma or Parvati who was Ron’s date?

Parinita: Padma, yeah.

Rita: Who was seen as incredibly disappointed that he didn’t want to dance and was just ugh very frustrated with him. And then you had Cho Chang who for an entire book was just crying. I mean reasonably so because her boyfriend had just died. But I always think of her as this moody person.

Parinita: Yeah. I just finished reading Order of the Phoenix a week ago and I would think that Harry who was going through his own depression and trauma would have understood or at least sympathised with her. I know it’s explained to be in a very gendered way like Hermione understands the feelings and Harry and Ron are clueless. But you still have a sense of shared trauma. Cedric died and you both are getting over that. And he is still so quick to dismiss her feelings and to dismiss anything. Of course she’s crying all the time! Why aren’t you crying all the time!? Well you’re yelling all the time; I guess that’s your manifestation.

Rita: Well that’s the thing. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know how many women of colour are dismissed in the text? Or treated dismissively in the text? It’s just a minefield. When you start critiquing these literatures that you grew up loving, you just … I don’t know either it really shatters you and depresses you for a while. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: Or you – no, it’s not an or; what follows is you start looking at things with a more critical eye in the future. It’s not literature fandom, but I was very much a part of the fandom of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen on YouTube. And they went through a reckoning for race and equality because it came out that their producers, their creators of colour were not paid for their appearances or not paid at the same rate. And then after that, I didn’t know why at the time, but I just wasn’t excited to cook anymore. I just felt so like ugh anything will do. And then I only connected it much later when I realised oh yeah because the entire thing about it that made you happy was just shattered into a million little pieces. So of course it’s going to affect you in a very personal way. Because that’s something about fandom; it’s not just discourse, it’s not just objective. It’s interesting because I know someone who is actually studying Harry Potter fandom from a religious perspective, from the perspective of charisma. Anne Taylor shoutout by the way, her research. [laughs] So it makes you think how these things connect to us in such a personal way and in such a formative time of our lives that it’s no surprise that both of us came into really critical careers in our lives. [laughs]

Parinita: Oh, for sure.

Rita: Because we over-analysed Harry Potter to a T!

Parinita: Oh I wouldn’t have been doing a PhD if I didn’t love Harry Potter. Which is why I decided to launch this podcast and start this thing in January. And then of course there was the whole transphobia that began in December and just then carried on from June. Like you’re saying, it’s just made me so … not reluctant to engage; I still love the Harry Potter books because it was such a huge part of me, and it is still a huge part of me. And I can’t untie my sense of self from the books. But I’m now reading it with so much more of a critical lens because I am able to; something I wasn’t able to do even a like a couple of years ago. Before my master’s, I didn’t have the tools to be able to articulate even though fandom itself was doing these things. But it was still a slow journey for me. But in terms of J. K. Rowling, it’s been so depressing but it was very easy for me to cut her from Harry Potter. For me, I can divorce the two. I’m trying to follow the lead of a few of the fan podcasts that I listen to who are talking about how they’re no longer going to financially support her. But then you made a very good point when we were talking about this that even though there’s no financial capital, there is still social and cultural capital that fans help J. K. Rowling accrue which then transforms into financial capital.

Rita: Yeah, exactly. Because by keeping her in the zeitgeist, in the topic of discussion, you are giving air to her property. It was easier to do this before, to divorce an author from their work before because we didn’t consume authors the way that we do today. Like right now, you can say that for instance … name a problematic author of the past.

Parinita: Lovecraft?

Rita: Let’s say Lovecraft. Lovecraft had a platform, yes. Could write things that the fans would consume, yes. But not at the same rate that people consume social media. And it’s also not at the same access of people who are so young. Because even though there are age restrictions on social media, it doesn’t prevent children and young people from still consuming that media.

Parinita: Yeah, because all you have to do is click a tick box saying that yes, I’m over 18.

Rita: Exactly! You just have to lie. And people do that all the time. So they consume her media. And because we were talking about how painful it was for us, how formative it was for us, but we are removed from that formative era in our lives. Whereas a lot of children who are engaging in that still are in that era. So her beliefs would influence their beliefs.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: Because we remember what it’s like to idolise someone. And that’s the thing that when we love media now, we idolise creators. People don’t just love Game of Thrones, they love George R. R. Martin. Or people didn’t just love Doctor Who, they loved Steven Moffat. Hmm arguably so. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: It’s a very, very split camp. [laughs] But yeah, in today’s realm of cultural production, we are so connected to the people who create them. And it’s so hard to say I’ll still consume Harry Potter. Because for instance, I’ve made the decision to not support Harry Potter anymore and I think this will be my last public discussion on Harry Potter. Or public like with a platform like this. I’ve decided to disengage from that because when I read Harry Potter now, I do see the gaps in her representations. I see the fact that she doesn’t see people of colour. I see the fact that she has a very skewed idea of what poverty is or what Asian people are, for instance. And it’s hard to say that the media that you love is something that you can still love despite all that. At least for me. It’s really difficult. And who knows? Maybe in the future once … like in the very distant future – not ill-wishing on anything! But once maybe in the future, not in our generation but in the generations after us, when she is much like other authors who have gone and passed, maybe there can be a kind of contextualised consumption of Harry Potter. But today it’s really difficult to do that.

Parinita: Yeah. I’m totally with you. For me, like I said, I’ve reacted to it differently with just as much despondency but not – not even unwilling, unable to let go of Harry Potter, for a lot of reasons. But what you’re saying, I completely am with you there. She’s very directly attacked trans people and trans fans and they are letting go of it but others as well with more privilege; like cis people with more privilege and who are not directly impacted by that but are allies are also letting go of Harry Potter, like you are.  And I completely am with you on that. But for me, because I think fandom – and Harry Potter has always gone side by side with fandom for me, even though I started reading the books when I was ten, and started engaging with the fandom when I was thirteen, so there were a few years there when I was all by my lonesome. But otherwise, I’ve grown up with Harry Potter fandom and on Harry Potter fan platforms. The kind of thinking that I have now, and I’m still growing with fan podcasts like Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, Witch, Please, The Gayly Prophet, who are all undergoing this reckoning of how do you continue to engage with a text when the author’s politics are completely separate and something you abhor? And it’s something I don’t think there’s an easy answer for. And I think it’s very individual as well. I know some podcasts like Flourish on Fansplaining, they’ve said that they can no longer, because it’s tainted completely. It’s too toxic so they can’t engage with it at all. Whereas I think other fan podcasts like the three that I mentioned are still continuing with Harry Potter talking about it but distancing themselves from J. K. Rowling. They are saying that for us it’s about loving the text and not the author. And they try and raise money for trans charities and they try and create a safer space for queer fans and trans fans and nonbinary fans.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: But you’re completely right that even if it’s not contributing financially, it is contributing socially and culturally as well. But for me, I’ve also learned so much through these discussions themselves and all these critiques of J. K. Rowling because I didn’t have this idea of transphobia – just all the stuff that she’s saying and all the context that it comes with. Because someone who reads her tweets without any background knowledge or context is not going to really understand how it’s transphobic or why it’s transphobic. And there have been other people much better suited than me who’ve explained and decoded the language and why it’s transphobic and what it emerges from. And for me, it’s been so good to see fans who’ve divorced themselves … I guess they’re more progressive than the author herself is. So even in terms of reading themselves into the text, what you were saying earlier, they’ve made the world more progressive. It’s almost like fandom canon and actual canon are almost separate – not really, but almost.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: That there’s room for a more progressive space which in turn has influenced how I see and how I write stories and how I analyse other texts. Because I’m thinking about these things; these conversations they’re so much at the forefront of my mind now that I apply that lens to all the media that I consume. Which for me is too valuable to give up.

Rita: Yeah. And I think to myself as well like one of the questions that we raised in some of the conversations that we had before was can you actually reclaim a fandom from an author? Again, like you said, there’s no easy answer for that. Because it’s easier to answer these things once you have hindsight.

Parinita: Exactly.

Rita: But as we live through the experience, all of the things we do will basically just be the discourse for later on.

Parinita: Yeah. I know. It’ll be a PhD project for a future scholar.

Rita: [laughs] So true!

Parinita: For a future fan.

Rita: Oh my god and you’ll be supervising them. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Oh my god. I’m trying to tear academia down from the inside. I can’t imagine myself – well maybe if I supervise them to make a TikTok thesis or something.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: Though not in India because our government has banned TikTok.

Rita: Oh our government is in conversations with Facebook.

Parinita: Oh! Really?

Rita: I’m not sure what’s happening on that front. But there was a direct message from the President to Facebook. So I still have to follow that. How do we process all these things? How do we process the toxic author? How do we move forward? And the progressive work that we’re doing to move forward from this while still engaging with the fandom. I think that’s one of the saddest parts of this entire discourse, the emotional labour that fans have to go through because of the mistakes that J. K. Rowling made. Even before this, when fans were restorying and adding diverse identities into fan texts and contributing to that collective understanding of what the Harry Potter world is. Because we couldn’t see ourselves so we wrote ourselves in. It was the same with the LGBT communities. It’s the same with ableism and disability. Because we don’t see ourselves in this text, we take on the emotional labour of having to add them in. Knowing that the addition is from us and not from her.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: And then now with the discussion on transphobia, we are having to take on so much emotional labour to process what’s happened and to decide how we want to interact with the fandom in the future. And again that’s emotional labour that was forced upon us by this problematic fandom. And that’s the other I think reason why I decided to not engage with it anymore because I’m just tired. [laughs]

Parinita: I mean honestly with the timing of it as well. You said this in December and then you were silent for several months about it, responded to nothing to do with it. And then right in the middle of a pandemic, right in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and the UK, right in the middle of so many different things like Brexit, that’s when you decide to attack an already marginalised group using your platform and your privilege and all the status that you have to target this vulnerable group of people. Honestly the fans have had so much of a better understanding of the stuff that you’ve written.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: Fans have read so much more progressive messages into the books than apparently you meant? Because apparently you didn’t mean that everybody should be equal. Which if you read the books only wizards and witches are equal anyway. Nobody else is equal.

Rita: Oh my god. One of my favourite things that fans have contributed to the text was this Pride poster. I’m sure you know which one I mean. The one that says, “What Harry Potter taught me is that no one should live in a closet!” [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Image of a person wearing a T-shirt. The text on the T-shirt says: If Harry Potter taught us anything, it's that no one should live in a closet.

A fan text included in my master’s dissertation which looked at two Facebook fan pages

Rita: The fact that she doesn’t see the connection of how much the LGBT community loved Harry Potter, how much certain members of the LGBT community loved Harry Potter. And to break them down, to break their hearts with such language and such rhetoric, is just ugh it hurts!

Parinita: And also what she’s inspired. It’s not just her. Because of the platform and the privilege and the role that she has in mainstream culture, she has inspired so many – not a lot of people that I’ve encountered, but I know there is a world beyond my echo chamber. So these horrible people are citing her to further erode rights that trans people and LGBTQIA people have so painstakingly gotten. As if that’s what we need in 2020! We have fascism everywhere and then there’s this.

Rita: [sighs] This reminds me of my favourite response to J. K. Rowling’s transphobia. There’s this YouTube reviewer named Dominic Noble who has a Harry Potter persona – that reviews Harry Potter content. And that persona’s name is Terrence. Terrence is a half-blood in the context of this. So at the very end of his response video saying that he won’t engage in the Harry Potter fandom anymore, won’t make any more video, he brings on Terrence who gets a letter from his dad saying, “How are you Terrence? How are you doing? Your mum and I have always told you that you were a half-blood. But we never told you what that meant.” And he pulls out [laughs] this Percy Jackson t-shirt.

Parinita: [laughs]

Image of an orange t-shirt with the words "Camp Half-Blood" and a pegasus on it

Image courtesy Wiki

Rita: And he just has this expression, “Oh my gods?” [laughs] That resonated with me so much because it’s saying that yes, you can love something and let it go. But there are other things that you can obsess about that have less toxic creators. Don’t get me wrong. Percy Jackson has its own problems especially with its representation of disability. But at least its author is not – or at least as far as I know, because god the year of our lord 2020 has brought a lot of surprises on us.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So you never know who’s a secret racist or whatever. [laughs] But yeah you can move on. There are still other texts to enjoy, Harry Potter was not the only thing that we loved. And if we’re disengaging with something, we can transfer all of that love that we had for Harry Potter into something else. And right now, I don’t know how appropriate it is because again this process of decolonisation is lifelong.

Parinita: It is.

Rita: And it goes across all things you consume, not just Harry Potter. So one of the things that my sister and I really, really loved growing up – which is really strange given what the text is – was Frank Herbert’s Dune. Massive fans of it. It was really strange for two eleven- to thirteen-year-olds consuming this massive piece of philosophical sci-fi. Loved it! And now the film is coming out. Well it’s been postponed, which was very sad. But I’m like, oh this is something that I can just redirect my love. Where before it was divided, now I can just redirect all of the things I loved to this and be excited for the release of this. Again, Dune is not without its own problems especially the adaptation does not feature Middle-Eastern or North African characters when the book borrowed so heavily from those cultures. But it’s good because I guess now I’m engaging with these texts by contextualising them, acknowledging their faults, and not having that really blind adulation that I used to have for Harry Potter.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: And I don’t know. Is it a sign of personal growth? Or is it just us protecting our broken hearts from being broken again? [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] I think it’s both. We cannot have good things without some toxic everything.

Rita: And I can’t remember who was the creator where I realised that, oh they have problematic views. And I just told my sister one day, “The thing that 2020 has just taught us is never have heroes.”

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: “Never have heroes! They will all disappoint you!” [laughs]

Parinita: That’s a very chipper note to end this podcast on. But it is 2020 so that’s as cheerful as you’re going to get. [laughs]

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: Thank you so much Rita for being a part of this project and for this conversation. I know we’ve approached it in different ways and we have different experiences and different reactions as well to Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. But it’s been so valuable just talking about it as well. And articulating my ideas by talking to you about it.

Rita: I know. It’s great. Especially when you’re decolonising yourself. One of the things we didn’t get to talk about but would have been interesting to talk about as well is we are two people from heavily colonised countries engaging in British texts. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. So we need to do another episode.

Rita: Oh my god.

Parinita: Just to talk about that because that’s a minefield.

Rita: Oh my god like Harry Potter and Empire is a whole other discussion I could definitely have.

Parinita: Our next episode title has been set. [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: But really thank you again for the time and the conversation. I really appreciate it.

Rita: No problem. I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much! And even though I disengaged with Harry Potter, I’m happy to talk with you about that disengagement.

Parinita: [laughs]

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to our episode on encounters with diverse cultures in Western media and fandom. Thank you so much Rita for sharing your enthusiasms and frustrations. Our conversation has helped me see so many familiar things anew and I hope this process of decolonisation is a lifelong one.

[Outro music]

I’d love to hear from you and talk to you – so any feedback, comments or critiques are very welcome! Get in touch with me on social media, leave a comment on my blog, or email me at edps@leeds.ac.uk. If you’d like to follow the podcast or the PhD project, visit my website marginallyfannish.org. Here you’ll find the podcast episodes, transcripts, episode resources and links, and my research blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. I share episode resources on social media so you can find a bunch of excellent fan podcasts and essays to look up. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with anyone you think will enjoy it too.

Thanks for listening! Tune in again next time for all things fannish and intersectional!

Bonus Episode – How Do We Learn?: Engaging with Alternate Communities of Knowledge and Culture

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Hi everyone! I’m back with a new episode after a very accidental hiatus that was definitely not supposed to last a year. I’ve just realised that the last episode I published on Marginally Fannish was a year ago. I recorded the episode you’re about to listen to way back in October 2020 and I’m only just publishing it in January 2022. You can blame the PhD/pandemic combination for all my plans being tossed out of the window.

Just a heads up, this bonus episode isn’t like the others on Marginally Fannish i.e. it doesn’t explore different aspects of intersectionality in media or fandom. Back in 2020, I chatted with Lata and Sayan for the Convivial Thinking website. The Convivial Thinking collective features a group of researchers who explore decolonisation in academia and scholarship in creative ways. You can find their ideas and work at convivialthinking.org.

This episode was originally only going to appear on their website. But there ended up being a bunch of connections between our conversation and the philosophy of this podcast. I began Marginally Fannish as a part of my PhD project because I passionately believe that fandom provides a really valuable space for collaboratively creating knowledge. I also think that it makes room for the kinds of diverse perspectives and experiences which you may not always encounter in formal educational contexts. Alternative forms of knowledge and the importance of dialogue with diverse groups of people is a recurring theme in this episode. So I decided to share the episode on this feed as well in case this topic interests any other fans out there.

If this isn’t your kind of thing, please feel free to skip this episode. I’ll be back with my regular programming soon – that is, if I’ve not forgotten how this whole podcasting thing works in the first place. You have 5 new episodes and conversations to look forward to, all of which were also recorded in 2020. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another year for me to figure out how to edit and publish the next episode. Now, on with the episode!

[Intro music]

The world we inhabit offers us several different learning opportunities. However, academic structures frequently end up valuing a limited kind of expertise. Whose cultures, languages, and experiences are considered the default? What kind of knowledge matters? How do you seek alternative communities of knowledge beyond the restrictions of the structure you work in?

Collaboratively engaging with knowledge and activism with a wide range of people both within and outside institutionalised academic spaces is crucial. Academics have the responsibility to make academic knowledge and theories more accessible and relevant to non-academic contexts. Going even further, academics can work with non-academics to create spaces which explore alternate expressions of knowledge and different approaches to knowledge-building. Conversations with diverse groups of people can challenge limited notions of one-way education and academic expertise by moving towards a more inclusive pedagogy. Encountering each other’s diverse – sometimes conflicting – experiences and perspectives in unconventional contexts can help us unlearn our colonised mindsets and discover what we don’t know. Both uncertainty and discomfort hold radically liberating possibilities when it comes to building knowledge, especially when combined with a sincere curiosity to learn from the world.

Find our conversations about all this and more in today’s episode!

[Intro music]

My name is Parinita Shetty and in this episode, I speak with Dr Lata Narayanaswamy and Dr Sayan Dey about unconventional ways of learning and new communities of knowledge and culture. Both Lata and Sayan are part of the Convivial Thinking collective thanks to which we’re exploring critical, collaborative, and creative forms of decolonisation in our conversation today.

Since 2001, Dr. Narayanaswamy has worked as a research practitioner, consultant, and most recently lecturer in international development in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research critically reflects on gendered/intersectional and post/decolonial dynamics of development knowledge and its perceived contribution to global development challenges. She is currently involved in applied, interdisciplinary research related to climate change, water security and decolonising development.

Sayan Dey grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal. He completed his studies from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and is currently working as Lecturer at the Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. He is also the Senior Advisor of Quality Education Group, Center for Regional Research and Sustainability Studies, India.

I’m a third-year doctoral researcher in the School of Education at the University of Leeds. I’m really interested in exploring how fan podcasts – especially those featuring people from marginalised groups – use the framework of their favourite media texts to share their diverse perspectives and experiences. I’m also passionate about using digital media to make academic research accessible to non-academic audiences as well as to include a diverse range of non-academic voices in academic spaces.

Parinita: My name is Parinita Shetty and in this episode, I speak with Dr Lata Narayanaswamy and Dr Sayan Dey about unconventional ways of learning and new communities of knowledge and culture. Both Lata and Sayan are part of the Convivial Thinking collective thanks to which we’re exploring critical, collaborative, and creative forms of decolonisation in our conversation today.

Since 2001 Dr. Narayanaswamy has worked as a research practitioner, consultant and most recently lecturer in international development in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research critically reflects on gendered/intersectional and post/decolonial dynamics of development knowledge and its perceived contribution to global development challenges. She is currently involved in applied, interdisciplinary research related to climate change, water security and decolonising development.

Sayan Dey grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal. He completed his studies from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and is currently working as Lecturer at the Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. He is also the Senior Advisor of Quality Education Group, Center for Regional Research and Sustainability Studies, India.

I’m a third-year doctoral researcher in the School of Education at the University of Leeds. I’m really interested in exploring how fan podcasts – especially those featuring people from marginalised groups – use the framework of their favourite media texts to share their diverse perspectives and experiences. I’m also passionate about using digital media to make academic research accessible to non-academic audiences as well as to include a diverse range of non-academic voices in academic spaces.

Parinita: Hello! It’s really nice to talk to people who are not just me and my boyfriend and my cat. [laughs] It’s nice to see other faces. I’m just going to start off because we have a lot to talk about. In terms of unconventional engagements with knowledge as well as culture in spaces that are beyond educational spaces or institutional spaces – I do a bit of that in my project, but I was really interested in how you have dealt with that in your own work or otherwise.

Lata: First thank you for inviting me into your podcast world. It’s very nice to be here. It’s difficult because I think it’s the kind of thing that as academics we don’t do enough of, for a start. I think we do tend to think about academic spaces in very narrow ways. Where and how we learn is conceptualised in very narrow ways, right? So you’re in a classroom or you’re in a building; you have to go somewhere. I suppose the most immediately obvious counterpoint in my own life has been just having children and thinking about learning in a much more dynamic way. And trying to instil in them that there’s never an opportunity not to learn from something that’s happening around you or something that you might observe or something that you might see on the news or hear on the radio or an interaction you might have with a friend. You can talk about issues or interesting things or relevant things or share lessons about the world on the walk to school or a picnic in the park. In terms of even more formal kinds of spaces … this was not formal, but another opportunity was during an election, right? Say you go along for a political party and you’re door-knocking. I did that in the last election in the UK – and less said about that, the better, in terms of the outcome. But certainly, in thinking about what it might mean to actually knock on somebody’s door and have a conversation about the things that matter to them and then finding that common ground. And seeing that as integral to shared learning or co-production and enriching myself. I don’t mean that in a selfish way; but I think it’s about approaching learning and academia as a two-way street. And I think there’s a tendency in lots of educational contexts to see education as a one-way street. In academia we’re particularly bad. And in higher education too, there is a framing of expertise: “I’m the person that knows stuff and I’m going to impart to you all this wisdom that I have.” And I’m very keen that we turn that on its head. I do think that’s possible within the classroom and we can have more dynamic and inclusive pedagogical approaches. But I really think it’s about trying to think through how we can not only create but also seek out those opportunities to have conversations in more diverse contexts and with a greater diversity of people.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Lata: I think as academics, we have a responsibility to do that, if I’m honest. And I don’t know that we have the tools or the language to do it. But it would be something that I’d want for us to be exploring more collectively. Even you and I being on a picket line; I mean that’s an opportunity to have a conversation. Not just about your cat or your breakfast – although we can have that conversation too. But how do we expand our educational engagements? And who do we bring into that space with us? How do we learn from it? They’re different questions. I don’t think we ask those questions enough in academia.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Sayan: Just to continue with where Lata stopped. As Lata also mentioned categorically, to balance the academic and the non-academic spaces I think we often talk about activism within and outside the academia. It’s easy to talk; it’s interesting to talk; it’s nice to quote theorists and show off how much we have read. But when it goes into the question of application, we see a whole lot of challenges. Personally, I think that there’s this process of engaging within and beyond academia at the same time, it’s not an “I” thing, it’s a very “we” thing. I alone can’t do anything. Alone I can sit and talk a lot, but if I have to do something, alone I can’t do anything. With respect to the things that Parinita and I were talking about just a few moments back before the recording started, you were sharing how did you meet Lata and then how did you take up your conversation. And that was a collective space. That was a collective space where you met, where you started engaging. And I think that engagement was not just an engagement of “hello” and “hi”. But it was that moment where you were creating knowledge; you were altogether weaving new dimensions of intellectual ideas outside the restricted academic space. Coming back to our personal engagements with everyday decoloniality, I usually engage with lots of people – with respect to podcasts, with respect to interactions, with respect to writings and readings and engaging – and Lata is an integral part of that. As an individual in relation to others, I try to understand how can I engage with decolonial practices in everyday life. Now let me give you very, very basic examples. So for instance, I have a problem in using a spoon and fork while eating. And that is a physical problem; it’s not an ideological problem. So basically, I’m not very comfortable, to be very honest and blunt. Now if someone is having bread and a cup of tea in a roadside restaurant in India, that person is not really concerned whether he is eating with one hand or two hands. But if that same person goes to a 5-star restaurant, that person is extremely concerned; that person is extremely aware and he’s trying to use the tea and fork thing when he’s not going to do the same thing in a roadside restaurant. But for me, I find it quite problematic; this practice is quite problematic. It’s a cultural problem, it’s a social problem, it’s a racial problem. It has its roots in the colonial ethics and morals that we still follow consciously or unconsciously. So wherever I go, whether it’s a roadside open shop or it’s a 5-star restaurant, I’m going to use my hands. And I really don’t care if people are shrugging, they’re sniggering, because that’s not my problem. I’ve gone to savour the food and I like the food and I just come back. It’s as simple as that. And I pay money for that so I’m not stealing. So that’s perfectly fine. So from all respects, I am safe there. This is one such example. The second thing I can tell you is with respect to the concept of languages. I don’t know if it is there in the UK, but in Indian schools, if you go to the English-medium schools in general – and I’m pretty sure Parinita also has that experience – you will see when the teachers teach us English, they have this tendency of imposing the typical UK-styled English or the US-styled English on the students. Let me give you another very basic example. If suppose in a parents-teachers meeting, parents ask the teachers, “I want to see my kid improving spoken English. What should I do?” The teacher will always say – usually, not always – that “Okay ask them to watch a BBC; ask them to watch a CNBC; ask them to watch a Star Movies; ask them to watch an ESPN.” I mean there are English-speaking channels in India as well. You have English-speaking news channels – sensible news channels are there as well, along with several non-sensible news channels. But there are places where people can learn. So why by default, consciously or unconsciously, we have to make a consistent reference to Western dimensions, Western parameters? So I think this process of questioning through action, not questioning just as questioning. Questioning through action living as examples, within and outside the academic space. Because these examples cannot only be set within the academic space. Obviously, we need to discuss, we need to theorise, we need to problematise, we need to unsettle. But also, we need to continue it beyond the academic space through making it as a part of practice of our daily existence, individually as well as collectively. And this is how I try to do that, and these are some of the things I would like to share.

Parinita: I totally connect with what both of you are saying. For me, I’ve grown up in Bombay and I went to one of those English-medium schools; a Catholic school actually, because there was the imposition of English in India. At least when I was growing up, the perception was that the nuns teach you better English. So as a part of social mobility, that’s where you go to learn better English. And because I’ve grown up in India and because most of the stuff I grew up reading was British children’s literature or American children’s literature and then American media, for me, it was this colonised mindset –that I’m still trying to unlearn – that English is better than other languages. And because you grow up in the space, nobody is disrupting that thinking and nobody is really questioning that. Because that’s the world that you live in as well, right? If you don’t have any social or financial capital or any sort of help there, you are reliant on employers who might then look at your English and decide that if you don’t speak good English, you’re not as intelligent as someone who speaks English. And for me, the framework of learning to think and unlearn this social conditioning has largely been online honestly, and specifically through fandom. The school that I went to, they didn’t teach you to think critically at all. They just taught you what to think and that’s what you write in your exam papers. And you don’t understand the context or you don’t understand enough to question. There’s no questioning at all; questioning is not allowed. And even though I was in Mumbai which is a fairly big city, you still have a small social bubble so you still have mostly people who are like you. And it’s only through fandom, Harry Potter fandom specifically, which is where my unlearning started. Because it’s such a globally popular text, the fans came from a wide range of backgrounds, and that’s where I learned things about decolonisation and queerness. Recently because of J. K. Rowling’s transphobia, there’s been more talk about that. And that’s a whole education in itself. You’re both marginalised and privileged in this space. As someone who’s grown up in India, you think fandom and everything happens in the West and then you see that oh there are other people like you. For me fan podcasts more recently have been such a fantastic way to learn and unlearn things. Because more and more people, especially fans who are from marginalised backgrounds, are using the fictional framework, are using this language of Harry Potter or Doctor Who or Marvel or whatever, which everybody knows, and then pushing against that. They love these texts – we love these texts – but we are unpacking the more problematic elements of it. I think that’s fantastic because in academia, I still don’t really see myself. I don’t really feel quite comfortable in academia because none of my parents went to university and onto higher education or a PhD or anything. So I still feel like I’m conning academia in a way; that I’m doing fan studies and intersectionality and podcasts. And I’m like, “Wait, they’re allowing me to do this?” And I don’t really see me being in academia at all after that. Even though I think there would be – there should be room for it. Like what you were saying, Lata, about what kind of language is acceptable and who has expertise and what kind of knowledge matters – I think that should be expanded. But I think academia is still a little hesitant to do that; not people within it but structurally, it is quite reluctant to do these things. The podcast that I’m doing for my PhD research – my supervisors, everyone, was super happy for me to do it as a research method. And they also suggested I present my PhD thesis as a podcast which they thought makes sense in terms of my focus on co-creating knowledge outside the academy and in online spaces. But then the university itself is not comfortable with that. And podcasts aren’t even this new-fangled technology; they’ve been around for a really long time. With the episodes so far, I’ve reached a fair amount of people. It’s not a huge number, but it’s much more than a journal article in traditional academic language and structured traditionally or a PhD thesis would have reached. It’s not just me saying my expertise, it’s me trying to learn from other perspectives as well. My podcast is a fan podcast, and we’re aiming an intersectional lens at both fandom and some of our favourite media. Since I tried to recruit co-participants online, it reached a fair amount of people. So I have people from diverse countries and they all have their own – our own individual social contexts and political contexts. So we do bring that in and we learn from each other. Which I think is really valuable. But I don’t think it’s as valued in the university, unfortunately. How do you try and seek this community, this community of knowledge, elsewhere if it isn’t being given space in the structure that you’re working in? How do you think you can do that or people can do that?

Sayan: I think one of the basic ways from where we can start and actually from where we are all starting, is collaboration. Because collaboration is something that always gives us the option to stay within academia, just within that space if we feel like; but at the same time to disentangle ourselves from those narrow restricted spaces of this academic system and indulge with people who are working right in the field as activists, performers scholars, musicians – whatever or whoever it is. To stay within and beyond at the same time. Nowadays, for example, whenever we have these academic events, amongst many institutions I am seeing changes which is actually making me feel very happy and also very optimistic of the transformations. Earlier there was this notion that a keynote speaker has to be the so-called seasoned academician with a fat CV and a huge number of publications and a massive resume. The bio note will be read for the first fifteen minutes and then the lecture starts. These kind of usual categorisations are getting broken. We see activists coming up. We see people who may not be very well-known – so-called “very well-known” in terms of publications and all – but have significant contributions to the ground-level towards their respective communities and societies. And they are coming up in that academic stage to share. And that is how now the direction is changing. Earlier there was this notion that activism travels from academia to the society, and not the other way round. Now because of this unidirectional dimension, till now what happened is that the battle of control remained in the hands of the academic system. And they have been acting not less than the colonial empire. And they have been regulating it in their own manner and using it for their self-centred needs. But now when it is happening the other way round, it is also dropping a strong message that sure, we are ready to learn from you, thank you so much, we need to learn from you. And you also need to learn from us. So this process is not a unidirectional journey. It’s an exchange as well. For instance, last year I think it at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa who started their first decolonial summer school. Now during the decolonial summer school, obviously they had lecturers from academicians like Professor Nelson Maldonaldo-Torres, Ramon Grosfoguel and several others who came up and delivered lectures; but that was not the end of the story. They also invited activists, local activists. They invited local dancers, they invited local musicians. And they were brought to the central academic space to make the people understand that how at the very basic social level, the process of decolonisation takes place. Because obviously we read a lot of theorists but when we go to the very ground level, it is impossible for us to exactly interpret or reflect on the theories in those exact terms and languages. We have to do it in a completely different manner so that it is relatable and connected to people as well. So I think one of the major ways through which we can do it is to build collaborations which actually gives us the opportunity that if academic space is not allowing us, it doesn’t mean that my all the doors are shut. I have other branches open, other channels open, where I can take out the activism there and channelise it among the folks.

Parinita: Based on what you said, I think sometimes academia tends to value and privilege theory too much without exploring how it is done by people, perhaps without using those terms, but people are still doing it. Intersectionality, for example, is something that I encountered online for the first time. I know that there’s this huge history of scholarship and activism in it as well. But thanks to the internet there’s more everyday engagement with it. And it might not be perfect, but it’s not like scholars are perfect, right? There’s always debates happening within journal articles and papers slamming each other’s ideas and theories and stuff. So that’s what’s happening online. But online there is no one person to say this is correct or this is wrong. You’ll get into fights and things but you’re still trying to form your own ideas about it. And it’s valuable even for someone like me, who’s largely a lurker. Apart from my PhD podcast now, I don’t really write long articles or anything about this. But I’m learning a lot from what other people are saying. During my master’s, there was this lecture about critical literacy and it was a term I’d never encountered before. It basically means unpacking the meanings in texts and all the multiple layers and questioning everything; questioning what’s written, questioning social norms, political norms. And I was like, I haven’t learned this myself in school, but I have seen fans doing this online. But they wouldn’t call it critical literacy. Similarly with intersectionality. Because I listen to a range of fan podcasts made by trans fans, gay fans, black fans … not Indian fans so much, it’s largely in the West still. But they are bringing their perspectives into it and into the text that they are analysing. They’re maybe not calling it intersectionality, but that’s still what they’re doing. And I think that also needs to be valued. Or maybe not valued; the fans don’t care if academics value them or not. But I think academia is losing out on not seeing these other cultures of knowledge and communities of knowledge.

Lata: I’m thinking about what you’re both saying. It’s just fascinating because to go back to the point you made about how do you create these spaces and what do we do, I’m actually struck by how in a way what you’re describing, Parinita, is about our academic responsibility to be speaking to people about those connections. And Sayan, everything you said is very relevant about bringing more people into that space, valuing different people, different types of knowledge; let’s not valourise expertise at the expense of this. I totally a hundred per cent agree with all of that. If you want to be what you might call an activist academic, or somebody who wants to bridge that gap, then we have a responsibility to try to create that bridge in our engagements. So, for instance, what you’re describing, Parinita, about people who might be doing critical … um what did you call it?

Parinita: Literacy.

Lata: Critical literacy. But actually, the responsibility we have as academics is to make things like theory accessible. I actually think we have a responsibility to do that. Even in my teaching, I always describe theories as, “This is fancy social science way of describing X, Y and Z.” I don’t believe that theory exists separately to the world that we live in. The best theory is absolutely grounded in the world; that’s what it is about. It’s about finding a way of explaining multiple things at the same time. That’s all theory is. And if the theory doesn’t do what we need it to do, then I need to either make up or find another theory. That for me is very important. It’s almost like having a platform and the power. It’s like having a power and wanting to use it for good, right? If I am given the platform as an academic to speak, then I have a responsibility to not only say things that bring people in, but actually to make space for more people. I have a responsibility. And I suppose it’s not just about being an academic, it’s anybody that has power. In my view, that power best exercised is about actually trying to make sure that more people have power, right? It’s not about consolidating it and keeping it to myself. Now obviously I use power very loosely. It’s not like I have a huge amount of power as an academic. But in whatever way I’m able to, I think, is a key responsibility. So Sayan what you’re describing is absolutely right. If I’m going to put together a conference or if I’m going to put together a workshop, then if I’m the organiser, I take on the responsibility of bringing more people into the space and making the argument for why they need to be there. If I have the power to do that, I need to use it. And I see the same thing about how we engage. I’ve had quite a few opportunities recently, it’s been wonderful. Obviously, the pandemic’s a disaster, there’s no two ways; I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But if there’s been one ever-so-slightly silver lining, it has been that because everybody seems to be moving online it has facilitated my engagement in spaces that I probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to do. Whether that’s because of work, I don’t have time to travel, I’ve got other responsibilities, so I can only do so many things. Now I’m at home and I’ve got my computer so suddenly I can be involved in all sorts of things. I can be in one event in the afternoon and another event in a completely different time zone in the evening. That’s actually been a really positive thing. And the result of that has been then again to think about how can I use that platform to try to make some of these arguments but make them accessible, inclusive. How do I bring people into this space and to make it seem as if it should matter to other people? So even those arguments around decoloniality, the thing that I find deeply frustrating is that – and I also work around gender – so whether it’s decoloniality or gender, it’s like, “Oh well if you’re white, decoloniality has nothing to do with you.” Or “Oh if you’re a man, gender has nothing to do with you.” And it’s about actually pushing back and saying okay, let’s have these debates. And my responsibility is at least partly to say, okay why did these issues or these theories or these activist voices – why did they matter to you? How do we bring you into that space in a way that you feel that this becomes your responsibility as well? And if I have any power to affect that kind of change, I actually think it is also then about bringing people into that dialogue who think that they shouldn’t be there. So for me, whether it’s around decoloniality theory to practice, I think as academics, if you’re going to be critical decolonial transformative academics, that is part of your job. You’re like a translator. In a way it goes back to the earlier part of our conversation, because I don’t think academia has any tools for us to do this. I feel like you’re just making it up on the fly. You do it out of a sense of commitment, you do it out of a sense of love even. But also a commitment to want to see the world work differently. But I would also agree that there is no roadmap. I mean it’s interesting, Parinita, what you describe about engaging with fan podcasts as a sort of learning journey for you. And it suggests again, like your original question, education doesn’t just happen in classrooms. Not that I’m saying we should make a roadmap. That suddenly we should turn around and try to turn that into expert knowledge. But certainly, an acknowledgement that the ways in which we might engage with these different pluriversal arguments or decoloniality or expanding our views on education – the pathways for that are not linear at all. And I suppose if I thought of myself as an activist academic, what I want is to be supportive of pluriversal approaches to education where we can acknowledge that learning and engagement and change happens in lots of different ways and through lots of different pathways with lots of different people. And it might be in unpredictable ways as well. We’ve just got to keep making the argument, keep trying to do this. And what might come of that is not predictable – and actually that’s okay. We have to learn to live with a little bit of uncertainty. And Sayan’s point about it’s not “I”, it’s “we”; that eventually the more people you bring in, the power of that collective, you will eventually be the change you want to see.

Parinita: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic point, what both of you brought up. Lata, what you were saying in terms of how you are now able to engage with more spaces online because of the pandemic, it’s the same with me; I’ve been able to do that as well. At the same time, I’ve also been following these conversations on Twitter that disabled academics and academics with caregiving responsibilities have been wanting these spaces so much for so long. And it had been completely possible to do it as well because the technology was there. The technology has been there, but the will wasn’t. Nobody really wanted to do it until there was no other option. And then suddenly, “Oh right, it’s the easiest thing to do to!” To stream these things online and to have it on YouTube and not just make it accessible to fellow academics but to people who don’t have access to academia. Because that’s also a privilege, right? Getting into a university, for whatever reasons isn’t available to everybody – your money, country, regional origin or other stuff. You may still want to learn but you’re unable to learn because you don’t have the money, because you have other responsibilities; and that’s such a shame. Which is why I totally resonate with making academic knowledge more accessible to people – both academics but also, more importantly, non-academics – in a way that also privileges their voices and their experiences as well. So it’s not just academics talking about this sub-group of people but actually, we are that group of people and we’re bringing that experience together. Both of you have very different ways that you’ve done that either through podcasting or even the blog Convivial Thinking. Do you want to talk about your projects or your work a little bit? And how you’ve tried to make that more accessible?

Sayan: Talking about my project. Obviously, it’s not just one project; I have been engaging in different types of projects. But in relation to what we have been talking about right now, what Lata and Parinita mentioned, in context to balancing, trying to create a bridge between the academic space and the non-academic space – the challenges and the possibilities. One thing I have been trying to do since last year, I use this podcast as a tool to do that, as you have been doing. In alignment with what Parinita just mentioned with how she has been able to position her understandings with respect to research and many things beyond that – not only within the constricted academic space but also outside as well, trying to compare them, balance them – the same thing happened for me. One of the central reasons why I wanted to do a podcast series on everyday decoloniality – which actually started with an idea of three podcasts and then it expanded to twelve to thirteen podcasts – the basic idea was actually to bring these ideas of coloniality to the common people and those who may not have read anything about decoloniality; who may not be acquainted with the term decoloniality. There can be some people who will just hear the term and will like to know what is decoloniality all about? And that person may not be an academician. That person can be a roadside vendor – what is wrong in that? A person can be a vegetable seller, a hotel person, someone who goes to the office and works, and someone who is driving the car and just wanted to listen – what is this buzz everyday decoloniality all about? So my central idea behind that podcast was that. And I started having researchers, I had academicians, I had activists, I had musicians, I had film actors, who just came in and talked from multiple dimensions of decoloniality. Multiple dimensions with respect to race, with respect to classroom, with respect to pedagogies, with respect to performance, with respect to music – different dimensions came into the conversation. In fact, I had a very interesting conversation on music with Professor Lewis Connell, (?) who writes a lot about blues and jazz, and we had a fantastic conversation on that. We had a fantastic conversation with Rosina Mark (?) from the UK. Apart from these academicians, we had several other people who were not exactly seasoned so-called academicians like professors and all; they are some researchers and performers. And the interesting part is – which I actually share with people with extreme happiness and pride – one of the biggest fans of my podcast was my dad, actually. Obviously one side of happiness is it’s my dad, but my dad has been a 9-to-5 banker and he likes to read a lot of books, he likes to read a lot of story books and newspapers, watches news channels, he analyses things good. But he has no connection with decoloniality, even with this term, in any way in his life till date. But he became a fan. And the best part was that every time he would listen to the podcast, he would give his interpretations, he will try to understand, and he was able to understand the essence of the podcast without me giving any background of that. And I felt that was somewhere a little bit I succeeded. Because an individual – I’m forgetting about the part that he’s my dad, I’m just taking him as an individual who has no connection with this notion of decoloniality to any extent and he could understand the essence of that particular thing. And he would ask questions and those questions were literally very critical questions. It’s not just random questions – “I did not understand” or something like that. And then he would also give his analysis with respect to his life experiences which he will start recovering from his childhood – which he never did that previously. So this is one example. Apart from that, it just touched so many people who have never been associated with this. I have one of my aunts who started listening to it; who has no, no, no connection with any kind of decoloniality. Now I’m not saying I have done a massive job, or I have done a revolutionary thing. But we start with drops of water and drops of water makes an ocean. And it gives me a lot of courage to see that somewhere somewhat even the common people are not only able to understand the essence of this podcast, but they can also unsettle themselves and self-realise that what they have been engaging with on various dimensions was not actually on their own. It was actually enforced by an external power. It encourages me to, as you say, you also want to do a Season 2, that encourages me to do a season 2 as well. Podcasting acts as a tool through engaging with ideas which are critical but at the same time that are also relatable to any layman who has no connection with it. So somewhere somewhat I feel that process of unsettling, the vision of unsettling, which I started with, it has started somewhere.

Lata: I admire Sayan for how much he gets done.

Parinita: [laughs]

Lata: We can only all wish to be as productive. And I’m not exactly tech-savvy. In fact, setting up this Zoom meeting is a superb accomplishment for me.

Parinita: [laughs]

Lata: For all the Zoom meetings I’ve been doing over the last six months, I only realised two weeks ago that I never set one up myself.

Parinita: And it’s really easy, right? Once you just sit down and do it, you’re like, oh yeah this is easy.

Lata: Yeah. It must be reasonably intuitive because I’m not … I’m comfortable talking online, talking to you both, wonderful, fine. But the actual nitty-gritty of setting it up. So anyway, the point is, my instinct is not to do this. Not because I don’t want to but I don’t have the skills. To go back to your question, my engagement with Sayan came through Convivial Thinking. And I wouldn’t want to take any credit for either conceiving of this space or curating it because I have only been an admiring bystander and just trying to be supportive of the principles. But I can’t claim any sort of authorship of design or drive because my head doesn’t work that way. But I admire it greatly. Having said that, obviously I am in the Convivial Thinking collective and obviously that’s how I’ve gotten to know Sayan which has been just a huge privilege. And engaging with people who are motivated that way is also really inspiring for me. Not so inspiring that I feel like I can get my head around web design. Right, there are limits.

Parinita: [laughs]

Lata: But inspiring enough that it’s really easy. I like to think of myself as the marketing. When I was actually going places, I had my pile of Convivial Thinking postcards and I would sit and chuck them out at people and go, “Oh by the way, I support this website.” And it’s great because I find it really easy to promote things that I admire and people I admire. That’s a lot easier than talking about anything to do with myself. It’s really easy to go, “Oh I have all these fantastic colleagues doing this brilliant website. Here, have this postcard!” That’s been one element of just trying to get the message out in terms of thinking that there’s an alternative space. One of the things that we’ve talked about – Sayan and Aftab and Julia and I – over email, queries will come up about things to do with the website. So the really positive thing about the website is actually the way it was established and the purpose of establishing it. It was very much driven by, “Okay, how do we create a space for alternative – not just alternative knowledges but alternative expressions of knowledge and debates about alternative expressions of knowledge?” There’s all these different things that are similar, not the same but they’re interacting – what it is but how you get it. Even what is alternative knowledge? Who gets to decide what alternative knowledge is? Or who gets to decide what knowledge is and then what the alternative is? The difficulty of the language. As soon as you talk about alternative knowledge, well that mainstreams a certain kind of knowledge – that’s the expert academic knowledge and you’re othering the rest of it. Trying to have these debates has been really amazing. And again, I can’t take any credit for the innovation at all, but the fact that Convivial Thinking now has a YouTube channel. So, Parinita, the kind of thing you’re saying about the internet creating these opportunities, and Sayan, you’re absolutely right; both of you are saying things which are super important in the sense that there are concerns around digital literacy, there’s different types of exclusion that we have to be aware of and I think we are. But the fact is we can diversify our audiences and reach people we couldn’t reach, right? That is and continues to be a motivation. And, in fact, I actually originally was connected to Julia through an online conference that I did in 2017. But I outsourced the tech end of it because I wasn’t going to manage it! And I didn’t have the license with the software anyway. But it was motivated by similar sorts of concerns and I think that’s what connected us and why she reached out to me in the way that she’s so fantastic at doing, and then connected me to Sayan and Aftab which has been amazing. And why actually, Parinita, when we met on the picket line, you were very much a kindred spirit. Because it was almost like these constellations of all these wonderful people coming together who have all these again, different approaches to knowledge building – which I don’t have but admire and want to promote. So for me, maybe actually what it is is I’m actually your fans.

Parinita: [laughs]

Lata: I’ve got my own little decolonial fandom. I know who I wanted to promote so that’s very much where I situate myself. With some exceptions; I’ve written the odd blog here and there and I’ve tried to support where I can. But I’m very much the fan or the admirer as opposed to curator of content. And I think that’s great. And in a way actually it’s a wonderful position to be in. Because even in my positionality as an academic, I quite like taking the time to reflect and to use that position, which I think is incredibly privileged; to actually reflect on what I don’t know and the messages that I can promote that aren’t mine. That’s actually a really nice thing. I don’t actually like talking about myself – what’s the fun in that? Whereas I can talk about all these other people that I know who are people doing fantastic work. Let’s talk about that! That’s going to be great. We did this online conference and similar sort of issues would come up and we did it as text-based thing, so you post stuff. But one of the things even in 2017, before we had a pandemic and this became a necessity, was again to try and reach people that might not be able to travel, might not be able to get a visa. So these debates are happening and you’re always trying to either curate or involve yourself try to build more dynamic spaces to include more people. But there are limitations. And I think that’s the thing with Convivial Thinking. We’re always trying to overcome and trying to be more nuanced in that. So obviously there’s the actual thing about inclusion/exclusion and around digital literacies; have I even got an internet connection? So we’re not going to get to everybody. And I think upfront we get that. Then there’s those layers that you’re trying to unpack that start to make the project in a way more important and also more interesting and more of a challenge, as some things you simply cannot overcome. The most immediate one that we talk about most often is obviously the absolute hegemony of the English language, right? So we had a colleague in Leeds, for instance, who wanted to write in a kind of mixture of Spanish and English. And we were like, yeah! Totally. Go for that, please do, that would be wonderful. Because that’s how she wants to express herself. And we’re like, yeah that sounds wonderful. So she did and that was amazing. Lauda (?) she did that and it was wonderful but it’s a limitation, right? It’s still text. So this podcast again offers a counterpoint to that, that’s wonderful. But again is there bandwidth to run audio files? There are other sorts of things that might come out of that. But things like performance, poetry, photography, video images … I mean there are still barriers. We have to be mindful of the fact that we are still creating different types of inclusions and exclusions. But I would say overall that it shouldn’t still stop us from exploring both alternative knowledges or different knowledges or pluriversal knowledges but also pluriversal approaches to knowledge-building. So it shouldn’t be a limitation. To go back to your original question, Parinita, actually being involved with Convivial Thinking in itself has been hugely enriching. Because the engagement – whether it was the online conference early on where you’re having to actively confront it but now with Convivial Thinking, in very much a support role – is still a fantastic education for me. The challenge has been how do I take that learning around inclusion/exclusion – the new dynamics that emerge – and then try to apply that in my own academic spaces; in the conversations that we’ve been having about how do we include more people or more views? And rehearsing that in a way has been hugely valuable because I think I am now thinking about things that, if I hadn’t been involved with Convivial Thinking, wouldn’t have even occurred to me. So again, selfishly maybe, it’s been hugely valuable – that engagement. And this kind of conversation even today, what a great learning opportunity, again, selfishly for me.

Parinita: But that’s brilliant. And that’s something that you said, Sayan, as well about it being collaborative. For me, that’s one thing that I sort of had a hint about when I launched my project properly in January but now I’m even more determined about this, that knowledge is so much more enriched when it’s co-created through dialogue because you don’t know what you don’t know. And you only learn these things when you’re talking to people. Like the blind-spots that you have, you don’t even know they’re blind-spots. And obviously it’s a lifelong process of unlearning and relearning and even identifying first of all that social conditioning and then undoing that. So Sayan, you used the term common people, which I thought was really interesting because I very much see myself as common people. I don’t see myself as an academic. I don’t know if that’s raging imposter syndrome – I’m sure it is. Because before I did my master’s, I’m a children’s book writer so I work with children’s books and young people in different ways. I’ve worked in a school, I’ve done activities, I’ve worked in bookshops. So for me, that was my engagement with knowledge as an adult, a newish adult, in the beginning – getting kids excited about books because they were so important to me. But with kids who are more reluctant, who didn’t already think books were awesome, I had to trick them into making it more fun; so I used to design these activities and have conversations with them. I did this reading programme in a school which was largely first-generation English-speakers. So how to make them connect to this picture book that I’m reading that’s set in France maybe or the US or the UK or different parts of India? I used to start off with asking them a question that was sort of related to the book, but then ask them to contextualise it in their own lives. Like what was your favourite breakfast, for example, or something like that. They had to buy into the book first and drawing connections from their own lives helped. I’ve done other activities as well in schools and outside, in bookshops and literature festivals. So when I came into academia – as you were saying, Lata, theory is important – but for me, theory is important in the lived experience of people rather than in just reading about it.

Lata: Yeah absolutely. I agree.

Parinita: So I’m reading about this in academia, but I’m always drawing connections to my experiences and through second-hand experiences as well. Which is why in the podcast, maybe that’s why I wanted to not privilege just my own voice; I’m not comfortable privileging my own voice because I don’t think I know too much. I know children’s books, but I don’t know so much. So like you said, selfishly, it’s me trying to learn through other people’s perspectives. I obviously have these ideas and theories, I have some level of knowledge; but it is very incomplete knowledge which other people help fill in. Especially people who come from different backgrounds. I think intersectionality includes decolonisation as well. It has its roots in Black feminism in the US so originally it looked at class and race and gender and sexuality – how they intersect and affect black women’s lives in the US. But now, in academia and, for me, online discussions have expanded it to look at other identities as well. So we’re talking about it in terms of how we’re both privileged and marginalised. You’re both. Even when you’re marginalised in spaces, you still have other levels of privilege. And they’re also very contextual. Like my identity in India is very different from my identity as a brown immigrant in the UK, for example. So we’ve been talking about all these things. I’m cisgender, I’m heterosexual – so for me, those are blind-spots as well. And I don’t have any identified disabilities. So for me, talking to people about their experiences is so much more valuable than … reading is important as well, obviously. I read theory in academia and things but they’re living in it. Their practice is informing their theory almost, which for me is hugely valuable. And what you were saying, Lata, about the exclusions and inclusions in digital literacy as well. I find that really fascinating because I’ve learned so much just by making a podcast. I’d never made a podcast before I jumped off the deep end of the pool like, “Oh yeah I’ll do this for my PhD!” And I’ve just learned so much. I’ve been a very online person since I was sixteen, I think. I’ve just grown up online. So I’m comfortable with online things; I like learning new things. But I think everybody has more skills than they give themselves credit for. Like for you, Lata, once you actually sat down to do Zoom, it was easy enough for you. So I’m sure you have more skills than you think you do.

Lata: I’m not sure about that. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] When you were talking about digital exclusion and inclusion, I think there’s more nuance to that as well. In a previous podcast episode for my podcast, we were talking about this newspaper called Khabar Lahariya, which is a rural newspaper in India. I don’t know how much you know about it but it was started by this woman to look at local news and rural news.

Lata: Yeah.

Parinita: And she had women as journalists and as distributors. And after a few years, they have transitioned online. So their news is now on Facebook, through WhatsApp, through Telegram. And they’ve done it so much better than a lot of bigger newspapers have managed to do. They are so with it. I think that disrupts these notions as well; maybe not of people who know about it, but even in India, in Indian cities, for example, we have these ideas about rural women. Like, “Oh these rural women are doing all this?! We didn’t know. Phones! What?! Digital literacies?!” So I think that’s really interesting. In terms of your own experiences, in terms of literacy, have you engaged with multiple kinds of literacies or multiple kinds of knowledges as well while doing these things we’ve been talking about?

Sayan: Well multiple forms of literacies … now this perspective makes me think about what other various ways we gain knowledge. And this process of gaining knowledge, to my best I try to be conscious to understand it away from that capitalistic concern of knowledge production. So when I say gain knowledge, I don’t mean that “knowledge production” thing. So I’m keeping that aside. If I again go back to my individualistic as well as collective practices of what I engage with everyday decolonial thinking and doing, I feel that what I read in the text and what I do in the context – somewhere somewhat I always try to relate that. So to give a very simple and a straightforward example, when I’m eating a particular food item, I’m getting my certain tastes in my tongue, for sure, and whether I’m liking or disliking the food. But it’s much beyond that. I am gaining a form of cultural knowledge even in my process of disliking that. Even if I’m disliking that, still I am gaining a kind of cultural knowledge and gaining a kind of social knowledge, a racial knowledge, a geographical knowledge and varieties and various dimensions of knowledge. So for me, that context is the text for me at that time. Like if I’m wearing a particular dress, on a particular occasion. Now for instance there are various ways of drinking alcohol in Bhutan which is actually absolutely very interesting. You don’t drink the same kind of alcohol in all the occasions. So, for example, the interesting part is that they drink alcohol on every occasion. So if you compare it with the Western concept, to be very specific about the colonial West, alcohol is an element of celebration. Some will interpret alcohol as an element of violence. But here, alcohol underlies every aspect. So if there is a birth, for example, when a child is born, the ritual is that the mother will take a clean cloth, will rub a bit of alcohol on the cloth and will rub it on the lip of the child. That’s a ritual. And that alcohol will have a very, very, very low alcoholic content actually so that it doesn’t harm the health of the child. It’s a ritual. Then the alcohol that is taken in the time of, for example, a big Buddhist festival is not going to be the same alcohol that is going to be consumed at the time of a marriage or at the time of someone’s death. So the point is, just with drinking different types of alcohol, before coming here, the typical vision that I had before coming here, or those set of notions about consumption of local alcohols or foreign liquors or whatever, completely transformed here. So, it is also a form of literacy for me. This alcohol is a form of language for me, this alcohol is a form of pedagogy for me – the drinking process, sitting in that collective, cultural space is a pedagogy for me. So through these examples, through these experiences of the daily life, I try to position this notion of literacy, or if I put it as collective literacy, through these daily life experiences.

Lata: Yeah that’s actually, that’s really, without wanting to make it sound like a pun, Sayan that’s given me food for thought. And I do mean that genuinely because I think that in answer to your question about engaging with different knowledges, the immediate response to that is no, because I am who I am and live where I live and so my starting point is that I don’t know stuff. And so I have to work really hard to keep finding out both the things I don’t know and the ways in which I don’t know them. But in a way that’s actually quite liberating. Because if we go back to the original thing about academic framings, there’s lots of pressure to be an expert and know everything. I actually find it quite nice to be able to start by acknowledging well actually, I only know this much about this much. I know this tiny little slice; and even then, I’m not going to claim that I know everything about this tiny little slice of stuff that’s happening here in this little part of the world where these sets of ideas interact and I know some aspect of that. Because when my starting point is I don’t know things, or I know things the way I know them but I would never ever want to assert that it’s the only way, actually that’s a really productive place to start without wanting to sound too commodifying. It’s a very productive place to start because what that allows me to do is say okay, how do I challenge myself? So I know it this way – this could be food cultures, it could be language, it could be ritual, it could be pedagogy in the classroom, it could be how I interact with my children, it could be watching the news, Twitter, whatever right? But if my starting point is okay, this is what I think I know and then something comes along, then it’s actually really nice because my first question is obviously okay well what do I learn from this? And is there a way for me to think about whether there’s another way to approach this issue or question? If I tried to get outside of my own head or if I put aside what I think I know about this, what might that teach me about how somebody else might be experiencing that? So, Parinita, your point about being heterosexual in a heteronormative world and not having a disability, this particular positionality that you hold interacting with people and actually that revealing lifeworlds that you don’t have access to, doesn’t mean that you can’t have solidarity, that you can’t learn, and that we can’t build collective wisdom or action, right? It’s actually really liberating because if my starting point is I don’t know, well then every interaction is a learning opportunity. And that’s brilliant. I don’t mean that in a kind of I figured it out. Sayan, the language of unsettling, it’s perfect. You’re constantly unsettling yourself. In a way the most successful academics are the ones that just think, I am fantastic and I know all of these things – they’re the most successful ones. I’m not interested in that. I mean I can imagine that might be fulfilling in its own way, right? You get promotion, you gain a platform notoriety, money, whatever and there may be something to that. But I think collectively what it feels like we’ve expressed is we’re all aiming for something bigger, right? There is actually something else that has to come out of all of this. Which isn’t even in itself an end or an outcome. But trying to embed different types of processes, validating different pluriversal experiences and knowledges that might actually reshape the world. Because ultimately, I think all of us are expressing a discomfort about the determinism of the world that we live in. That doesn’t even mean that we share the same vision. But actually, that discomfort I think is good. That’s important. Because who would want to live in exactly the same world? That’s a bit bleh. That’s a bit boring, right? The question is how do we all work towards that collectively, but still embrace the fact that we might all want different things out of that? What does that process look like? Embracing that uncertainty, allowing yourself to be unsettled, is the first step. But actually, having done it, I feel hugely liberated. Because then, I don’t have to have all the answers. And that’s great! [laughs] And then my job becomes something else. I say this to my students all the time that I’ve got the best job in the world. I get paid to think. I get paid to learn. Don’t tell my employers but I might do it for free, right? When I approach it like that, it is fantastic. But it is often unsettling, right? Because sometimes we do want answers or answers are being demanded of us. Parinita, you’re talking about imposter syndrome and there is an element of that, right? We are put in that position because we’re supposed to know stuff. So then when I don’t have an answer, your instinct is to go, “Oh my god. I don’t really belong here.” But it’s actually about living with that sense of discomfort and being unsettled. Sayan, I think you’re absolutely right. Which is then you want to be able to radiate that outwards. How do we unsettle? But not in ways that are meant to be about attacking or distrust. It’s about actually trying to understand what the purpose of that unsettling is. Why would I want to unsettle? It’s not because I want to upset you or because I’m trying to make you feel bad or because I think everything is horrible or anything like that. The unsettling is about, well, hang on a second, if I just step back and take a different perspective on this or I look at this ritual or that food or this custom or this language or this geographical place – what if I shifted the lens a little bit like this? Or I described it in this way? Is it possible that we can learn something? Is it possible that we would be better off from it somehow? That we might actually create a different world? And the possibilities of that are so exciting that the discomfort and the unsettling is worth it for me. But for me it’s very much about a learning process. And living with that is a challenge but it’s hugely rewarding. So the answer to your question – the short answer is no, I don’t. But I want more. So I’ll just keep looking for it. [laughs]

Parinita: I love that. This conversation was so brain set abuzz and brain set alight.  Because sometimes it feels very isolating because not everyone within academia seems to want to question these things or seems to want to know about these things or is interested or whatever. So it’s nice to talk to people who do think about these things and who are doing things.

Sayan: Somewhere somewhat I feel that because the title of this umbrella podcast is fandom and I think also through these interactions, we create a mutual fandom that dissects from the usual dimension of hero worship. We don’t create pedestals; we are breaking pedestals. And we are basically acknowledging each other, critiquing each other, trying to understand each other’s differences. I once read an article by obviously a very famous Portuguese thinker Boaventura de Sousa Santos and he talks about this concept of depolarised pluralities. That is, not only do we require a form of plurality, but it should be depolarised as well. So I think this very podcast interaction made me feel in the same manner. That it’s not necessary we are all agreeing with each other, we critiqued each other, we acknowledged each other, we appreciated each other but also this consistent process brought so many new thoughts and dimensions to engage with in the future. Which I think is the most important thing. It’s not about shutting down and getting the record and sharing on Facebook and WhatsApp. Yeah we need to do that, we need to spread that. But what after that? And that opens up the gateways for more interactions, more weavings in the future. And for that personally I really thank Parinita for inviting me and inviting us and creating this us thing altogether today.

Parinita: Oh, it was totally Lata. Lata is the one who’s helped poke me when I fell into my PhD research pandemic hole. I’m so glad as well, Lata, that you brought us together. This was such a good conversation. More than ever now after talking to everybody here as well, I wish academia did more to talk to people who are not academics. Even in spaces like this, in Convivial Thinking or a podcast or just within academia in a classroom or whatever. Maybe talk to the students in a way that’s not talking to them but talking with them. And having them contribute their knowledge and intelligence which will again disrupt your own thinking because you don’t know. And that’s good pedagogy, right? That’s what we do in primary schools. I mean not in my school, we had 67 children in a classroom [laughs] but in other schools which have more room and resources to do this. You come together and you share knowledge and you have the skills that you exchange and learn from each other. Why don’t we do that in higher education? Why is it that the older that you get, there’s only one or two people who know. And even in terms of research, not just researching a group of people but having them be a part of the design as well. Not just you’re going in there as a researcher and then going away, like you were saying, Sayan, just going away and doing this research and then sharing the research in the academic version of Facebook and WhatsApp which is journal articles that are very expensive to access. But just creating this knowledge with the people and then also sharing it in a way that makes sense to them and that’s relevant to them. So yeah, that was apparently a very long final thought that I had. But thank you so much – this was fantastic. This was a great conversation.

Lata: No thank you for bringing us together which has been fantastic.

Sayan: Absolutely.

Lata: And I’m glad that we got to talk to each other.

Sayan: Absolutely.

Lata: It’s been so nice to talk to both of you today.

Sayan: It was fantastic interacting. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned and so many things to talk about again.

Parinita: I know.

Sayan: That makes me so happy actually.

Lata: Yeah.

Parinita: We need to have a second part of this episode. [laughs]

Sayan: Sure why not.

Parinita: Maybe in a post-pandemic world.

Sayan: [laughs]

[Outro music]

Thanks so much for listening! As both Lata and Sayan brought up throughout the episode, creating knowledge is such a collaborative effort and I absolutely have to agree. I learned so much from our conversation which I’m so excited to incorporate into my own work and thinking. Thank you both for taking the time to do this and for being so patient throughout this episode’s long journey out into the world. And thank you, Jack, for finding the time to edit this episode.

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