Ayona Datta is an Associate Professor of Citizenship and Belonging at University of Leeds where her teaching and research range from geography, sociology, and architecture.  She is an organizing committee member for our upcoming Feminist Geography Conference and her contributions are invaluable—she even created our FemGeog banner you see above!

City Stories
Click the cover to view Farid Ahmed Khan’s interview in ‘City Bypassed.’

Ayona is also a filmmaker who takes her research and interests into the realm of documentary. To the left is the cover of ‘City Stories’   produced this past summer by Ayona. ‘City Stories’ features two short documentaries on citizenship, belonging and urban development in Maharashtra, India. Ayona’s dual documentary explores urban development from the perspective of those pushed to the margins in a postcolonial neoliberal state. “These are low-cost, low technology, low time and low manpower documentaries filmed, edited and produced by myself to fill the current absence of visual teaching aids on this topic,” she said.

Please contact Ayona if you would like copies of the DVDs to use in your teaching.

Below is a short Q&A with our Featured Feminist explaining who she is…what she does…and how she does it as a feminist geographer.

Please write a summary about you and your work/interests/research.

My broad research interests are in the gendered processes shaping identity and urban citizenship in cities in global north and south. I work in three related research areas – gender, law and urban citizenship; ecological citizenship and mega-urbanization; and translocal geographies of belonging. I am particularly interested in exploring the overlaps between urban and feminist geography through an intersectional lens and have done research in Delhi, Mumbai, Izmir and London. I am author of ‘Illegal City: Space, law and gender in a Delhi squatter settlement’ (2012) and co-editor of ‘Translocal Geographies: Spaces, places, connections’ (2011). I use interdisciplinary visual methodologies in my research combining film-making, participant sketches, participant photography, photo-documentation and architectural mapping, with semi-structured interviews and participant observations.

Q.      What are you working on right now?

A. A number of projects. I actively pursue opportunities for integrating my teaching and research. To this end, I just finished producing two short documentaries on citizenship, belonging and urban development in Maharashtra, India funded by the British Council. I am taking that forward into developing a gendered critique of contemporary urbanism by learning from small cities in the global south for which I have recently submitted a knowledge exchange funding application. I am also writing a paper on the ‘Intimate City’ which is a critique of contemporary urban geography focussing on the role of intimacy and violence in urban public life. I have also just received a contract from Routledge for an edited book on ‘Mega-urbanization in the global south’ which examines the potential of social justice and citizenship in the  newly built cities in the global south. So my coming years are going to be very busy indeed.

Q.    Why feminist geography?

A. I have always seen myself as a feminist, even if I did not see myself as a ‘geographer’. I trained and practiced as an architect, and that made me more interested in the role of gender identity and the body in buildings and urban spaces. Much later while doing my PhD I stumbled upon the phrase ‘feminist geographer’ and found that it suited my own identity since I was concerned with gender and space. I am still uncomfortable with the latter part of the label (geography) since I see myself as an interdisciplinary scholar, and also because I am an interloper in Geography, not having had any formal training in the discipline. But I would certainly identify with the poststructuralist postcolonial version of feminism as evident in most critical writings of Judith Butler, Donna Haraway and so on.

Q. What was the last scholarly article or book you read?

A. Read? When do we have the time for that anymore in the neoliberal university? Having said that I recently began reading Judith Butler’s ‘Antigone’s Claim’ and could not put it down till I finished it. A book that good is worth the extra stress of missed deadlines.

Q. What is your must read classic?

A. Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions: Gender, race and nature in the world of modern science. And ItaloCalvino’s. Invisible Cities. They both changed my life in different ways!!!

Q. What was your favorite class ever?

A. Cecilia Menjivar’s ‘Women and International development’ in grad school in Arizona State University. It opened my eyes and consolidated my desire to pursue an academic career.

Q.  Do you have a piece of advice for emerging scholars?

A. Having been through the early career stages myself, I know how difficult and challenging those years can be (still is, even though I cannot describe myself as early career anymore). My advice would be to build a strong network of sympathetic colleagues, and more importantly get regular advice from a mentor who is an established scholar as well as a sympathetic human being. I would say also that an academic career can never give you the same kind of happiness as your loved ones, so always make sure to keep time aside for them, no  matter how crazy the deadlines and tenure requirements.

Q. What do you hope to get out of the Feminist Geography Conference?

A. I am passionate about feminist geography and want to see it more openly and widely acknowledged in geography and beyond. That is the reason I am behind this conference.  I also hope to connect with a network of feminist scholars and engage in further discussion and debates about feminist geography.

Q. Anything else you would like to share about Feminist Geography?

A. I write a personal blog called ‘the city inside out’, which is about gender, citizenship and urban life. It is available on www.ayonadatta.wordpress.com.

Follow Ayona Datta on Twitter: The Illegal City