Portrait: Gabriele Griffin – new professor in Uppsala
Growing up with three sisters and a mother, all with strong personalities was something that had a big influence on Gabriele Griffin. She thinks that this is where her interest in women and their work started. She was also strongly influenced by the Women’s Movement of the late 1970s which heralded changes inside and outside of the academy: I loved the Women’s Movement! It spoke to my affinity with strong women and I fully supported the demands that they were making.
It was also around this time that the first courses in Women’s Studies were given at universities and Gabriele Griffin started teaching some of them at a very early stage. The interest in feminist politics grew quickly and ever since she has worked steadily in either Women’s Studies, Gender Studies or as a professor in English.
In 2007 Griffin was invited to Sweden (Stockholm) for the first time.
‘I spent a winter here and I loved it! Swedish people know how to do winter well whereas English people sort of fall apart when winter comes.’
Since then Griffin has had several visiting professorships in Sweden, she has been in Stockholm, Umeå, Sundsvall and of course Uppsala.
She quickly became interested in the Swedish way of working in universities which is quite different from the English one. For example she appreciates the Swedish fika. Another big difference she says, is that in Swedish universities colleagues have a more open, collaborative, dialogue-based approach to research, partly because they have not been forced into atomizing Research Excellence Frameworks in the same way as has happened elsewhere. One of the aspects of the Centre for Gender Research that Griffin really appreciates is the internal seminars, (seminars where researchers discuss each other’s work) something that is not very common in England anymore.
‘There is much more collegiality in Sweden.’
One of the things that she looks forward to with coming to Sweden is the collaborative dimension of research.
Positives at the Centre for Gender Research
‘There are clear research strengths in a Centre where you have people of different ages and with different intellectual interests. I think this is really important. Because that is sort of a fertile ground for developing. I also think a really good thing is that there are very good research resources here. The library is fantastic!’ she says.
‘I like the research orientation at the Centre, I think it’s strong and very clear. There are also opportunities for building here, for example around the PhD program. It is surprising to know that a Centre like this does not have a PhD program. Almost anywhere else you would have it, and especially in a high ranking university like Uppsala. So this is something I am really looking forward to being put in place, very soon!’
What are your goals for the Centre?
Griffin has several goals for when starting the professorship in Uppsala. One is to support the work of the Centre so that we get the best possible results out of everything, to support internationalization even more than is already the case.
‘I think the Centre is very good at it but I think we could do more with more strategic partnerships. I am very keen for us to develop that.’
At the moment Griffin is writing a book about people who have had dramatic changes in identity, for example people who are given new identities under witness protection schemes. Another example is children who have committed major crimes and are given a new identity in their adulthood lives. She is working on what happens to the people who have these new identities or people who do not know what their background is.
‘There has been a strand of work in feminism that has looked at the meaning of identity as if everybody automatically has a given identity. But a lot of people don’t and a lot of people for various reasons change, or have to change, their identity. So the question is what happens to these people when this occurs? I have also been working on digital humanities and recently finished editing two books on this.’
What are your future research plans?
‘I think there is a lot to be done around new family formations and I think this is something that I would really want to work on more. Also I would really like to work more strongly on the relation between humans and technology and specifically humans and social media in different ways. I think this is a really important topic. The coming generations are fully technologized in certain ways. There are serious questions to be asked about how this technologicalization affects sociality.’ she says.
Is there a specific question or area within gender research that you think is the most important right now?
‘I think what is most important depends on the scale that you are looking at; what is important may vary from the local to global levels. If I think of it globally then I think one of the pressing things is the question of what is happening in a very basic way to democracy in the age of globalization. Around the world we can see an increasing conservatism; we are almost at the end of democracy in terms of what people think it can do in many contexts. I think this is extremely worrying. Because it is easy when one sits in Sweden or in the UK to feel relatively secure, including women, as gendered beings. But having taught many international students I also know that the way I as a woman can live here in Sweden or in the UK I cannot live in three quarters of the world. And we forget that at our peril.’