Just got off the phone and I got awarded a joint PhD scholarship with the university of Edinburgh and Leiden University!!!
I am ecstatic and grateful, thank you @BarbaraBompani for your beautiful recommendation and unwavering support throughout this process!
— Brindley Fortuin (@FortuinBrindley) June 29, 2020
Brindley Fortuin was recently awarded a joint PhD scholarship with the University of Edinburgh and Leiden University. Cliffordene Norton chats to Brindley about this amazing opportunity, their PhD research and their dreams about a career in academia.
Brindley, congratulations! What does this opportunity mean to you?
Thank you! Well, I have dreamed of this ever since I started with sociology classes at the University of Cape Town! I will finally get to fulfil my dream of attaining my PhD, and I get to do it at two renowned institutions set in two beautiful countries! I have somewhat won the lottery, although I could do with actually winning the lottery, too!
What does this scholarship entail? Will you be attending classes at each university?
The scholarship and PhD are stretched out over four years, which is quite standard for European universities. Generally, the first year of the PhD is reading, and writing and refining the research proposal. Second year would be fieldwork and then writing up the dissertation.
Since it is a joint PhD, I will spend 12 months cumulatively at Leiden University in the Netherlands. My general understanding is that in Europe a PhD does not have a huge coursework component, as opposed to the North American PhD.
I will be attending seminars hosted by the Centre for African Studies (CAS). I would love to use my time at Leiden University to engage with faculty and doctoral students, delve into the archives of different museums and engage the LGBTI+ activist spaces.
What are you looking forward to experiencing with this scholarship?
Doing the work! My PhD work, much like all my research to date, has been very personal and political. The journey of research takes me through books, different physical places and meeting different people. It really is a process that makes me feel alive.
I am also looking forward to working with faculty at CAS on different projects. I am completing my MSc at the University of Edinburgh through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, and perhaps I could intern for them and implement support and new initiatives!
“For me, identity construction is the process of constructing and claiming meaning. I have been doing this since my self-imposed quarantine from society as a nine-year-old. I realised that people kill, colonise, steal from and deny you because of this thing called ‘identity’.”
The research exchange with Leiden University excites me a lot. I have never been to the Netherlands before, but I have always encountered the country in my books and through the people around me. Being from South Africa and having Coloured heritage, I have always considered the Netherlands to be a part of my narrative through historical and violent complexities.
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?
There are mainly two interrelated reasons. Firstly, I want to be an academic. I envision myself teaching across the world. A PhD is a necessity for the heights I want to reach within academia.
Secondly, I believe in the power of knowledge – not just conventional knowledge, but various “forms of knowing” – and I wish to explore that within my PhD. I have mentioned that this work is personal and political, so the PhD is creating time for me to spend on realising this personal-political mission.
Would you please tell us more about you PhD research and what inspired this research?
I learned at a young age about gender and sexual differences. I used to look in the mirror and see someone different, a different gender. And I liked this person I saw in the mirror.
With all the layers of bullying and violence, many genderqueer and transgender individuals grow up with feelings of shame. Many studies on gay identity explore this. I read about it, but I also live it. For my MSc, I am exploring the intersection of Christianity and race within the lived experiences of gay men.
This is an element of me: I explore the racialised and religious dimension of a sexual identity which is still violently policed and opposed in the world. It is also scaffolding for my PhD research.
My preliminary title for my PhD is From the township to the Mother City: (Trans)mobility and (trans)visibility in Cape Town, South Africa, and the whole PhD journey is centred on the question of movement between and within space. The transgender community is highly marginalised, even within the LGBTI+ community of which they are a part. Although this is the universal reality for transgender people, in African societies, the violence is even more structurally embedded and policed. This project is thus hugely political, and it explores not just abstract bodies and phenomena, but human beings who are too often and casually subjected to violence and dehumanisation.
“I have never been to the Netherlands before, but I have always encountered the country in my books and through the people around me. Being from South Africa and having Coloured heritage, I have always considered the Netherlands to be a part of my narrative through historical and violent complexities.”
What were the first seeds for your passion and research around identity construction?
When I realised that my gender and sexual identity often became a site of violence for me, I started withdrawing from friends. I was known as the kid who never came out to play. Inside the house, I spent my time reading. Whenever I started a new book, I would delve into that world; I would form relationships with the characters. When I finished the book, sadness fell over me; that world was now done.
For me, identity construction is the process of constructing and claiming meaning. I have been doing this since my self-imposed quarantine from society as a nine-year-old. I realised that people kill, colonise, steal from and deny you because of this thing called “identity”. When I started at the University of Cape Town in 2015, I also realised that there is love, community and humanness in identity. Both these opposites seemed to be the reality, and that’s where this journey really began.
You are a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow and a Mastercard Foundation Scholar who has written several papers and writes a thought-provoking blog, The depositaries. What is next for you? What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
Meet the love of my life, who happens to be rich, and then we jet off to a Greek island or something. Preferably in the next two months? I am, of course, kidding. I am quite known for my humour as well!
I struggle with anxiety, so I try not to think too much of the future, but what I do know is that I really want to finish my book. I want it published in the next two years. It’s currently on hold, as I am finishing up my MSc dissertation. I would also like to try and do other multimedia content; I am mulling over the idea of a YouTube talk series where I would invite different people and we just have a good ol’ chat about identity and journeys of self.
With the passing of my grandmother in September 2019, I haven’t really invested much energy into tracking personal growth and happiness. I would like to do that in tandem with my book; it is a product of this need for self-accounting and reflecting, anyway.
I would also like to lay the blocks for my career in academia quite firmly; after the PhD, I will have to think of the unequal employment in the academia, and I hope to get that job! The rest I don’t know; it is hidden in the knocks and turns of the journey.