Who is who abstract

Who’s who: difference, diversity and migration

The CCoM team come from a range of different disciplines and backgrounds as academics, professionals and activists. Want to find out more about our team members? Read our Who’s Who blog posts to find out more. This blog is about Dr Veena Meetoo, researcher and Lecturer in Sociology at UCL. Veena is working closely with a team of young researchers in London and Dr Eva Prokopiou, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Northampton University, to explore separated child migrants’ experiences of care. 

Difference, diversity, and migration have characterised much of my life. I was born in Croydon to migrant parents of Indian and Chinese heritage from Mauritius and Malaysia respectively. We then moved to Kent where I spent most of my teenage years. The shift from multicultural South London to a predominantly white, Conservative, seaside town with strong anti-migrant sentiments, was an eye opener for me in a number of ways. I was seen as the ‘Other’ brown girl by a small handful of students and teachers in South London and told to ‘go back to where I came from’, but it was through my move to Kent as a young teenager where I felt my ‘difference’ was more pronounced. Feelings of anger, confusion and upset about talk in playground, political propaganda coming through the door, further name calling and subtle exclusions shaped my interest and commitment to social justice and understanding racialisation, migration, and gender for children and young people.   

My way out of the small seaside town where I felt I didn’t quite ‘fit in’ was through higher education – by pursuing a degree in Sociology to explore the areas of social life that spoke to me and would help me understand my own experiences. I have met many inspiring teachers on the way, some of whom have become close colleagues and friends. Through their teachings and collegiality, they have given me refreshing and empowering ways of seeing the social world.   

I embarked on my doctoral studies after having worked as a researcher for a number of years, and as a mum of two young children. It was important to me that my PhD would be on something that I was passionate about and a topic of my choosing, and so I embarked on my doctoral study on South Asian girls’ identities in multicultural school context. Most of the girls who took part and shared their stories were first generation migrants, some of whose parents migrated as asylum seekers. We shared experiences of racism, gender discrimination, popular culture, schooling and relationships with teachers, and we discussed our generational differences.  

Since my doctoral study, I have researched children in the care system, their experiences of foster care with professionals such as social workers, as well as foster carers’ experiences. I have been interested and influenced by the sociology of childhood which informs my understanding of unequal and diverse childhoods, how these are reproduced through the intersections of ‘race’, gender, and migration status and the generational order. Through Children Caring on the Move (CCoM) I bring my areas of interests and knowledge together by exploring how the intersections of migration, race, age and gender produce positions for separated child migrants in the wider systems of immigration and ‘care’, and the micro everyday practices of care by young people themselves.   

The heart of what we do in CCoM’s Work Package 1 is characterised by participatory methods. This involves working with a brilliant group of young researchers who have first-hand experience of migrating to the UK without parents or primary caregivers. By talking through terms we use, thinking through the methods we employ, the questions we ask separated child migrants about care and how to ask them, and what to consider in our research encounters, I am learning a lot – a lot about challenging my own assumptions about childhood, doing research with young migrants from young migrants’ perspectives, the complexities and differences in experiences between separated child migrants, as well as how we can relinquish some of our status and power as adult academic researchers.  

Our journey so far through this project has taken many turns, some of which have been unpredictable. Doing participatory research with young migrants who experience transitions, disjunctures and injustices of the immigration and care system has influenced the flows and ebbs of the project. Challenges associated with ‘ageing out’, budget cuts, access to suitable accommodation, gaining status and the ensuing stability and access to suitable education and employment are just some of the issues our young researchers face. We have carried on with building our interviewing skills (albeit over Zoom!) and developing the project throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which has in itself given rise to a number of issues for young people receiving care from professionals. The positive standout moments so far have been the impressive skill and sensitivity the young researchers have shown when conducting interviews with other young migrants, inspiring conversations during research training, and our evolving relationship as co-researchers.

Part of my role at UCL involves teaching Researching Childhood on the Masters in Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights. I will take forward insights and experiences from the project that I have gained from working with the young researchers and the wider CCoM team to students, who openly embrace opportunities to hear about real world research on diverse and unequal childhoods amongst the backdrop of the shifting social, economic and political context. This past year has reinforced my previous thoughts that we can only plan up to a point. We have to make the most of the relationships we have and can build and keep learning from each other. And so I look forward to moving forward with our ‘London’ and wider CCoM team.