All posts filed under: Storytelling and narratives


Taking feminist questions seriously

What would we ask about the rejection of the Colombian peace agreement if we took feminist questions seriously?


Ethnographies of celebration

Colombians know how to honor an occasion, from love to loss, with an unstated but palpable awareness that most celebrations carry a tinge of both. As a fellow anthropologist remarked after the third glass of a wine on a Wednesday, this country inspires an “ethnography of rumba.” This is a story of what happens in the margins of research.


This feminist’s fatigue

Or: an assorted list of arguments I’m tired of. 1. Explaining that we love men. Most every feminist argument I’ve engaged in or witnessed recently, and which attempts to critically examine masculinity or patriarchy, has had to include a caveat along the lines of “don’t get me wrong, I love men.” I am tired of having the choices be ‘thoughtful critique with caveat’ or ‘presumed man-hating.’ When is the last time we heard someone say “don’t get me wrong, I love socialists,” when they engage in a critique of socialism? “Don’t get me wrong, I love aid-in-kind,” when they argue in favor of vouchers or cash instead of direct food and soap distribution in humanitarian settings? Critics of systems other than patriarchy get to engage in deconstructing and pointing out the holes and offering the counterpoints — the very things feminist gender analysis seeks to do in patriarchal systems, only we have to bathe in caveats first, lest we be discredited for man-hating. 2. The choice between likeability and assertiveness. Here, I turn to the …

This image has no connection to Colombia or the World Cup, other than my nostalgia for the other places I have loved, triggered by watching them parade through my screen during a soccer tournament

Soccer, injustice, and Colombia beyond the single story

My days are split. I spend half of them typing narratives of loss, injustice, and victimhood, courage, and resilience from Colombia, in an air-conditioned library that can afford me a cooler temperature and the kind of peace that my own apartment can’t provide. I spend the other half consuming the national drink of whichever country I’m cheering on: Ouzo, German beer, American beer, caipirinhas, aguardiente — all in the name of a soccer-themed nationalism. A friend even remarked today that I showed up to the Brazil-Colombia quarter-final game in my “most Colombian outfit.” She wasn’t wrong. I am not sure how I feel about most of the reflective moments in my life at the moment alternately emanating either from the dungeons of a library or from a (fairly corrupt) (fairly gendered) (fairly classist) (fairly is the wrong word) sporting event. And yet. I spent last week cheering on Greece — unlikely, for reasons I’ve written about before. And I spent my afternoon cheering on Colombians, in a Brazilian restaurant at that. It seems like all …

Malala and narrative co-option

This has, in many ways, been Malala’s week. Despite not having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala has dominated headlines, in ways that have prompted Max Fisher and Zeynep Tufekci to craft delicate, thoughtful responses that reflect on Western advocacy. Tufekci writes: “[…] But she is but one courageous person. Fortunately for the world, there is no shortage of such brave, courageous individuals. In fact, there is an abundance of them, especially in poor, authoritarian countries. If you think Malala is rare, that is probably because you have not spent much time in such countries. Most Malala’s, however, go nameless, and are not made into Western celebrities. (That interview’s most telling moment was when Jon Stewart said “I want to adopt you” to her right after she repeatedly mentioned how great her own father was — such a striking sentiment in which our multi-decade involvement in Pakistan is reduced to finding a young woman we admire that we all want to take home as if to put on a shelf to adore).” Fisher adds: …


Questions on representing atrocities

This is a series of thoughts that are emerging from weeks of processing both the testimonies I collected during my recent field work and secondary reading on atrocities, trauma, narrative responsibility, and collective memory. Many of these thoughts are half-baked, as I essentially type from the middle of a conversation between me and the texts. Waiting for perfection is my least favorite form of silence — so here we go, from the middle of the story, knee-deep in footnotes and question marks.   James Dawes writes in the preface of Evil Men:  “How can we look at violently invasive and traumatic events with respect and care rather than sensational curiosity? How do profoundly private injuries fit into our mercilessly public spaces? At the center of the answers to these questions is a single, structuring paradox: the paradox of trauma. We are morally obligated to represent trauma, but we are also morally obligated not to.“ In response, I wonder (partially affected by my legal reading on naturalism vs. positivism): What does moral obligation consist of in …


Field notes from Colombia: Trauma and stories

From the spaces in between: between sunshine and rain, between trauma and dreams, outside of Bogotá, Colombia There is a rhythm to the stories that come into my life through my work here in Colombia. The nature of my research is such that I am steeped in inquiry every day, putting the accents on Cómo’s and Por qué’s. There is repetition to this process: I ask questions, I record the responses, I transcribe the responses from my notebook to my computer, I code the data, and then I repeat this loop with each different interviewee and his or her story. Trauma is a constant companion on this story-sharing journey. The individuals who offer responses to my questions often have to revisit their individual or collective trauma, which I then revisit myself when I become acquainted with their story anew by copying it from my notebook to my computer and from there into spreadsheets and flipcharts. Though I prefer to keep the specific subject of my research private until the completion of this stage of field …


Field notes from Colombia: Narratives

In one of my favorite TEDx talks, Chimamanda Adichie cautions against the dangers of a single story. As she narrates, we are “impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story,” a disarming property of storytelling that I have come to cherish. However, she goes on to point out that this is a risky vulnerability when certain narratives emerge, become dominant, and overwhelm the others. In Adichie’s words: “But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Colombia is rife with single narratives of the type Adichie describes – and, almost paradoxically, they exist side by side. There is the image of Colombia as the land of Pablo Escobar, the guerilla, the paramilitaries. It is the Colombia of guns and bombs, an image that nests most frequently in the heads of those …


Field notes from Colombia: The honesty of street art

Out of the approximately 271 times I have nearly been run over by traffic here in Colombia, my standing in the street to photograph graffiti accounted for at least 200. My fascination with street art stems from my impression of it as an honest medium of expression: It cannot easily be directed or manipulated by anyone other than the artist herself. For similar reasons, it cannot easily be censored or controlled. Street art tells truths — multiple, often contradicting truths, layered under fish faces or bright colors. In a country that is navigating multiple narratives of conflict and injustice, and the budding inklings of collective memory, even the street art needs the veiled layers. Tell a truth too clearly and you will be painted over. When I left the house this Saturday morning, Bogotá was still asleep, save for its soldiers, who lined the streets more thickly than usual. It is Colombia’s Independence Day and I decided to celebrate by joining Christian on a walking tour of Bogota’s street art. Christian, a street artist himself, …


Resurfacing: Lessons of a graduate school spring

Postcard from a Boston spring: Blossoms and post-Marathon love I wish there were a way to pick up digital conversations where one left off, as though the internet were a best friend who lives on a different coast. I wish I felt no responsibility to connect the dots of narratives, to tell the story of what happened between then and now. The relevant ‘then’ is the Boston bombing, which was the last time I was able to write anything that did not require a footnote. The bombing took all my words away and grief filled the spaces in between. Spring came. Everything bloomed the day after the bombing suspects were apprehended. It felt like the universe winked at Boston, like it decided that the city had had enough pain and had earned its blossoms. I have always had trouble with sudden transitions that require shifting from agony to jubilation, so I stumbled my way from the manhunt to the dancing, the snowmelt to the flowers. This was the spring that I fell in love with …