Meet the Qualitative Researcher: Hana Riazuddin

Hana is a Research Assistant and PhD Candidate in Health Geography at King's College London. She is also a fiction writer and the Director of The Body Narratives, an arts organisation that supports storytelling and women of colour creatives. She is inspired by wholehearted communities and justice-led approaches to cities, living and loving.

Sohail: Can you tell us about your research?

Hana: My research looks at the impacts of urban regeneration policies and gentrification on young people's psychosocial health in South London. It’s a mixed methods project where I've done secondary analysis of the South East London Community Health Study looking at mental health outcomes, and the relationship to gentrification. The second part, which is what I'm most passionate about, is a co-productive research projectwhere I've worked with eight young people as peer researchers, looking at how they experienced gentrification and changes in their in their neighbourhoods. They used photography and we held an exhibition. We've worked as well with the South London Gallery to produce a heritage walk and map of important spaces that either have been lost to gentrification or are at risk of being lost to gentrification. So, lots of interesting collaborative moments throughout the project!

Sohail: That sounds really cool! What made you focus on gentrification?

Hana: I've spent a lot of time in the last 10 years in South London, and one of the things that really struck me was how gentrification was impacting the area, in particular the psychological and emotional impacts of it. I became really curious as to what the arguments and justifications for these urban regeneration policies were. I was really interested about what it meant for children and young people who are growing up those neighbourhoods now, and what the long term impacts might be. The London Plan really emphasised that urban regeneration was necessary for improving health and well being. But actually when you start to look at it, there was very little evidence for that. So I started to really get curious about actually what was the relationship between how cities are being designed, and regeneration and gentrification as a kind of a particular type of socioeconomic and social policy and process is driving certain changes and how that relates to health and well being.

Sohail: OK, so fast forward to doing your PhD. How did you then decide that a participatory approach was right for your research?

Hana: I guess on an epistemological and political level, thinking about what traditional academic knowledge is and how it's produced. It is very much still colonial at its roots, about who produces knowledge, what counts as knowledge. I think the participatory model is about valuing the knowledge that communities have, and I want to emphasize that in part is about lived experience – what people are living, experiencing and thinking and feeling, but also, I think what's often missing is the fact that marginalised people and communities also have the ability to theorize. This is their lives, they understand these core concepts - whether it is about class or racism, gender and sexuality, and all forms of domination and oppression. I think in that sense I kind of really wanted to centre communities and their lived experience and the knowledge that they have.

Secondly, obviously it's about a redistribution of power as much as you can. I mean, anything that's housed in the academic academy will never be fully redistributed. But trying to find models and ways of doing that, whether that's producing a project that's useful to communities, whether that's providing some kind of resources and infrastructure and tools, but also even the question of like authorship and recognition. I don't see myself as the knowledge producer. I see myself as a facilitator, I help draw things together and bring people together. But I don't know everything, and I don't really have a right to say or determine their voices. It was really important for me to kind of develop and shape a project where they're at the centre of it.

Sohail: You mentioned kind of anti-colonial approaches, what has shaped your thinking on that?

Hana: I did grow up in a family that were quite political! But I did my first masters in Postcolonial Studies under Professor Paul Gilroy. That for me was really pivotal and ground-breaking in the sense that it really intrigued me and introduced a lot of the kind of radical theory and thinking behind anti-colonial thought in particular, like the Black Radical Tradition, which remains I guess the core inspiration behind much of what I do. I love Black Feminist Thinking and it’s a fundamental rethinking of modernity and how colonialism shaped the world, but also, you know, pushing against so much of contemporary thinking in theory both in the academy and outside it. The spaces I was in as an undergraduate were also quite influential. My best friend introduced me to bell hooks and I think to this day, her work changed me on not just a political but very personal level. And that's the power of the tradition of that work was it’s not just abstract theory. It's discussions about love and interpersonal relationships and family as much as it is about rethinking systems of domination on a global scale. It just felt more tangible and easy to use, reading it was a personal transformation.

Sohail: Final question – what is your top tip for doing qualitative research?

Hana: I'm currently writing my methods chapter, and I've really been thinking about the role of relationality. Breaking down the barriers of what we think qualitative work is. You know, I'm inspired by music and fiction and TV, and that shapes my thinking and my work as much as the stuff that I'm doing qualitatively in the field. And I'm trying to bring that into the work I produce. Kind of breaking those barriers and making connections between things that you don't think are connected and bringing that into your research. If you're doing qualitative research, it's all about people, right? So, bringing relationships and relationality into your theoretical and conceptual thinking as well as your relationships with the people involved in your research as well.