(Highlight Notice) The Diasporic Everyday: Labour, Creativity, Survival

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of English

Abstract

Certain binary oppositions remain prevalent in Western culture, and have done so since the Enlightenment. The production of civilised culture has and is often thought to rely upon the availability of significant leisure time, being long understood as the province of a privileged elite. Beauty and function, too, often sit in a rigid dichotomy, and aesthetic appreciation even now can be associated with the mind in opposition to the body. It is difficult to overstate the power of these historic dichotomies or the extent to which they still shape discussions about art and creativity throughout British and other national cultures. But it is also hard to overstate diasporic culture's capacity to dislodge their entrenched powers of assumption. In a wide variety of creative spheres, throughout the historic territories of the diaspora, the dichotomisation of leisure and art, and indeed of beauty and purpose, founder, growing powerless to explain the different, democratic, achievements of African peoples. Carnivals flower amid grinding violent poverty; Africa-tinged pit barbecue flourishes on the plantation; dances seem somehow to confound the ordeals of physical work; and in an array of other contexts expressivity asserts itself within an everyday life difficult to escape. The story of the blues that Langston Hughes once told, in other words, seems neither isolated nor unique. Invented in the field itself, as he speculated, and chiefly "to relieve the monotony" of difficult work, this functional lyricism instead only exemplified an alternative diasporic mode in which expressivity of all kinds happened amid racist toil and guarded against its multiple physical and psychological pains.

Alongside the blues among other lyrics of survival our new network explores some of the other key accomplishments of the diasporic everyday. It places Arthur France's establishment of the Leeds carnival at a time of extreme institutional racism into a wider diasporic pattern of active cultural resistance. It draws together US and UK food scholars to consider how slave cooks throughout the Black Atlantic interwove African food traditions into their everyday work, carving out new cultural and economic resources in a situation that remained sadistically hostile to African culture in the round. And it also welcomes back to Leeds Susan Kiguli, our East African alumnus, who has now won acclaim throughout the continent for her own explorations in oral poetry. Kiguli's involvement in our network promises to enrich our interdisciplinary reflections on the different, and differently indispensable, roles verse has performed among diverse diasporic communities uninterested in Eurocentric dichotomies of beauty and function.

Each of these everyday activities is fascinating in its own right, and through our roundtables our network will deepen understanding of them all. Above all we aim, however, to deepen our understanding of the diasporic philosophy which stands behind each such manifestation, unlocking the liberating, democratic investment in everyday creativity that they hold in common. Beauty, in the diasporic everyday, often manifests itself through function; basic imperatives of hunger and survival animate inspiration; and the permanence and perfection of the monument often seems less important than the moment of creativity itself. Yet as they thus synthesise this alternative cultural sensibility, our roundtables will also call attention to the ways in which it reflects outwards and onto those other vernacular or creative traditions, beyond the diaspora, which also confound agreed dichotomies of work and leisure and beauty and function. By the end of our programme, indeed, it will be clear that Hughes's "Story of the Blues" amongst other diasporic affirmations offer liberation to us all, confirming that all have access to art and creativity--that all culture, even, might belong to the everyday of us all.

Planned Impact

The ultimate purpose of this network is to find a language that will recognise the creative lives of a constituency somewhat overlooked, even now, by the academy. Our roundtable discussions are academic occasions, and they will build towards a new academic statement or theorisation of the diasporic everyday. But nonacademic speakers will play a central role in this process, and the language which we will thus together pursue will strive towards a double affirmation. It will draw upon recent revisions of Lefebvre, and even Richard Hoggart's classic Leeds study The Uses of Literacy, in order to make an academic argument about the need to recognise the creativity of local everyday cultures, starting with those of the diaspora. And in doing so it will offer to those within the diaspora itself an overarching theory, developed in discussion, which reflects back to them what they might already know: that diasporic creativity has long occurred in everyday time, has often aimed at survival, and thus upsets leading European rhetorical claims about the meaning and function of culture.

The personnel as well as the intellectual framework of The Diasporic Everyday as such offers ample opportunities for new pathways to impact. The award of this AHRC grant would enable us both to develop this intellectual message of affirmation and then to carry it along the routes of dissemination made available through the involvement of our nonacademic members. The extended (three day) visits of our international scholars offer particular opportunities to plan public outreach programmes. When the US ethnomusicologist Shannon Dudley and the Trinidadian ethnographer Gabriel Hosein arrive for our roundtable on carnival, for example, we will plan a further offsite event, in discussion with Emily Marshall and Max Farrar, to share their expertise with north Leeds audiences involved in their own carnival. As Warnes has also, over the last two years, been collaborating with the organisers of the Leeds Indie Food festival, the visit of the brilliant US food scholar Psyche Williams-Forson raises the prospect of another public event on another history of everyday diasporic practice. At the end of both occasions questionnaires will ask audience members about their own relationship to creativity as well as their sense of the role of the university in the life of the city. Thus these events, although small in scale, will produce measurable and meaningful impacts that will in turn feed into our ongoing research.

Far bigger in scale is the public engagement event at the heart of the network: the performance of oral poetry from the East African poet Susan Kiguli alongside diasporic Leeds poets in the summer of 2017 on the new stage of the David Oluwale Memorial Garden. This event will also begin with a statement, from Warnes and Farrar, both on the Diasporic Everyday and DOMA's cultural ambitions for the city. To spread the word of our work on the diasporic everyday we are thus planning a public event of similar size and ambition to February 2016's Oluwale Now. As with Oluwale Now we will publicise this event via the established channels of our network and institution: through the offices of the David Oluwale Memorial Association, the Leeds West Indian Centre, and other organisations represented by our participants, and amongst the schools and colleges familiar to the School of English's increasingly successful access programmes. Questionnaires and social media will again provide a key source of measurable information about these events. As these will include questions not only about the oral poetry itself but also the diasporic everyday concept which frames it, the information we harvest from this event will feed back in and shape our plans for further public work as well as the orientation of our final publication. By these means The Diasporic Everyday will thus intensify and transform the community relationships that we have developed since Oluwale Now.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The network grant has enabled me to establish a new local and international network of collaborators with a common interest in everyday forms of diasporic culture. The generous travel allowance in the budget enabled us to hold meetings which brought US and UK scholars of African-American and African-Caribbean foodways into conversation with each other. Links were also forged with Hip Hop scholars in the north of England and beyond and with critics and practitioners of carnival in the city. Outside the academic sphere, the network grant also allowed us to host readings from the novelist Caryl Phillips in the city at our Student Union and the Leeds Library. A student event which followed attracted well over 200 of the university's undergraduates and has rejuvenated discussion about decolonising the curriculum within our School. Our main ongoing work as a result of this year of activity is to respond to such events by including diasporic authors throughout our undergraduate curriculum and by beginning our work on a special journal issue devoted to the diasporic everyday culture. These public, academic and student activities all contribute to the network grant's central objective of securing greater recognition for the cultural contributions made by people of African descent.
Exploitation Route Through collaborations resulting from this network we are continuing to develop a way of understanding the distinctive character of diasporic culture without recourse to the language of essentialism. In particular, as a result of network discussions, we are engaging with the work of Hortense Spillers, and thinking through practical manifestations or styles emerging from what she calls those "diasporic cultures" which were "summoned to unmake the conditions of alienation" and "to bring into existence a repertoire of predicates that were not there before so far as we can see." Our discussions suggest that this challenge to race thinking occurred in a seizure of an everyday "now" which redefined its suppositions in such a way as to allow cultural memories of past Africa and imagine the possibility of future freedom. New "predicates" which Spillers envisages as unexpected take the form, in our more culturally-focused approach, of alternative culinary or musical or folkloric or storytelling traditions.

Although the network itself involved international scholars, these reflections have come to focus on Leeds itself in the period since it ended. We have forged particularly close ties with Emily Zobel Marshall at Leeds Beckett University, leader of the Caribbean Cultures network, and are together conducting new work on the conceptualisation of the city and diasporic belonging. We will take part in a further engagement activity--a panel reflecting on Oluwale Now at Leeds library in April--and after this will develop our unfolding collaboration in new directions.

Scholars interested in these forms or other diasporic genres might find this approach useful for their purposes too. More generally, as our network included both an affirmation of Leeds University's historic commitment to postcolonial writing and a critique of our existing undergraduate provision, it has led to a developed and serious response to the "Why is my curriculum white?" campaign which might be of interest to other parties and other departments.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://awarnes.wixsite.com/diasporic-everyday
 
Description The work of the network is helping us to solidify links with the wider community. It has further cemented my existing partnership with the David Oluwale Memorial Association and together we continue to work to run new events which affirm the legacy of diasporic culture in our region. It has also helped me to create a new working partnership with Leeds Library in the centre of the city. While the library may be seen as a bastion of the city's establishment and "white" history, its leading members evidently share our commitment to recognising the international dimension of this history and of the diasporic forms of resistance which form a counterpoint to it. We continue to work on further events with this new organisation. Perhaps the most transformative impact of the network, however, happened effectively within the academic sphere, but among our student audiences as it were outside the curriculum itself. Here the intersection of our network's affirmation of diasporic culture and the campaign to decolonise the curriculum are producing a new momentum for change which might, in turn, help English reconfigure in ways which will help it become more inclusive and welcoming to diverse cohorts of UK students in future.
First Year Of Impact 2017
 
Description Creating to Survive: Art and Expression in the African Diaspora 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Filled to maximum capacity, this student-facing event combined a series of poetry readings and play recitals with a sustained reflection on the implications of the "Why is my curriculum white?" campaign. As well as showcasing new performance poetry and playwork, this event offered time and space for students to discuss their experiences as undergraduates at the institution and their sense of the need for meaningful change. Others in the audience spoke of being new to the issues under examination and of gaining a new perspective as a result. We are continuing to develop our departmental response to this significant event, and it is taking the form of substantial curriculum change at every level.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.facebook.com/events/1460290434090107/
 
Description Poetry reading at Leeds Library with DOMA (David Oluwale Memorial Association) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Hosted by the British Caribbean novelist Caryl Phillips, this evening of readings and talks focused on the life and death of the Nigerian stowaway David Oluwale. Details can be found on the website listed below. It includeds poems about migration, violence and home from Glyn Maxwell and Imtiaz Dharker, and it brought together a cross-section of the general public with an interest in the city's history, racism and antiracist movements, and literature. Significant local artists of African descent, including Corinne Baily Rae, were brought together by the event which thus strengthened community links and optimised opportunities for further work in coming year. Students from the university who attended the reading were also inspired by it to run the final open event of the network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-place-called-home-david-oluwales-leeds-an-evening-of-poetry-featuring...
 
Description Student Q & A with Caryl Phillips 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Held at the university's student union, this reading from Caryl Phillips was hosted by our undergraduate students and greatly galvanised the interest they and our postgraduates have in diasporic culture in general and our network in particular. While informal feedback voiced enthusiasm for the reading Phillips gave from his forthcoming novel, the question and answer session produced a distinctive account of Leeds's role in supporting writers of African descent since the 1960s. This account of everyday life in Leeds and its challenge or transformation through diasporic writing then inspired our final large event which focused on the "Why is my curriculum white?" campaign.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://awarnes.wixsite.com/diasporic-everyday