Academic journal article Social Justice

"Bodies on the Move": Spatialized Locations, Identities, and Nationality in International Work

Academic journal article Social Justice

"Bodies on the Move": Spatialized Locations, Identities, and Nationality in International Work

Article excerpt

Transformations of space, place, and environment are neither neutral nor innocent with respect to practices of domination and control. Indeed they are fundamental framing decisions-replete with multiple possibilities--that govern the conditions (often oppressive) over how lives can be lived. Such issues cannot be left unaddressed in struggles for liberation (Harvey, 1996: 44).

First, whiteness has the ability to move; second, the ability to move results in the unmarking of the body. In contrast, blackness is signified through a marking and is always static and immobilizing (Mohanram, 1999: 4-5).


THIS ARTICLE EXPLORES THE MEANINGS OF RACE, IDENTITY, AND NATIONALITY IN international work to illustrate how the self is constituted in spaces abroad. The analysis is underpinned by the findings of a research study of the experiences of Canadian social work faculty and students, who went to a "developing" country to conduct research, collaborate on projects, and fulfill practica course requirements. (1) Experiences include the voices of white and minority students. Faculty collaborations abroad are not new areas for exploration and analysis (Kobayashi, 1994). However, in the context of a new era of globalization, and given the increase in international activity within the sphere of global capitalism, differential analyses are warranted. We appear to be plunging headlong into more international commitments and not stopping to fully analyze the effects. (2) Institutions have displayed an urgency to respond to the impact of transnational corporations on the state. Some responses to globalization take the form of vigorous moves to internationalize the university. The message is clearly stated in this directive from a report from one university:

   urgent ground exists to take concerted action that will allow us to
   make the most of opportunities which are presenting themselves in
   an increasingly competitive environment.... Our report therefore is
   a call not to rest on its laurels but to think afresh. It is an
   opportunity for all sectors of the community to work collaboratively
   both internally and externally to effect changes [to] be a leader in
   international academic affairs (York University, 2000: 1).

The response includes seeking research funds and organizing collaborative projects and partnership ventures with a host of international partners, which has increased faculty collaborations abroad. Schools of social work across Canada have organized international practica as requests for placements in Southern countries have increased. Placements are organized on an ad hoc basis in most schools of social work, with the lack of a supporting infrastructure resulting at times in a form of "professional imperialism," since there is little attempt to ensure reciprocity and to analyze these North-South experiences (Razack, N., 2002). Since social work treads the well-worn path of imperialism, an analysis of these work-abroad initiatives is all the more urgent (Gray, 2005).

The discussion begins with a twofold theoretical exploration of space. First, I relate how spaces are imagined and how identity is produced in and through spaces at home and abroad; second, I illustrate how white and minority bodies are viewed differently in Northern and Southern spaces. Mohanram (1999) describes the significance of movement for white and black bodies in terms of their racial and spatial attributes. She states that "place and landscape are not inert, but things which actively participate in the identity formation of the individual" (p. xii). Space is therefore central to the formation of racial identity.

Next, I examine how notions of identity and nationality become more acutely present when conducting work in an international setting. International work translates into travel from one territory or place to another, but also involves a host of relational meanings and explorations of the self and the body politic. …

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