Anita Prša receives Hélène Phoa Gender Studies Research Thesis Prize 2020

Uitreiking Hélène Phoa Gender Studies Scriptieprijs 2020
Anita Prša receives the Hélène Phoa Gender Studies Thesis Prize 2020

This year marks the first ever awarding of the Hélène Phoa Gender Studies Research Thesis Prize. Anita Prša had the honour of receiving the prize for her thesis titled Micro politics of care and re/organisation of social reproduction in the case of migrant eldercare work. The prize was awarded during the online diploma Graduation Ceremony of the Research Master Gender Studies on January 25, 2021. The jury enjoyed reading all submitted theses, as they offer an exciting view of what constitutes Gender Studies for a new generation. All submitted work had one thing in common: all authors were committed to knowledge production that contributes to social justice and inclusive diversity.

Hélène Phoa
Hélène Phoa

The Hélène Phoa Gender Studies Research Thesis Prize

The Hélène Phoa Thesis Prize was established by the family of Hélène Phoa, who passed away far too young in 2019. She was a graduate of the Research Master Gender Studies at Utrecht University. Pauline Phoa, one of Hélène's sisters, explains how the prize came into existence: "After the unexpected loss of my sister Hélène we – my parents Khee Siang and Irina Phoa, and my elder sister Nicole and I – had to learn how to deal with our disbelief, extreme sadness, anger and frustration. However, we really wanted something positive to occupy our thoughts and to commemorate her life. That is how the idea of the Gender Studies thesis prize was born, since Hélène had loved the Research Master and had wanted to continue to fight for diversity and inclusivity in her professional life. Professor Berteke Waaldijk and the wonderful team at the Gender Studies Program and the Utrecht University Fund helped make this come true."

The prize is intended to support a graduate as they move from being a student in gender studies to the next phase of their life, where 'doing gender' may find a new form. The prize includes a thousand euros, the awarding of which is made possible in part by the Friends of Humanities Utrecht University fund. "With the help of generous donations made by family and friends, we established a fund that will allow for the thesis prize to be awarded for several years, and we look forward to continue to be involved in the wonderful Gender Studies Master’s Program in Hélène’s name," Pauline says.

Anita Prša’s thesis stood out for her academic rigour and readability, as well as for her persistence to finish her studies despite personal obstacles.

Each year, one of the members of Hélène's family is a member of the jury. This year, Pauline occupied that position. "I am very honoured and grateful that I was in the jury for the very first time the prize is awarded. It has been an important part of my grieving process, adding a happy and inspiring element to my days. It was a delight to read all the submissions, and Anita Prša’s thesis stood out for her academic rigour and readability, as well as for her persistence to finish her studies despite personal obstacles." Two submitted theses received a ‘honourable mention’: Carolina Cuevas Parra's Tantos Cuerpos Dolientes / So Many Grieving Bodies. A living Archive of Care and Laura Casanovas Montes' In the quest for borders. Self-exile and territory within the lesbian community in Bolivia.

Interview with Anita Prša

Anita Prša is the very first recipient of the Hélène Phoa Thesis Prize. She told us about her winning thesis and what receiving the prize means to her.

How does it feel to receive the first Hélène Phoa Gender Studies Research Thesis Prize?

Since it has been awarded for the first time, the significance of the prize is even greater, whereas only taking part in such a wonderful initiative is a marvellous thing in itself. I am honoured to get recognition for my work in this way, especially if it comes from the committee composed of people from different scholarly fields, which means that the project has managed to reach a broader public. This is of great importance for me as a young researcher who is just at the beginning of her academic career.

Anita Prša
Anita Prša

What was the topic of your thesis?

The thesis is about the minute details of care and the significance they have for the reproduction of larger power structures (the global economy) by focusing on the experiences of Croatian eldercare givers employed in Austrian, (North) Italian and German households through a 24-hour care arrangement, which has recently become a common employment practice for many Central and Eastern European migrant women.

In choosing to interview workers who live with their wards, I could study what I call ‘micropolitics of care’ or rituals, bodily movements and intimate interactions of caring that constitute the organisation of human life down to the smallest detail and its messy, sensuous and contradictory relationship with the capitalist drive for accumulating profit.

Contextualising these minute components of daily survival within wider socio-political movements, the main goal of the project is to show that their contribution impacts not only direct care receivers, but also clients’ families and even welfare regimes in the receiving countries, thus playing a crucial role in the overall social reproduction.

Eldercare givers impact not only their direct care receivers, but also clients' families and even national welfare regimes.

What was the research and writing process like?

They were challenging in many ways. First, since I needed to support myself financially throughout the studies, there were certain material and temporal constraints under which this research was produced. Secondly, the thesis relies on the experiences of actual people, meaning that reaching the interviewees, talking to them, gaining their trust and in the end, analysing the data, was definitely not an easy thing to do. It is also important to mention the great support from my supervisor Prof. Berteke Waaldijk, who strongly encouraged me to work on this project and gave me all the necessary assistance to finish it, for which I am immensely grateful.

What does the future hold for you?

After graduation I wanted to continue working on this topic by looking for a PhD program that could make this possible. The journey of applying and writing a research proposal was demanding, yet in the end it was rewarded by getting a position at Central European University (CEU) in Vienna where I recently moved and started a new life.