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A Postcard from Palermo

Palermo

Palermo, taken by Anna Beer

Visiting Fellow Anna Beer is writing her next book and has chosen to do this in Palermo, Sicily. In this post, she tells us about her current research and why she decided to leave Oxford in order to write…

I’m a long way, and not just in terms of distance, from Oxford at the moment, spending a few months in Palermo writing (or trying to write) my next book. In a sense, though, I feel I have a lot in common with a number of Kellogg and Continuing Education students I have known over the years, people who have managed to carve some time out from their usual activities, and devote themselves to what really interests them – whatever that may be. It takes some doing, I know.

I’m working on a book that I hope will celebrate the achievements of individual women composers through the last four centuries of European history. The book brings together a whole bunch of long-standing activities and passions – music, obviously; writing, even more obviously; thinking about women’s lives in the past (which was the impetus for my book on Bess Throckmorton, wife to Sir Walter Ralegh); thinking about the material conditions necessary for the creation of ‘great art’ (which was one of the ideas behind my biography of John Milton). Yes, it’s a big subject, but intensely rewarding to uncover more about some exceptional women’s lives and works. And yes, it takes me well outside my academic comfort zone: I’m not a musicologist, just someone who enjoys playing and listening to music. But not only do I have a ready-made sound-track for my daily slog at the computer (today it was the delightful music of Marianna von Martines, who flourished in eighteenth century Vienna, and was promptly forgotten after her death) but there is something exciting if terrifying about exploring new creative and intellectual horizons.

But why Palermo? Again, I feel like a Kellogg student, only in reverse. Particularly for mature students, coming to Oxford can be a chance to escape into a world of study. The ivory tower has its uses. In my case, having studied, lived, worked in Oxford on and off (mainly on) for coming up to thirty (gasp….thirty?) years, I need to get away from the place, especially if I am going to make sure that I write in a way that will appeal to readers outside the academic world.

But that only explains why I’ve come away from Oxford. If the truth be told, I’m in Palermo because I am foolishly infatuated with the city. It’s filthy and chaotic, it has a recent history that does not bear thinking about, and which I cannot begin to understand, and even the weather is a bit rubbish at this time of year. But there’s something about this dirty, beautiful (and dirt cheap) city that appeals – and it’s not just that I can, for once, afford to indulge my taste for good food and really good wine. When I work out just what it is, it will probably be time to come home. In the mean time, I’ve a book to write…

If you’d like to know more about what I’m doing, do take a look at my blog http://shadowofthecourtesan.wordpress.com

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Women, Technology and Empowerment

Phumzile

Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The Learning and New Technologies Research Group has just (17/1/14) hosted a presentation by Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka is currently United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, following a distinguished career as an educator and a politician. Having recently received a doctorate from the University of Warwick, she came all the way from New York to Oxford to speak about her own research, and to talk about the work of UN Women. Her research explores ways of using technologies in South Africa to enhance educational opportunity.  With a specific focus on supporting teachers to establish collaborative networks and communities of practice, her study examined wider uses of ICTs through the formation of peer networks, as well as supporting the learning of school students in relation to their own studies.

It is really inspiring to listen to a speaker with such experience, passion and commitment, not only to her own research, but to the empowerment of women across the world. It is also a sobering reminder that, in many communities, women remain disproportionately affected by poverty, exploitation and violence. Gender discrimination means women often end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions. It also curtails access to economic assets such as land and loans. It limits participation in shaping economic and social policies. And, because women perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities.

There is a strong belief from the UN and across international organisations that technology has the potential to provide opportunities for the empowerment of women. Such empowering activities might include access to information, education, employment or political engagement. The proliferation of readily available and relatively affordable mobile phones across marginalised communities has placed device at the forefront of many encouraging initiatives: UN Women, UNICEF and UN-Habitat have together launched an online website which also works as a smartphone app to bring together information on support services for women and girls who are survivors of violence. Online and mobile banking services allow women to access affordable and secure banking services, which can increase their financial capability and independence. Mobile technologies have provided women and girls with access to healthcare information and expanded training for rural healthcare professionals. Crucially, a range of initiatives have worked to address low levels of literacy amongst women.

Yet, as I saw in my own fieldwork in a disadvantaged area of Mumbai, women are less likely to own a mobile phone and are less likely to know how to (or be free to) use it effectively to their own advantage. Indeed, ITU estimates that there are 200 million fewer women than men with access to the Internet worldwide (ITU 2013).

And it is more than an issue of equality of access to appropriate digital resources. With access there must be training for girls and women to help them understand and effectively use technology to their advantage, combined with efforts to challenge discriminatory attitudes towards women’s use of technology.

The University of Oxford is well-placed to bring together relevant expertise from a range of disciplines: in developing appropriate technological solutions to well-understood problems; and in working to sensitively trial and rigorously evaluate initiatives. I know many of us are working on research that employs technology to pursue international development goals. Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka reminds us that it will only be in collaboration that we can achieve accessible sustainable innovations to support women’s empowerment through technology. We see Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka’s visit as just the beginning of such a dialogue, and we intend to develop further connections with the Kellogg College Centre for Research into Assistive Learning Technologies in the coming months.

Laura Hakimi, January 2013
DPhil Student

This post was originally published on Oxford Ed Tech, the blog of the Learning and New Technologies Research Group at the Department of Education, University of Oxford.

Welcome to the Kellogg Blog

Rainbow

A rainbow over Kellogg College, January 2014

The Kellogg Blog is intended to provide insight into the intellectual activities and the expertise of fellows, students, staff, and friends of Kellogg College, University of Oxford.

In particular, the Kellogg Blog is a forum for expressing opinions, ideas and experiences relating to life at Kellogg – in order to give prospective applicants, colleagues and the wider academic community a more rounded appreciation of life in College. The blog is also a forum in which to share insights and opinions, enhance debate and provide a platform for discussion of important questions for researchers, academics and students across the breadth of academic disciplines that Kellogg represents.