All posts tagged: Impact and Social Change

Acadia

Migratory silences

September 1, 2014, Acadia National Park “I feel like we have done this before.” We are at a campsite at the very edge of the woods near Acadia National Park on what feels like the last weekend of summer. He loves it, the privacy, the vastness. I wish I had googled “bears at Acadia National Park?!” before I lost reception. We are wearing all the clothes we brought on top of themselves, sweater above sweater, shorts above jeans above leggings. He makes a comment about how “tight European pants” are no good for layering when it’s 38 degrees at night on what should have been the last weekend of summer, but we both know he hates those pants in the city too — at all seasons. He is making me my first ever s’more. I am watching for bears.We both forget I didn’t grow up here sometimes. He insists I must have eaten a s’more before. We are now at the deep end of splitting hairs: “a marshmallow yes; a s’more per se? No!” “What about at …

Self-reflection and failure in academia

On Friday, Nicholas Kristof published a column titled “Professors, we need you!,” in which he argued for the need to make research more accessible and relevant to the general public. While his point on relatable, open research is well-taken, Kristof drew heat from a rank of academics who have been attempting to make their fields more accessible than they have been for decades. One of the more salient critiques, titled “Dear Nicholas Kristof: We are right here!” is at the Washington Post, while others are available at Duck of Minerva and the incredibly titled Mischiefs of Faction. The response that most resonated with me is by Erica Chenoweth at Political Violence at a Glance. I agree with the critics who have pointed out that Kristof has not acknowledged some of the steps social/political science have taken to relay their research and findings to the general public, but I still think there is room for self-reflection on academic conversations in slightly different terms than the ones in which Kristof casts the issue. On the same day as Kristof …

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: …

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Field notes from Colombia: Farewell

  There are those moments on the Avenida Circunvalar when the clouds lift momentarily and the whole world is flooded with light. In those seconds, the weight of my work here lifts too — momentarily, as though coaxed to evaporate by a patch of blue sky and impeccable clouds. When I think of joy in Colombia during this field project, I think of a taxi zooming through mountain turns on the Circunvalar. I will miss the conversations with the taxi drivers. A few remain at the top of my mind: The woman who was navigating the city on her first day as a taxista. Perhaps a place is truly a home when you give your brand new taxista directions 100 blocks North and reassure her that you will neither be lost nor be run over by a bus. When she gets terrified, you encourage her to turn up the Carlos Vives bellowing from the radio. If these field notes had a soundtrack, it would be a marriage of Carlos Vives and Fonseca. Other taxistas would …

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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 …

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Field notes from Colombia: Are our questions necessary?

  A sculpture of a woman fishing alone on top of a building in La Candelaria. A banana hangs at the end of her rod. In theoverpacking era of my life, which was more recently than my currently minimalist self would like to admit, I was that tiny person dragging a suitcase one and a half times her size through a train station with a broken escalator and politely refusing all offers of help. Even though I was sweating. Even though the suitcase weighed more than me. Even though the last thing I wanted to do was drag that monster up the stairs.It wasn’t out of too fervent an embrace of the “Stranger-Danger” doctrine; on the contrary, some of the moments that have fueled my faith in humanity have been born out of conversations with strangers in liminal states. It wasn’t out of too paranoid an attachment to my stuff or too strong a need to prove my own beastly strength. Rather, my stubborn insistence on lugging extraordinary loads unassisted stems from having been taught …

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Field notes from Colombia: The solitude of research

I cherish the solitude of field research. I have come to love the long silences of bus rides and solitary meals alike, even though I realize that to the Colombians who surround me, the sight of a girl choosing to eat her ajiaco alone is a peculiar one — so peculiar, in fact, that seven of them (!) decided to join me after pointing and whispering for a few minutes last week. I cherish the spontaneity of how interactions form when you are completely alone, when you can say ‘yes’ to the prospect of any conversation because you are not shielded by another human, a book, or the appearance of busy-ness. And yet, field research can also be lonely. The processes I am directing this summer remain fascinating to me. I get unreasonably excited about designing qualitative research, spending hours devising effective and sensitive interview questions, and slowly watching patterns emerge from the stories. From ‘the data’, as they say — as I should say, but stories are more than data to me. I enjoy …

Notes from the Women in International Security Conference in Canada

In early June, I had the pleasure of presenting my research and work on the topic of wartime sexual violence at the Women in International Security (WIIS) Canada conference, which took place at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto [see here for the original call for papers]. Telling the story of the experience is challenging because it was, in itself, the convergence of the stories of scholars, policymakers, and Canadian military representatives. Therein lies the first refreshing lesson: In my experience of conferences and seminars so far, it is truly refreshing to have individuals from different realms and agencies with different mandates, resources, and sources of expertise in the same room. I wish it happened more frequently, and I wish the conversational cross-pollination were the norm. The agenda was organized around issues related to women and security, ranging from women as agents of violence to women as peacemakers, and most presenters took into account broader questions of gender, including the role of men as victims and the importance of understanding wartime iterations of masculinity. This …

Boston bombings and the hierarchy of suffering

When I was an undergraduate, some of my peers engaged in a sport that can only be described as competitive under-sleeping. “I only slept five hours last night,” one would say. “Oh! You must be so well-rested. I slept for two hours.” “One hour and twenty minutes!” “I slept negative 17 minutes last night.” Everything was an arms race: Who studied the most and who studied the least? Who slept the most and the least? How long could one go without food or a bathroom break? Depending on whom you asked, the extremes of these spectrums would be points of pride. Boston became the closest point I would recognize as home on a United States map. Shortly after the completion of my studies, I left the US to work in conflict and post-conflict areas with women affected by war. Five years after that first graduation, I have returned to Boston to make it a home anew — to make it a site of learning, growth, and community. I am no stranger to violence. I have …

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Brave new year

In the summer of 2012, Susannah Conway published her first book titled This I Know: Notes on Unravelling the Heart. In this memoir, Susannah charts the journey of her grief after her partner’s sudden death, as well as shares her creative process and the ways in which it facilitated her recovery. The book is close to my heart and has jarred me awake in many ways — not least of which is through its title. When I think about how I would end a sentence that started with “This I know:”, I can rarely get past the colon. This is, presumably, not because of a lack of wisdom; rather, it stems from shyness to unabashedly lay claim to knowledge. As the second semester of graduate school is beginning, one of its primary themes has been the need to tell a compelling story — and to put our full weight behind it. And yet, the more immersed I become in knowledge, the less confident I am of my grip on it. Over time, I have grown …