Changing Wor(l)ds is a cultural partnership developed, designed and run collaboratively between researchers based at Nottingham Trent University’s Postcolonial Studies Centre (PSC), marginalised cultural groups in varied transcultural locations, and an international network of cultural bodies, publishers and writers collectively dedicated to facilitating self-representation for those experiencing forms of sociocultural marginalisation.
In a postcolonial world, PSC researchers argue, it is time to reassess the axes of power that privilege certain acts of self-representation over others, and to seek space for alternative voices to emerge: those of communities and individuals who have typically been marginalised according to their national, racial, ethnic, gendered, sexual, class-based, caste-based or economic positionalities – which often intersect, and silence, in complex ways.
These recognitions have led in particular to focussed research projects conducted by PSC staff on radically neglected, socially disenfranchised cultural voices – including those of Dalit (formerly ‘Untouchable’) authors in South Asia (Dr Nicole Thiara); and the emergent transnational body of writing by and about forced migrant women (Dr Anna Ball). Yet the PSC recognises that its own existence within structures of cultural, institutional and discursive privilege risks reinforcing the very hierarchies that have marginalised many of those communities whose voices struggle to be heard. How, then, to change the structures of a world in which, as Marx once famously wrote, ‘they cannot represent themselves; they must be represented’?
The PSC’s answer has been to turn to words themselves – written, spoken and heard – as tools through which members of marginalised communities are able to represent themselves – and in so doing, to challenge stereotype, raise awareness, forge support networks, claim new platforms and begin to overturn the sociocultural structures that have marginalised them. This work is not without complexities – but it is driven by the abiding belief that words can, and do, change the world.
“Through the project, I’ve realised that creativity can be a platform for politics…the project allowed women to have a voice.”
– Salani Mutseyami. PAMOJA member.
The project has developed through several stages:
- 2014: PSC researcher Nicole Thiara founds the Dalit Literary Network with Judith Misrahi-Barak. This AHRC-funded project enables her to create transnational platforms for those radically disenfranchised by caste status to speak to an international audience.
- 2016: PSC researcher Anna Ball begins the ‘Moving Women’ project, exploring the place of forced migrant women’s own voices in the proliferation of cultural texts produced about them. This project is advanced through Leverhulme funding in 2017, and her work with Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.
- 2018: The PSC collectively launches the Changing Wor(l)ds Network, drawing together local, national and international cultural bodies mutually committed to countering social marginalisation through literature. This network forges connections between the Dalit Writers Network and Moving Women project.
- 2018 onwards: PSC researchers Anna Ball, Nicole Thiara, Sarah Newport and Jenni Ramone advance a series of projects forged out of collaborations between Changing Wor(l)ds Network members and Dalit / forced migrant communities – including writing workshops, publications, exhibitions, public speaking and media projects.
- 2019: Changing Wor(l)ds Festival of Literary and Cultural Activism is launched by Nicole Thiara and Sarah Newport at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham and creates collaborative platforms for the network members.
- 2020 onwards: Insights from the Changing Wor(l)ds project continue to generate activities among Network members, expanding into new national and international locations. This work is further facilitated by an AHRC Follow-On Funding grant obtained by Nicole Thiara and new connections established with National Refugee Week festival.