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“Get out into the world!”
14 August 2012
KILDEN - Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway
madeleine kennedy-macfoy has lived her life moving between England, Belgium, Sierra Leone, the US and Norway. For her, being international is not a choice – it is life itself. It is also a life she would recommend to others.
“No matter where I am in the world, no matter which language I’m speaking, I get asked where I’m from. Then I ask in response: Do you mean where I was born, where I grew up, where my parents come from or where I live?”
“The advantage of living an international life is that you’re always ready to tackle challenges and handle new places, people and situations. Whether you’re an undergraduate student or professor, get out into the world! It may turn out to be awful and you’d never do it again, but at least you'll have the experience, both for your own sake and for your CV’s,” says madeleine kennedy-macfoy.
Now she is stationed at the Centre for Gender Research (STK) at the University of Oslo, where she has worked since 2008.
“What brought you to Norway?”
“I got a post-doc position in connection with FEMCIT, a large EU-funded research project on gendered citizenship, multiculturalism and the impact of the modern women’s movement in Europe. I’ve compared African women’s organizations in Brussels, London and Oslo, and looked at their challenges, successes and motivation factors.”
“FEMCIT gave me the opportunity to combine my academic and activist interests, so I couldn’t have dreamt of a better job. Researchers and institutions from all over Europe have been involved in the project, and we’ve had annual meetings where we meet face-to-face. The Norwegian research group also had members from different countries like England and Spain.”
The FEMCIT project was concluded in 2011. The results are now available in the new anthology entitled Remaking Citizenship in Multicultural Europe: Women’s Movements, Gender and Diversity, in which kennedy-macfoy is one of the contributors.
A career jump
“You came to STK as a post-doc in 2008 and became the assistant director of the centre in 2011. You’ve climbed the career ladder quickly.”
“I would rather say ‘jumped’,” she says and laughs.
“When the centre’s director Jorun Økland took a sabbatical and then went on sick leave, I took over some of her administrative duties. It’s been very interesting learning how an institution is run from the inside.”
Now kennedy-macfoy is working with STK’s application to become a Centre of Excellence. If the centre is granted the prestigious status, it will mean more resources and possibly a new research position for kennedy-macfoy.
“Originally there were 139 Norwegian research groups vying for the status. Now STK is one of 29 groups that have advanced to the next round. If STK becomes a Centre of Excellence, we plan to conduct research on the paradoxes of gender equality,” she explains.
Talking with superstars
“Since you studied at a university in England, have you noticed any cultural differences between Norwegian and British academia?”
“The hierarchy in terms of age and academic experience is not as prominent in Norway as in England, especially in the area of gender research and feminist activism. It’s possible to talk to superstars like Lucy Smith, Helga Hernes and Hege Skjeie when they show up. Of course there are hierarchies in the Norwegian university world too, but it doesn’t feel like there are.”
“Not only that, STK is a very special place, even at the University of Oslo. We have a fantastic administrative team here, which makes all the difference. We talk to each other and know what each other is doing. It’s not been like this at the other universities I’ve been at.”
madeleine kennedy-macfoy was born in London, but lived in Sierra Leone until she was seven years old. Then her family moved to Belgium, where she completed elementary school. Since then she has switched between schools and universities in England and Belgium, and worked briefly in the US. She earned her doctoral degree in sociology from Goldsmiths, University of London.
“Does your transnational background give you any advantages?”
“Yes. Being transnational usually means that you are multilingual. In today’s society you can’t overestimate the value of being able to speak several languages. Even as a teenager, when I went to boarding school in England and felt I was different because I didn’t live in one place like the others did, I was also aware that I had linguistic advantages that my British friends and family didn’t. When you can already speak a couple of languages, it’s also easier to add one more, if you have to.”
“How many languages do you speak?”
“Norwegian is my fifth. But I notice that it’s more difficult to learn a language as I get older. I also have less time now, so it takes me longer than before.”
kennedy-macfoy sees that internationalization can also have its costs.
“Being an academic today implies mobility. Since there are so few permanent positions, you’re almost forced to be mobile. But not everyone is able to move so many times.”
“I’m a single mom, but I’m lucky enough to have a small network of family and friends who are just as transnational as me. They gladly come from Brussels or London to look after my son if I have to travel.”
She points out that since English has now become the world’s language of research, the native English speakers have certain competitive advantages.
“In all the calls for proposals for research funding, even the Norwegian ones, you are required to have published in English in international journals or have worked or studied abroad.”
“The requirement that everyone must write in English is, of course, linguistic imperialism. I’m privileged since English is my first language. It’s a huge advantage for me that I’m not forced to write in my second, third or fourth language.”
Pensioner in Tobago?
For a citizen of the world like madeleine kennedy-macfoy, the question is not if she will move, but when.
“I’d like to stay in Norway a little while longer, but given the way the academic employment market is trending, I have to move where the jobs are. I can certainly move a few more times. My son is three years old now and he already speaks three languages, but when he begins in lower secondary school, he’ll need a base.”
“Is there actually a place that you can call home?”
“Wherever I am at any given point in time, that’s home for me. But when I was on the Caribbean island of Tobago, for the first time I had the feeling of coming home, for some reason. So when I retire, I’ll go there!” says kennedy-macfoy and laughs.