NTUs Patricia Francis researches muting of women’s voices

NTU's Patricia Francis researches muting of women’s voices

 October 26, 2022

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Meet the people behind Nottingham Trent University (NTU) research, discover their areas of expertise, and find out about life in NTU's research community.

Patricia Francis is a PhD Researcher working across NTU's School of Art & Design, and School of Arts and Humanities. Patricia's research is a creative-critical analysis of the muting of dissenting women’s voices using directorial practice.

Comparing the 1980s miners' strike to Black Lives Matter

Patricia's research focuses on two groups of activists. The women involved in the 1984-1985 miners’ strike and those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter is a women-led movement. The first Black Lives Matter Chapter to be set up in Europe, outside of the United States, was in Nottingham and came to prominence in 2016 when Black Lives Matter activists in Birmingham, Manchester, London and Nottingham shut down roads, the Nottingham tram system and London City airport for several hours.

"The women's actions were met with derision. The national media and community groups undermined them and successfully silenced their voices," explains Patricia. 

Thirty years earlier in 1984 Nottinghamshire miners took the decision to go on strike. They were in the minority of striking men in the Nottinghamshire area. The Conservative government, under Margaret Thatcher, had determined that keeping many of the coalmines running was not financially viable. Some of the miners decided to take industrial action in response.

Patricia comments how the strike was a catalyst for social change for many of the striking miner's wives.

"In contrast to the traditional roles many had as housewives, they set up lunch clubs, travelled around the country fund-raising for the strike and stood beside, and in some cases replaced, the men on the picket lines. However, despite their actions the Nottinghamshire women have seldom been acknowledged or recognised for the key roles they played in this working class battle against the state," says Patricia.

"Whilst several decades and cultural differences might separate my two research groups, they have shared experiences; patriarchal and colonial lines of power controlled and muted their dissenting voices," adds Patricia. "Using film I am analysing how I articulate the social muting that occurred. Using directorial practice I am endeavouring to prevent the objectification of the women in my effort to give them agency and their voices primacy."

Using first-hand experience to inform research

As a Black, British woman, Patricia explains that she has had first-hand experience of the "injurious impact a patriarchal and capitalist system, that is systematically racist and sexist, can have". Patricia understands that there are many examples of women and Black people whose achievements have not been acknowledged or have been re-written.

"Having been in many social and political settings where my position has been undermined and attempts made to silence my own voice, it was important for me to use the medium of film - an industry itself notorious for under-representation and discriminatory practice - to analyse female voices in documentary film directorial practice and using the two groups of women, to challenge elements of customary film practice to examine ways of giving volume to their silenced voices and their unheard truths," says Patricia.

Using NTU as a base for her research

Patricia's research groups are based in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, so she sees it as "fortunate" that NTU is also based in Nottingham. NTU's location provides a base from which Patricia can carry out her doctoral studies, as well as meet and socialise with other doctoral students.

"The practice-based element of my research is key to my research findings and NTU offered practice-based research opportunities, supported by skilled supervisors," explains Patricia.

Throughout her research, Patricia has worked with a range of NTU research staff and doctoral candidates, all of whom have "inspired, motivated or informed" Patricia's research journey. Patricia has also worked with the British Film Institute (BFI), the British Library, Edinburgh International Television Festival and the Radical Film Network.

Helping people tell their stories 

When asked about the impact of her research, Patricia shares that she has had the opportunity to deliver papers relating to her work at national and international conferences, and to contribute to a book chapter, whilst she continues with her broadcast production work.

Patricia has also carried out many hours of oral history interviews with her research participants who have not previously had the opportunity to tell their own stories or to correct social and political notions of who they are and what they did.

"I am working towards my research being able to offer a revisionist text that will enable the women to speak their own truths and to also contribute to both the oral history tradition as well as to the wealth of discussions regarding directorial practice," adds Patricia.

The highs and the lows of a doctoral programme

Pursuing a doctoral programme on a part-time basis has had its challenges for Patricia. "For anyone considering a part-time programme they should appreciate that they will be committing themselves to a six-year period of research. Whilst PhD research is very rewarding the process can be disrupting. However, being on a doctoral programme was something I have wanted to do for some time. I accept that the unrelenting nature of doctoral research is part of the journey and that it will not last forever," adds Patricia. 

Despite these challenges, Patricia is enjoying everything about my research. "I loved being back at university, acquiring new knowledge and meeting like-minded people. My supervisors bring so much richness to my research and have been key to helping me form my ideas and my thinking. Having access to an infrastructure such as the NTU library is invaluable to my research as is being able to access workshops and exchanging ideas with others," explains Patricia. 

While her immediate goal is to complete her PhD, Patricia enjoys delivering seminars to first and second year NTU students. "I would like to do this on a permanent part-time basis as I continue making my films and developing other related ideas," says Patricia.

Sharing advice to fellow researchers

Finally, Patricia shares her tips for people embarking on their research journey at NTU:

  1. Be prepared for moments of ‘research blindness’ – periods where you are not sure what you need to do or where to look for your particular area of research. You may also experience times when you doubt the credibility of your research and your ability to complete the programme. Have faith and believe you can do it. You would not have been selected if you and your research were not considered to have worth and to bring value.
  2. Network – join groups – make friends. PhD research can be a lonely process as you endeavour to contribute new knowledge to the world. Make sure you have a network of people you can rely on, you can speak with, exchange your ideas with and who will understand and help you through the low points you will inevitably go through. They will also be there to help you celebrate your moments of joy!
  3. If you have not studied for a while, don’t be concerned if it takes you a few months to get back into the swing – you’ll get there. You have three years.
  4. Learn to work with your supervisors and be confident in your own research and in working in a way that is good for you.
  5. Respect your research timetable and do your best to stick to it.
  6. Enjoy the research journey!

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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