BONUS Behind the Scenes

Episode: BONUS Behind the Scenes

Here’s a little season end bonus, where our presenter, Michaela Benson and podcast researcher, George Kalivis go behind the scenes at Who do we think we are? They reflect on the origins of the series, the role of the podcast in challenging taken for granted understandings of migration and citizenship in the UK today. They unpack what goes into the making of each episode and what they’ve learned along the way. And consider the stories that didn’t make it into the series and those that stuck with them, and the importance of making audible the dialogues at the heart of academic scholarship. 

TRANSCRIPT Michaela Benson Welcome to Who do we think we are? A podcast exploring some of the lesser known stories of British citizenship. I’m Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship, migration and belonging, and your host. Join me over the course of the series, as I debunk some of the taken for granted understandings of citizenship, and examine how this changes our understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our times. George and I thought it would be nice to bring you a little bit of our chat behind the scenes about Who do we think we are? as a special bonus for those of you who are listening. And I think where I’d like to start this conversation, George, is with the fact that when we started working together, which has now I think about three years ago, this topic migration and citizenship, particularly as applied to the case of the UK, was really new to you. So I wanted to start by asking you how has working on who do we think we are changed the way that you think about migration and citizenship? George Kalivis I think it has helped me to think sociologically about citizenship really. And by this, I mean, to start thinking of citizenship, not as a stable thing, not as something static, but as something that is intersecting different identity factors and characteristics that are structurally produced, such as race and ethnicity, such as social class, gender, sexuality, and so on and so forth. So, I think, Who do we think we are? has really helped me understand citizenship as something that is being made that we make really, in the intersections of our broader identities. Michaela Benson That’s really great, George. And, I mean, obviously, as somebody who’d newly arrived in the UK at that point in time, you probably had some ideas about what Britain was and about what Britishness was. And I wondered if working together with me and doing the research for the podcast that you’ve done, whether that’s brought about any changes to that, George Kalivis You know, especially the British case, I think it’s, it’s such a strong example of how citizenship is actually really dynamic. And I have to say that, you know, coming to the UK, I think I might have said that before, I held that, you know very stereotypical image of the white, I daresay blonde, you know, blue eyes, English, English man, posh English man, who was kind of, you know, the image of Britishness I had in my head, but it is so much more really, I dare to say, I can even now you know, start to slowly see myself, you know, becoming part of it somehow. I can see the space that is available for all these different identities, as I said before, in all these intersections, and how these emerge in everyday life. And of course, the cis- white English man is still part of Britishness. But the thing is that’s not only it. And I think that’s the biggest, you know, kind of revelation I had doing this. Michaela Benson But what I really liked there is that you drew out several of the key themes that we’ve worked closely with on the podcast, which had to do with the contingency of citizenship, the dynamism of citizenship, how it developed over time, and how it’s never really very fixed, which also draws attention to the instabilities of citizenship, showing how it’s changed over time, how it variously includes and excludes people, the violence of that, but also the resistance to it. And for me, that’s been a set of very important narratives to communicate through the podcast. George Kalivis Yes. I mean, what you just said, Michaela, also makes me want to really ask you, what was the story behind the podcast for you? Because you know, you, you lead this podcast. And also, you know, why did you think this was necessary now?Also, if you want to talk to us briefly about how you approach really each episode, Michaela Benson the podcast originated in me kind of taking a look around and thinking that the headlines were full of these stories about migration. And actually, there’s a lot of academic scholarship on migration and there is a lot on citizenship, too. And I was thinking to myself, well, how can some of that academic scholarship be brought to bear on some of these things that we’re seeing around us and how can we make more visible those kinds of conversations that are going on in academic circles and their relevance to those contemporary issues. And really at the heart of that was a concern that those public narrations and the political narrations around migration and citizenship were really pernicious. They were really pervasive, they were centrally involved in making some kind of distinction between the people who could rightfully claim rights citizens, or “natives” in inverted commas and their others, often described in political narratives and public narratives as migrants. And for me, that distinction was never that clear cut. And indeed, certainly—it’s something that I spoke about very extensively with Bridget Anderson in a recent episode of the podcast—it’s very important that we challenge head on those understandings. And one way into that, for me, was to say, well, some of the people that we are now considering as migrants, were not that long ago considered citizens and in some cases, they still hold a status in British nationality law as nationals. And for me that really helped to illustrate the blurring of that boundary between migrant and citizen. In terms of how I approach it during each episode, there were a set of people that I really, really wanted to talk to, because their scholarship has been incredibly influential in my own work or inspirational. So I started by accumulating the people that I would really like to talk to and conducting quite lengthy interviews with them. And then thinking—and actually, this, this came about in conversation with you—thinking about how we could offer some bridge which helps to explain the pertinence of what they were saying in respect to real life examples. So in many ways, those conversations became the kind of the core of my thinking around each episode. And then you and I would have a discussion, for example, about what the main themes were, and I’d send you away into the newspaper archives, or into the Hansard archives to find something that could really bring this to life. And then once we had those two major components, I’d think you know, are there things that people need explaining here? So is there a policy that people need explaining? Is there a theoretical concept that could do with being explained here? Is there a piece of history that we need to know in order to understand what’s going on here, so then I’d go away and do that research. And kind of, then we’d piece it together and create the thread through those things. So each episode is quite a lot of work to produce. And it’s taken me in lots of different directions, which is really exciting. But that’s that’s really how I’ve approached it. So I wanted to ask you, what is your vision for what back to the archive does for the narrative of each episode? George Kalivis Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, you know, first I have to say, I really love archival research. So I really enjoy doing back to the archive in general. I think, you know, in the context of the podcast, specifically, back to the archive helps highlight this kind of links of the longer broader histories of citizenship and migration, in kind of everyday events, or to be more accurate, the way that everyday events have been talked about, you know, either in the media, or in politics, and how then these are taking us back to today somehow, how they may help us understand the things that we experienced today, or contextualise them in a specific way. And, you know, I think I mean, overall, I think the podcast does this a lot. But I do think like, back to the archives somehow sits at the core of this kind of, and I think it’s quite interesting that we oftentimes end up, you know, looking into media content. But I think it’s quite interesting to touch on these aspects of how things are being publicly discoursed and then expand on this and think about that in a contemporary context as well. Michaela Benson What’s always really noticeable to me as well, is the resonance that those historical things have for the present. And that’s not to say that everything’s always been the same because sometimes, you know, we can uncover discontinuities, too. But we have been able to demonstrate the threads that stretch across quite wide periods of time, and think about how those play out in the present day. George Kalivis This makes me think, really, of all the deja vu moments we’ve been talking about, right? It is so much about having this kind of sociological deja vu, let’s call it. But Michaela, you have asked me you know about what I’ve learned through the podcast. And this might seem like a funny question to ask, but what have you learned through doing the podcast? Michaela Benson Oh goodness, I’ve learned quite a lot. Before this podcast, I ran a kind of an interview based podcast called Brexit Brits Abroad. And with this podcast with Who do we think we are? I wanted to experiment with thinking about a narrative podcast and thinking about what the prospects were for doing that. And really, this was for two reasons. The first reason was thinking about how you could make the excellent social science research on citizenship and migration available to and accessible to an audience of people who were interested, but wouldn’t necessarily know where to start. And so that was that was a central goal in thinking about those narratives. And certainly in the early episodes, and season one, I worked really, really hard on getting it right in terms of breaking things down, providing the right level of detail, that meant that people would understand the overall story. The other side of this is also to do with centering dialogue. I think that podcasts work really, really well for this in a way that academic papers and publications don’t necessarily. But without these conversations, whether it’s the conversation with the text in front of you, or with other scholars and academics, you struggle to produce knowledge, or I do anyway. I might be unique within this. One of the things I hope we’ve achieved through who do we think we are, is a way of making audible, the production of knowledge. And this, for me is a political point, knowledge is produced through conversation, it’s not produced in a vacuum. And if we start to acknowledge that we can realise that everybody has something to contribute to those discussions. George Kalivis And the power of you know, being able to, to make a sociology audible, I think it’s such a strong point, Michaela Benson you know, I feel very, very strongly about making sociology audible. So I wanted to ask you, whether there are stories that you came across, when you were doing that research, that we haven’t been able to feature, are there any particular stories there that stand out to you? Because there’s so many things, I mean, just for the listeners, for those of you who are listening, George has brought some really fascinating and unanticipated things to me, while we’ve been preparing the episodes. George Kalivis I think I’m going to pick one story that I have. Okay, so the was an article in the Times in June 1989. On page 14, you see, so accurate. That was called ‘Passports against the slaughter’. And basically, this article refers to the Tiananmen Square protests and massacres that occurred in that year. And it kind of urges, let’s say, the British government to allow more people from Hong Kong to come to the UK, basically. So this idea of passports against their own slaughter. And I know this is not such a light topic to bring in. But the reason I am thinking about this right now, specifically, is you know, I’m kind of also affected a bit by on the moment of recording this a couple of weeks ago, there was a big train crash collision, in Greece, where dozens of people have died, really. And I’m thinking about how there is a kind of, on the one hand, maybe I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it, really, but I would call it necro politics of citizenship, how, you know, sometimes politics, and politicians choose to treat citizens, they prefer to deal with, you know, the death of citizens, rather than to care and foster for their life. And I think there’s a kind of parallel here between both Hong Kong like the Tiananmen Square massacre case and what lies closer to me the train crash, but also, and I think you might have, you might have something more to say about that. I think it’s quite interesting to see how sometimes it seems that there has to be kind of a censoring of death or, you know, like an appearance of public death somehow, for things to change. Michaela Benson It’s a really pertinent point, George, and I think what’s interesting about the case that you’ve raised is those passports from slaughter, became what was described as passports to stay which was a selection of like, a competition, a lottery they called it for people to apply for one of 50,000 Full British citizens ships that the British government offered to the people of Hong Kong at that time. But to come back to your points about the necro politics of citizenship, we’ve seen time and time again over the last few years that death, particularly of non-citizens is sensationalised as a way of raising political awareness as a way of raising public awareness. And I think we saw this outpouring of compassion for example, when the young boy a three year old boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a beach dead, having been on one of those boats that was crossing the Mediterranean. And the public outrage that transpired in consequence of that in Britain and I think elsewhere in the world was really palpable. The concern I have, though, is how short lived that was. And, you know, we’re recording on yet another day, when the UK’s illegal immigration bill is headline news being debated in the parliament. And the concern for people’s life is clearly not at the heart of any of these measures. George Kalivis Yes. Michaela Benson So this is, you know, obviously, as you said, this is a this is a heavy topic. We can’t veer away from it. We’re not going to talk about the illegal immigration bill now. But we’ve heard, you know, so many variations on this theme where death is sensationalised where it’s pulled out in those ways. But if I could return to the podcast, and because obviously that conversation, that part of the conversation was inspired by things that we hadn’t been able to cover. And I was just wondering about whether there were particular moments that stood out to you or a particular story that stuck with you? George Kalivis Hmm. I mean, you know, there is this one story that I kept in thinking and discussing with you in our private discussions as well all the time, which was that of the so-called Baby Sarah. So, very briefly, it’s the child born from two mothers, one of the mothers is from Gibraltar, the other one is from Bulgaria. And for different reasons, the child has been left stateless for now almost three years or so. And actually, Michaela, you know, in preparing for recording today, I had to go back and see, you know, what the what the news were regarding that case. And it was kind of last year that the European Court of Justice had ruled that Bulgaria as an EU member state should provide citizenship to the child. Because basically, so in Bulgaria, their argument was that they do not recognise a family of where the two parents are of the same sex. But and this is two weeks ago, the Bulgarian High Court rejected the EU’s, you know, decision. And yes, that’s where we are really no, so you know, maybe sarei, still stateless. And, you know, also, just to bring it back to why we’re looking at that is because, you know, the mother, the one mother, who’s from Gibraltar, was also not able to pass on her citizenship to the child. Different legislations. You know, we have LGBTQ rights on the one hand, but then we also have citizenship rights, on the other hand, that I think are equally important here. Michaela what about you? Like what are the moments that have stood out for you? Michaela Benson I think for me, some of the most notable moments were when I was speaking with Rosie Leveque and Jerome David Simon, from what is now called the British Indian Ocean Territories islanders group. They were talking to me about the Chagos islands, and the plight of the children of the people who were displaced, forcibly displaced by the British government. We might even say dispossessed, in this case, from those islands, to Mauritius, to the Seychelles, with many of them coming to the UK as refugees, despite the fact that their origins lie in the British Indian Ocean territories. And I think why that really stood out to me was once again, that kind of combination of the politics of migration, the geopolitics, Britain’s geopolitical position on the world stage, many of whom are in the UK as refugees have been given a right to become British citizens. And we’ll wait to see how that’s been implemented. It’s one of those cases that is just a bit of a mind bender, a little bit like the Hong Kong BN(O) visa was, which is if you take it on face value, it’s fantastic. It’s wonderful for the people that it impacts and for the people who are able to access citizenship and all the rights pertaining to that. But I can’t help but ask the question, what else is going on? George Kalivis Yes. Michaela Benson So that for me really is that conversation with them took me on on a new train of … So it really opened my eyes to a part of the world that I wasn’t familiar with, where I had some knowledge, but not a lot of knowledge. And it’s forced me to really develop my knowledge and understanding of what Britain has done in that part of the world in order to, to really think about what this makes visible about the role of citizenship or the role of being able to grant citizenship to people within that broader political and geopolitical context. And in a way, actually, you know, I’ve picked that particular episode, which was one of the final episodes of season one. And but actually, all the way through my conversations with my guests, which as I said, are always the starting point for every episode, have really made me go away and do some research into something that I didn’t have that much knowledge about the context anyway. And I think that that, for me has been, it’s been such a learning curve, around all sorts of issues, like in our latest episode, when we were speaking to Alex Lewicki going and having a look at what had happened in that region of the east of Europe and Silesia over the course of the last 100 years, to see how these borders of Europe and the borders of countries have shifted to see how the sovereignty of the territory had shifted, really brought to life that you know, those dynamic of citizenship, brought to life those issues around instability. So I think for me, really, that kind of bringing together of the past and the present, adopting that historical approach, really trying to understand the context. But of course, I can’t pick a favourite episode. Each of them have made me sit up and go, Oh. George Kalivis Yes, I mean, of course, all the episodes are amazing. I cannot pick a favourite episode either, I have to say. But it has been lovely talking with you today, Michaela about the podcast, really. And thank you so much. Michaela Benson No, it’s been absolutely fantastic, George, and I’m so delighted that we were able to work together on the series. I know that you’re like the main attraction. But it really has it’s been an absolute joy working together. And certainly I think those conversations between the two of us have brought so much to me personally. And I think that people can hear that in our conversations in the podcast. So thank you. Thanks for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are? A podcast series produced and presented by me Michaela Benson . Special thanks to Emma Houlton at Brilliant Audio for her production and post production support. And to George Kalivis are the cover art, social media assets and archival research. You can check out our show notes for further resources, transcripts and links to all our socials. If you like what you’ve heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. And you can also find us at That’s all for now. But we’ll be back with another episode very soon. END OF TRANSCRIPT

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