Kath Browne MRIA: Geographer27 March 2023
Professor Browne’s research focuses on creating new understandings of how societies differentiate and create hierarchies and inequalities. She seeks positive social change that recognises that where we are matters to the power relations that re-constitute our lives.
Kath Browne MRIA, is professor of geography at University College Dublin, principal investigator on the European Research Council-funded ‘Beyond opposition’ project and lead researcher on the Horizon Europe project, RESIST
I am a geographer who studies sexualities and genders. Geography can often be associated with glaciers, mountains and rivers—and these are important features!—my research, however, looks at people and place. I am interested in how societies differentiate and create hierarchies and inequalities. I enjoy not only creating new understandings of this, but also experimenting in social change, thinking about how things might be different and working with communities, policymakers and service providers to make change happen.
I spent fifteen years at the University of Brighton where, through a series of projects, I worked with communities and service providers to understand how lesbians, gay men, bi and trans people experienced the city. Brighton is known as the ‘gay capital’, and the research showed that although some benefitted from the city and enjoyed new legal rights and protections, such as civil partnerships and employment protections, others needed support, including around housing, safety, aging, mental health and physical health. The local council created numerous policies, initiatives and supports to address the issues we found. LGBT community groups also used the research for their work, to demonstrate their needs. The methodology we used—involving all stakeholders from the outset, producing a questionnaire that cut across issues, and developing analyses with those who both need support and those who make policy and provide services—has been applied locally, nationally and internationally to make meaningful change (www.countmeintoo.co.uk).
From 2012 to 2020 I explored another aspect of LGBT equalities. I worked with Professor Catherine J. Nash in Canada, to develop the concept of heteroactivism (we co-authored Heteroactivism: resisting lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights and equalities (Bloomsbury, 2020), to name and theorise resistances to sexual and gender equalities in Canada, the UK and Ireland. These resistances took various forms, but could no longer be characterised within the ways in which homophobia had been conceptualised at the end of the twentieth century. Heteroactivist resistances worked to move away from accusations of bigotry/hate, and often religious references, to focus instead on what heteroactivists believe is ‘best for society, best for children’.
Researching heteroactivism led me to consider how everyday spaces are experienced by those who are opposed to/concerned about socio-legal changes to genders, sexualities and abortion. It was clear that social divisions and polarisations around these issues were challenging social cohesion, and merely debating these issues was insufficient; we needed to consider how we might live together and treat each other while holding views on which we may never agree. That drove the ERC project ‘Beyond opposition’ (www.beyondopposition.org), which looks at the experiences of people who are concerned about or opposed to legislative, political or social changes in relation to sexualities and sex/gender.
Recognising the divisions and problems of so called ‘anti-gender’ mobilisations, I also lead the Horizon Europe project RESIST. This project will explore how these politics are manifesting across Europe, and how they affect everyday lives. It will also learn about the feminist and queer practices of resistance against ‘anti-gender’ politics, and how they function and are theorised in autonomous, grassroots collectives and organisations (https://theresistproject.eu/).
Overall, throughout my career I have sought positive social change that recognises that where we are matters to the power relations that re-constitute our lives.
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