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Facing Prejudice: Negotiating the Cultural Politics of Identity

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Key speaker: Dr Meena Dhanda, Monday 3rd March 2014, Manchester Metropolitan University, Geoffrey Manton Building

Headshot of Dr Meena Dhanda

Dr Meena Dhanda

The final lecture of Women in Philosophy series, brought to Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) by the Humanities in Public (HiP) programme, addressed matters of identity and discriminatory practice. Dr Meena Dhanda, Reader in Philosophy and Cultural Politics at the University of Wolverhampton, delivered the lecture to an audience of staff and students.

Dhanda shot straight into her talk about identity, commenting, “Practical identity is a disjunction of roles.” This means that each role can be radically questioned or redefined. She believes, “Practical identity is needed because becoming a person is embedded in personal and institutional relations. So, for example, if you are a mother or teacher, you have expected roles to fulfil and norms are given, which can be tinkered with but not refined all at once.” Practical identity is also ‘unstable’ and restrains what is morally impossible for humans to do. Dhanda further argued that identity is a negotiating of “the continuous process of becoming different.”

Dhanda sees herself as a migrant philosopher, who came to England in 1987 from India. “Leaving home was painful, but Oxford was amazing,” she said, but, “- this haven had its own prisons.” Soon she found the Society for ‘Women in Philosophy’ (SWIP UK), which she joined at Oxford and is currently serving as a member of the Executive. The general point she made was that there may be one form of discrimination in one environment and a different form of discrimination in another. So, if you have experienced discrimination in some way, then you will know what it feels like to be treated differently. Possibly, you may have faced prejudice in one location and if you are sensitive you would recognise it in other places too.

As a teacher of Philosophy, her students constantly asked, why she didn’t teach them about Indian philosophy. She didn’t want to become a national representative of her country in any way because she believes ‘nation’ is also a construct. Thus, she resisted becoming pigeon holed into an Indian national. She also added, “Philosophy itself proves to be a force of resistance.”

Caste also stood out to her in the Wolverhampton community and after talking to students and other migrants she realised there were many divided communities. Therefore, migrants on the whole have different memories and they face a constant battlefield. Looking at the larger Hindu or Sikh upper class communities facing racism, do not want to admit that there is a problem with caste because people will think they are not good enough. Dhanda also found generational differences in response to caste prejudice.

In conclusion to the lecture, Dhanda directed her focus on key thinkers and philosophers who have informed her thinking. These include Linda Alcoff, B. R. Ambedkar, Simone De Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Susie Tharu & K. Lalita, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Iris Marion Young.

Joanna Hodge, Professor of Philosophy at MMU, met Dr Meena Dhanda through the Society for ‘Women in Philosophy.’ She told me, “It was a fantastic idea to invite Dr Meena Dhanda to give a lecture at MMU when she had just published two reports.” She then added, “The way she brings together the political material with her own autobiography and her own philosophical research, is impressive.”

The next series of lectures run by HiP revolve around Body Issues The series will commence with ‘Cosmetic Surgery Scares’ on Monday 17th March at 5pm, a lecture given by MMU’s Dr Melanie Latham.

Amillah Javed is currently studying English and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is passionate about journalism and teaching and hopes to pursue a career in one of these fields. Amillah also has an interest in writing creatively and having work published. Follow her on Twitter @a_amillah

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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