tisdag 7 juli 2015

The railway station as the hub of patriarchy

Earlier this year I ran into a compilation of Swedish PhD theses in Gender Studies from 2014. One of them was particularly remarkable; number 19 on the list. It was the PhD thesis "Spaces, rhytm and travelling" ("Rum, rytm och resande") from Linköping University (pdf). The compilation summarises it:
"The thesis investigates railway stations as physical sites and social spaces in a gender perspective. Kimstad Station, Norrköping Station and Stockholm Central Station are included in the study. Results show that the railway stations reproduce patriarchy and that this affects both male and female visitors".
Thus, a PhD student has spent at least 4-5 years and several hundred thousand dollars/euro on visiting railway stations and conclude that "railway stations reproduce patriarchy". The supervisor of the PhD student has planned this work and the supervisor's bosses have approved it. In addition, a grading committee with external reviewers have assessed and signed that the thesis has a high enough standard.

It gets worse.

The PhD thesis has an English abstract, starting with:
"Results from the study show that individuals in different ways are affected by gendered power relations that dwell in rhythms of collective believes and in shape of materialized objects that encounter the commuters when visiting the railway station. While the rhythms of masculine seriality contains believes of males as potentially violent, as defenders and as bread winners, the rhythms of female seriality contains believes of women as primary mothers and housewives, of women as primary victim of sexual violence and of objectification of women’s bodies as either decent or as sexually available to heterosexual men". 
Rhythms of patriarchy. Poetic. Note the spelling and grammar.

Other exerpts from the thesis (translated):
"During the interviews the passengers were also asked to draw mental maps covering the railway stations that they were referring to. A mental map is an individual's subjective description of a certain geographical area".
"5.8.5 My body as a loaded tool
During the observations performed before August, 2011 I was a passenger myself. I took influence from the railway station with my own body, determined to do the trip with the attention directed towards catching my own departure (...)".
Is this science?
"6.2.1 Delays and the exoticising, obstructing white gaze
In the theory chapter I developed how Ahmed (2011) argues that society is shaped after a white hostile gaze that racifies, exoticises and sees bodies that are not percieved as white as 'strangers' or 'newly arrived', even if they have been present in the room during their whole lives. In the event mentioned above, it is obvious that I also use this collective gaze that I lay on the woman. By describing her as 'black' and letting myself be enchanted by her scarf I can be said to exoticise as well as racify her and look at her like at a colourful exotic plant in relation to the others present at Norrköping Station".
Hold on, was this a PhD thesis or was it embarrassing confessions in an unusually dopey autobiography?
"When the man laid his 'white gaze' on the woman and understood that she was in my company it seemed as if I in his view also 'took colour' and lost status".
Very important observation. Nobel laureate class.
"The distancing emerged as a refusal by him mentioning that he needed to go to the 'loo'. The message is interpreted to contain a distance in both class seriality and gender seriality. By referring to a toilet visit he signaled a border towards us as women which in principle entailed that it was impossible for a woman to follow him. By using 'loo', a term with a lower value, the expression seems like a classwise derogatory addressal".
Amazing! Both class and gender analysis fit in here. Beautiful!

I'll stop right here to not raise my readers' blood pressure too much.

After my original blog post about this in Swedish, the PhD thesis has been mentioned in several newspapers; Göteborgsposten (Sweden), Berlingske (Denmark) and Dagbladet (Norway).

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