Cultural Values from the Subaltern Perspective: A Phenomenology of Refugees' Experience of British Cultural Values

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Media, Film and Music


This project seeks to understand the value located in a range of arts/cultural activities to refugees, a group new to British cultural life who are often marginalised from 'mainstream' cultural activities, but who are simultaneously expected to adopt a hegemonic national identity of Britishness and henceforward espouse British cultural values. Refugees are a group who typically have experienced forced migration, oftentimes related specifically to their own - often fiercely defended - cultural activities and values in their country of origin. This migratory biography makes for a complex, rich contribution to how we think about the value of arts and culture, and cultural expression, in the UK today.

We will investigate the standpoint of refugees on British cultural values, benefitting from their 'outsider within' perspective. British cultural values are not unitary, nor are they precisely definable, they are shaped and refined by participation and engagement. We will seek to identify the components of cultural value embedded in a set of typically British arts and cultural pursuits, based in and around the city of Brighton. We will break down the components to be identified using a range of methods that focus on the discrete senses, and on the particular forms of embodiment that such activities claim. We want to examine carefully what constitutes the experience of involvement in the arts and cultural sphere, so we will also be collecting information on the cognitions and emotions that are attached to such experiences.

Refugees constitute a unique case: migrants pay acute attention to the acculturation of British values. This attention can be a protective mechanism, a philosophical choice, an attempt to move away from a traumatized past or culture of origin, an imposed set of norms, or a way of making their enforced dislocation intelligible. Refugees are legally required to learn British cultural values in order to be 'awarded' citizenship, via the Home Office instrument, the 'Life in the UK' Test (which will be interrogated in group discussion). Whatever the reason, refugees have an acute sensitivity and prescient awareness of 'what makes us British'. Yet, often their access to the cultural industries can be severely restricted, due to explicit factors such as economic barriers, and due to implicit factors such as the perceived 'Whiteness' of some art/cultural pursuits (eg. premier league football, and the opera - two performances that will form part of our programme).

This project will take the form of a 16 week course, called 'What is British Culture', offered to 12 women refugees. Through a range of arts and cultural activities, we will assess refugee's embodied experience of participation and reflection, gathering sensory information through creative expression. In order to gather robust data, the course is quite long and demanding; however we have found in previous projects that refugee participants appreciate such commitments as they enable a strong group identity to form, which can continue informally after the planned meetings finish, providing a sustainable resource.

As researchers we have our own cultural values: our model is taken from feminist praxis. Feminist epistemologies focus on the way "in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification" (Anderson 2004). At the core of feminist epistemology is the concept of the situated knower, who produces situated knowledge. Donna Haraway (1998) famously argued that most knowledge, in particular academic knowledge is always "produced by positioned actors working in/between all kinds of locations". Collaborative learning, respect for social difference, creating an environment of mutual support, listening and consideration for others, these characteristics are all markers of the feminist classroom, cultural values which we hope to emulate in the process of the research.

Planned Impact

The concepts of Britishness and British values are repeatedly invoked by UK politicians across the political spectrum, particularly in relation to rapid socio-cultural change connected to immigration. Community cohesion, national identity, citizenship education and the perceived need to promote belonging and shared values are high on the political agenda. The potential importance of this research to these debates, to policy makers, government agencies and politicians is therefore very great. This is indicated by our partnerships with Demos, the Refugee Council and Refugee Action. They will support the widest possible dissemination of the research at national level to enhance its impact on public policy.
The Advisory Board (AB) will provide an overview and context for the project, from planning to completion.Members of the AB constitute existing members of SCCS, drawn from Health, Social Science, Arts and Humanities disciplines at the Universities of Sussex and Brighton, as well as representatives from partner organisations who will take back to their organisations our iterative findings, and a 'student rep' - one of the women. A key role of the AB will be sharing knowledge and best practice, and disseminating aspects of the project to their own communities of interest and networks. All partners are invited to the closing SCCS/Demos conference.
Our local partners, both public sector and private (Museum, Libraries, Albion Football Club, Glyndebourne etc) see this project as an important means of increasing the effectiveness of their service and making it more accessible and appropriate to a broader community. This impact will be generated through their learning from participants during the project and from the findings of the research. The project will therefore be shaping professional practice in a wide range of cultural and organisational settings. The resulting enhancement to services will benefit the wider public, including marginalised groups.
Perhaps our most immediate impact will be the personal impact on the participants themselves. We hope to enhance quality of life and improve mental health among a group who statistically manage very high levels of stress, depression and anxiety (Refugee Council 2007). Using arts and culture to widen experience we hope to improve both their, and our, understanding of difference and place in the world. Despite refugees in some ways constituting a unique case, the empirical material gathered has transferable viability. Does the way a migrant might acculturate values through participation in the arts have implication for how 'native' audiences also accumulate values? We hypothesize that it does, but that the outsider/stranger perspective of the migrant may make such processes more visible or conscious. The research will throw up a number of questions that we would like to push forward for future investigation.
Other opportunities for impact will be provided by a guide for those working with refugees on how to design effective and meaningful arts-based projects; a project website hosted by SCCS; a touring exhibition installed in the foyers of Brighton Library, the Brighton Unitarian Church (Munt is a member), the Friends Adult Education Centre (Morrice is a Trustee) and Sussex University Meeting House. The exhibitions will increase public awareness of difference and diversity, impacting on tolerance and social cohesion.
Finally, we intend to address impact in terms of capacity building: career development for Co-I 1 will be integrated into the bid in the form of an application for promotion to Reader if we are successful. Bennett and Aristopoulou will apply for Postdoctoral Fellowships in the subsequent bid. Bennett will be trained in administering cognitive measures and assessment. We anticipate that a range of interested partners will have augmented their skills and expertise by the close of the project, which will in itself contribute to developing impact and engagement.


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Morrice L (2016) Cultural values, moral sentiments and the fashioning of gendered migrant identities in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

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Morrice, Linda Adult Education as a Panacea for 'Fractured Britain': A Subaltern Perspective. in Key note speaker at SCUTREA Seminar and AGM, July 3rd 2014, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK

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Morrice, Linda An Exploration of British Cultural Values and Identity from the Margins. in Conference paper at the 3rd ESREA Network on Migration, Ethnicity, Racism and Xenophobia. "Multiculturalism" today: aspirations, realities and crisis debates, 13th - 15th May 2014, Wroclaw, Poland

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Morrice, Linda A Phenomenology of Refugees' Experience of British Cultural Values. in Conference paper at IRiS International conference, Superdiversity: Theory, Method and Practice, 23-25 June 2014, Birmingham, UK.

Description Through this grant we have had a number of outcomes which have been disseminated via our publications.
These are complex and often theoretical findings that are difficult to summarize here.
Kindly go to our publications to read further.
Exploitation Route The cultural values of refugees, and asylum seekers are different according to what identity, religion, gender and cultural beliefs are predominant in country of origin, however our main finding is the importance of religion and faith as crucial support for the difficult process of adjustment required by the refugee journey and the acculturation into the host country and society. We have many more other findings which are described in our various publications
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description I have set up a new charitable project offering trauma treatment to refugees
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Life in the UK - photographic exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Photographic exhibition in Brighton Jubilee Library of photographs taken by project participants on the theme of Life in the UK. The exhibition was at the centre of the main library atrium and would have been seen by 100s of people in the 2 weeks it was there

Public awareness of what life is like for refugee and migrant women in the UK, and how these women see British culture
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014