What did you do your PhD on and what is your current project?
I obtained my PhD in 2011 at Queen Mary, University of London. My doctoral thesis was supervised by Professor Julian Jackson and entitled ‘The Politics of a Presence: Algerians in Marseille from independence to “immigration sauvage” (1962-1974)’. The thesis used the southern French port city as a case-study to explore how the status and reception of Algerians changed from the watershed of decolonisation to the emergence of a racialized ‘immigration question’ in the 1970s. Based mainly on archival research, the thesis explored various themes including the mutating border regime with Algeria, the place of Algerians and the new Algerian consular authorities in the city’s ‘community’ politics, and the interplay between networks of ex-colonial officials and the clientelism of the socialist-run municipality. My current research project grew out of my extended stay in Marseille during the PhD. It looks at public housing in France between the 1950s and 1980s –from supervised ‘transitional’ units to new and ‘rehabilitated’ HLM estates- to explore how social work and ideas of marginality were reshaped by decolonisation.
When did you submit your thesis? What did you do in the period following submission/the viva? What did you do prior to the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship?
I submitted my PhD in September 2010 and passed my viva in January 2011. Afterwards I was employed as a part-time lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and continued to do seminar teaching at QMUL. At Portsmouth I was in the School of Languages and Area Studies and was very lucky to be surrounded by a small group of mentors who were always generous with their time –Natalya Vince, Tony Chafer and Emmanuel Godin in particular. Despite my hourly-paid status the teaching I was given seemed geared more to improving my CV than plugging timetabling gaps, and I received a lot of support in developing my career plans. That and the quality of existing research related to my field made the Francophone Africa cluster of CEISR a natural choice of host institution when I came to apply to the Leverhulme Trust.
The following year I was invited to participate in a French collaborative project, ‘Lieux à mémoires multiples’, directed by CNRS sociologist Alain Battegay. The idea was for an investigation/comparison of two sites: a former prison, Montluc, in Lyon and a former immigrant detention centre, Arenc, in Marseille. Having already worked on immigration controls in Marseille’s port, my role was to conduct research on Arenc including detention records that had been unavailable during my PhD. I also had the chance to work with a local association, Ancrages, dedicated to the history and memory of immigration in the region. It was a really interesting experience which culminated in writing a report, ‘Le centre d’Arenc (1963-2006): du refoulement des ‘hébergés’ à la rétention administrative’, and an article for Plein droit.
Subsequently, I took up the Deakin Fellowship at St Antony’s College, Oxford. It’s a nine-month postdoc based at the European Studies Centre which gave me the opportunity to write and further develop my research plans and I once again had excellent mentoring from Paul Betts and other staff. Over the course of the year I also organised a conference out of which an edited volume emerged: France’s Modernising Mission: Citizenship, Welfare and the Ends of Empire which is under contract with Palgrave for publication in 2017.
When, and why, did you apply for a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship ?
In the two years following my PhD I received rejections from quite a few postdoc schemes, including two French ones (the Ville de Paris and LABEX), often without receiving any feedback. Even though I’d been warned that this was likely it’s inevitably a bit demoralising. The Deakin fellowship therefore felt like an enormous breakthrough and undoubtedly helped me with subsequent applications. At the same time nine months goes by very quickly. I’ve heard many stories of one year postdocs where a great deal of precious research time is spent looking to what comes next. The great advantage of three year awards offered by the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy is that they allow you to conceive and see through a major new project whilst also integrating into a university department.
I first applied for the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship with the University of Portsmouth in 2014, and although my application was rejected I did receive some encouraging feedback. The following year I was successful with a revised project proposal for which I had significant input from staff at Portsmouth and elsewhere, including Julian Jackson and Martin Thomas.
How are you finding the fellowship and what tips would you give to anyone thinking of applying?
The fellowship has been fantastic. I’ve been able to pursue my research project and spend extended periods conducting fieldwork in France (for which the Leverhulme Trust provides a substantial research budget). At the same time I have also done some teaching at Portsmouth on subjects related to my own research interests, and have been closely involved with the life of the department.
In terms of applying it can be difficult to gauge what works and what doesn’t and there’s clearly an element of luck year to year. With that proviso, there are three things I would mention. First, my numerous unsuccessful applications were (in retrospect!) actually immensely helpful in formulating and honing my project –not just in presentational terms but also for the substance. Thanks to outside input but also the process of reframing and reworking over a couple of years I emerged with a much more coherent research programme than the one I began with.
Second, the Leverhulme Trust emphasises its preference for originality and ‘bold’ projects –a delicate balancing act because the peer-review is thorough so boosterism and over-claiming will be found out. My impression is that framing an academically rigorous project in such a way that the significance is clear to non-specialists was particularly important in the selection process. Another difference from some other schemes is a less prescriptive emphasis on ‘impact’ -if it emerges from the project organically then so much the better but it is not a box that must be ticked in a pre-defined way.
Third, and probably most important of all, is the fit with your host institution. A glance at the list of awards from recent years shows the Leverhulme Trust reaches out a bit more broadly than some other funders to institutions beyond Oxbridge and the upper echelons of the Russel Group. In my view this reflects their interest in how the research environment is specifically suited to you and your project rather than simply generic ‘research power’ as measured in the REF. Applying with the University of Portsmouth where my work was such a natural fit made it relatively easy to demonstrate both what I would bring and how I would benefit.