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Spotlight on postgraduate research: Nikki Hayfield 

Posted by Kathleen Steeden | 0 comments
13Oct2010

I spoke to Nikki Hayfield from the Department of Psychology who is in the third year of her PhD investigating bisexual women’s visual identities. She is based in the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR).

Hi Nikki, w
hat’s your background and how did you come to UWE?
I came to UWE in 2002 to undertake my undergraduate degree in Psychology. My final year research dissertation was a qualitative exploration of women’s feelings about sex and affection in long term relationships, which is currently under submission as a journal paper. Once I completed my degree, I knew that I wanted to do more research, and after spending some time in Australia, I returned to the UK and applied for this PhD.

What’s the title of your PhD?
Bisexual women’s visual identities: A feminist mixed-methods exploration.

And what are the main aims?
The overarching aim of my research is to provide a deeper understanding of bisexual visual identities.

A small body of literature on lesbians and gay men has identified that appearance norms can serve a number of functions. These include identity formation, coming out, recognition, attracting an appropriate partner, resisting heteronormativity, forming communities, and safe-guarding these spaces from voyeuristic or homophobic others. Far less is understood about whether bisexual people share the appearance norms of lesbians and gay men, have their own appearance norms, or are entirely invisible. Broadly speaking I wanted to explore the ways in which bisexual women manage and understand their appearance. More widely I was also interested in how women understand theirs and other peoples’ and visual identities.

Why is your research important?
This research fills a gap in knowledge around bisexual women and their appearance practices and (lack of) visual identities. While appearance has often been trivialised, it’s actually a really important part of forming our identities.

Bisexual people have often been described as overlooked, marginalised and invisible. This research confirmed that many bisexual women are literally invisible, and this has implications for health and wellbeing. The research in itself draws attention to bisexual women.

You're based in the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR), what's it like working there?
I’m lucky to work in the CAR PhD office; it’s an amazing environment in which to complete a PhD. Although the other students are not directly involved with my project, there is a supportive atmosphere and a fantastic research student community.

How did you collect and use your data?
My PhD is a mixed methods exploration. I conducted 20 qualitative interviews, which asked bisexual women questions about their own and others’ appearance and identity. I analysed the data using thematic analysis. I then used the results to devise a quantitative questionnaire to explore the topic more widely, with more people. This was filled out by nearly 500 lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women, who answered questions about their appearance practices, femininity, the media, and identity. Finally, I developed a qualitative survey which asked nearly 200 students (mainly heterosexual) whether they could recognise lesbians, gay men, bisexual and heterosexual people through their appearance.

You're nearing the end of your PhD now. Has your research shown that bisexual women have recognisable visual identities distinct from lesbian ‘looks’?
My research findings indicate that bisexual women do not have their own distinct visual identity. While stereotypical lesbian and gay ‘looks’ were recognised by heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual women, in contrast most (bisexual, lesbian, and heterosexual) participants struggled to identify any clear bisexual look. Consequently they either described bisexual people as looking like lesbian/gay people, or as not recognisable from anybody else (eg like heterosexual people). 
 
I spoke to some bisexual women who were involved within bisexual communities who did make reference to particular nuanced looks within bisexual spaces. However these would not translate to being a visual identity that was recognisable outside of that space, particularly because they were often looks that might be shared with other non-bisexual people (these included Goth looks, and hippy, or alternative, looks).

Do you have any plans for when you complete your research?
I've nearly finished my thesis now, and am keen to continue conducting research. I would still like to work in appearance and sexuality research, but would also be interested in branching out into different topics and am currently looking for jobs around the South-West.

Visit Nikki's profile to find out more about her research.

Spotlight on postgraduate research - Anja Dalton 

Posted by Kathleen Steeden | 0 comments
20Jul2010
Each month we'll be introducing one of our PGR students and interviewing them about their work. This month we meet Anja Dalton who is investigating the low levels of cycling amongst women in the UK.

What’s the title of the project?
Cycling Circles: gender and social influence in UK cycling.

What are the main aims of the research?
I was concerned about the low levels of cycling amongst women in the UK (only one third of cycling trips are made by women) and wanted to find out more about why they weren't cycling.  I was also interested in how people may influence each others behaviour and how people taking up cycling might encourage others to do so as well.

How are you collecting data and how will you use it?
My study is largely qualitative and I am interviewing people who cycle and then conducting focus groups with people who know the original interviewee.  This is a novel methodology, based on social network analysis (SNA) and I am hoping this will enable me to investigate experiences of cycling and the similarities and differences in experince between men and women.  This methodology should allow me to understand more about how social influences and social norms work in relation to cycling behaviour.  I will also be using some secondary quantitative data sets to help pick out patterns in gender and cycle usage.  Initially I will be collecting data for an exploratory study in Bristol and then later this year I will be moving on to Cardiff Bay where most of my research will be conducted.

Who are you working with?
My supervisory team are Dr. Jane Powell (Director of Studies) (HLS), Dr. Paul Pilkington (HLS) and Prof. Graham Parkhurst (Centre for Transport and Society).  I have a lot of contact with colleagues in both health and in transport, which suits an interdisciplinary project of this nature.  I am part of a research consortium called iConnect (Impact of Constructing Non-motorised Networks and Evaluating Changes in Travel) (http://www.iconnect.ac.uk/), funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which is a 5 year investigation and evaluation of the Sustrans Connect2 cycling and walking infrastructure(http://www.sustransconnect2.org.uk/).  Connect2 is a Big Lottery funded project which aims to provide links in over 70 communities around the UK to enable people to cycle and walk for everyday journeys.  The iConnect consortium comprises eight academic institutions and is led by Prof John Preston at the University of Southampton.  Jane Powell is the Principal Investigator for this project at UWE and works closely with the partner institutions across the UK. 

What are the applications of the research in the ‘real world’?
The aim is to understand better the barriers to increased participation in cycling by both genders, but particularly by women and to make recommendations to maximise their participation in the future.  Cycling is hard to beat for enjoyment, independence, cost-effectiveness, health and environmental reasons and I hope that in the future many more people discover these benefits as well.  

What’s your background/how did you come to UWE?
After finishing a degree in Environment and Development at Durham University I spent several years working largely in the voluntary sectory in a variety of campaigning, press and marketing roles.  I worked for Oxfam, British Red Cross, Sustrans and Watershed, among others.  I also did an MA in Tourism and Sustainability at UWE and I enjoyed the research for the dissertation so much that it made me think about returning to to a PhD.  

Do you have any plans for after you've complete your research?
I'm not fully decided yet, but my current dream is to return to my roots and work in Berlin for a while, researching cycling and walking there, so if anyone hears of anything...

For further information contact Anja Dalton