CentreSECP postdoctoral fellow, Andrea García González reports on activities carried out during her recent ESRC Postdoctoral fellowship
ESRC Postdoctoral fellowship at CentreSECP as collective work: a spark of light in the pandemic dark
A snowball of connections rolling through dazzling projects, in the dark wintry lockdown. January 2021 was probably the toughest month of this last year: a feeling shared by many of my friends living in England at that time. Third lockdown. Hopes of a better new year turned into debris. Isolated again in a room that had become my office, my yoga studio, my dining room and my place to enjoy the activity that took over my evenings in those short cold days i.e. binge-watching TV series. It was the fourth month of my ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship that I understood as a member of SECP. During this time, my mentor Niki Khan appeared through the screen always encouraging me with her wise guidance. Colleagues that have become friends and that I’ve never met in person came virtually into my room to imagine together and support each other. This pandemic is being rough. Fortunately, in the midst of this rough time delightful relationships developed in collective projects have flourished. Working collectively has been the warm breeze that ventilated my room, the fresh air from which I could confidently breathe.
In this blog post, I would like to present the collaborative work upon which I have embarked during my fellowship. As explained in this blog entry, my fellowship has consolidated the analysis developed in my thesis and its application into social policy. During my PhD, I explored the post-ceasefire process in the Basque Country from a feminist approach. In what appears below, I comment on the different activities that have allowed me to deeper explore meanings of violence and peace, including issues of ethics involved in carrying out research in contexts of armed violence. I hope that this space might also spark further collaborations with members of SECP with whom I would have loved to share conversations when bumping into each other in the hallways, in the staff room, at events or at drinks receptions, all of which unfortunately couldn’t happen. 2021 was not the year for in-person encounters, but it has been the year to communicate joy and pain, frustration and powerful energy through words on screens.
*Sitting with discomfort: Following panels organized by SECP member Elona Hoover and I on the topic of discomfort at the AIBR (Iberoamerican Anthropology Association) annual conference in 2019, we worked together with those who presented in a co-authored article and in a special issue with the aim to examine discomfort in methodological and conceptual terms. “When discomfort enters our skin: Five feminists in conversation” was published by the journal Feminist Anthropology in October 2021. Elona and her creative intelligence combined with the sharp reflections shared by Kayla Rush, Nancy Francis and Ana María Forero made writing this article a disruptive joy. The special issue “Discomforting Ethnographic Knowledges” will be published by Borderlands in October 2022.
* “Ethnographies of Suffering in Context of Violence(s): Experiences, Tensions and Learnings from Feminist Approaches” co-edited by Laura Tejero Tabernero and I will be published next October 2022 in Revista de Antropologia Social, an anthropology journal based at my former university in Madrid (Complutense University). From May 2020, when we started meeting to share our work, the team created around this special issue has become at many times of the pandemic a support group. Yira Lazala and Diana Gómez in Colombia, Aída Hernández in México, Laura Tejero, Laura Martín and Marina Montoto in Madrid, and Olatz Dañobeitia in the Basque Country. Our encounters hinged on how to carry out research on the topic of social suffering, ethics involved in it and the importance of decolonizing our approaches. The messages in our Whatsapp group barely discussed academic work though, but rather the police repression in Colombia during the general strike, or the infatigable endeavour of mothers of disappeared in Mexico with whom Aída works, we have celebrated new births, and encouraged each other through sleepless nights.
* “Complex Temporalities: Unsettling Memories of Violence”: the book. The “Complex Temporalities” reading group started meeting in 2016. Turning our discussions into a book was a dream that this year has become a real project. We kicked off the project with a virtual writing retreat where Graham Dawson, Fearghus Roulston, Helene Marie Abiraad, Ian Cantoni, Struan Gray, Kate Newby, Kasia Tomasiewicz, Melina Sadikovic, Garikoitz Gomez Alfaro and I sketched the first notes. Waiting for the acceptance of Manchester University Press, we have been thinking and rethinking about the illusionary linear time of modernity specially in contexts of armed conflict and peacebuilding.
* “Affects and Ethics when Doing Research in Conflict-Affected Contexts”. Still in need to meet together for a toast, with the marvellous group of ESRC fellows (Camille Jacob, Yazhen Yang, Utsa Mukherjee, Debbie Hatfield and Eliza Garwood), we co-organised this event for postgraduate students that are part of South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership. It consisted of an interactive round table where we learned from each other’s experiences in an honest and humble sharing of research experiences and concerns in relation to ethics that we have dealt with.
* Feminist Storytelling Circle. This project started from the idea expressed in my fellowship proposal of a symposium on feminist peacebuilding. Meeting with Adriana Rudling, Sanne Weber, Laura Rodríguez Castro, Roxani Krystalli and Tatiana Sánchez Parra, we decided to create a process of joyful reflection being aware of the increasing and widespread zoom exhaustion and looking for meaningful connections. We have coordinated meetings between Colombia, Australia and Europe through generous adaptations of time schedules. Our sessions followed the format of a storytelling circle suggested by Roxani where the starting point was first-person short stories that narrated contradictions, open questions, wishes, and concerns entwined in our research practice. Our discussions led to a collaboration with the Red de Mujeres Matamba y Guasá, Timbiquí, a network of Indigenous and Afrodescendant women in Cauca, Colombia. This collaboration is reflected in an upcoming post for the SECP blog.
* Memory and the Body: At the panel that I organised at the Memory Studies Association’s Fifth Annual Conference, “The Continuum of Violence in Memory Studies. Body-territory convergences”, Rosalba Icaza acted as a discussant of papers presented by Julia Hartviksen, Zahira Aragüete Toribio, Astrid Jamar, Stephanie Ketterer Hobbis, Isaías Rojas-Pérez. With this group of scholars, we started a project that explores the enfleshment of memory.
* Next research project: Writing a Marie Slowdoska Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship proposal: I cannot accurately calculate the time I spent on this proposal, but it was huge. Many of my friends/collegues already cited above and others that I met through the writing of this application were of great support. Ana Maria Forero introduced me to a communitarian museum project in Bogotá led by transwomen activists that is the focus of this new research project. If awarded, my host institution would be the University of Granada, Spain, and partner institution University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. Feminist anthropologist Carmen Gregorio Gil kindly accepted to get involved as my supervisor in this project.
* Courses and conferences have also been spaces to connect with others. My one-to-one weekly class of Basque language that started in January 2021 was like diving into a new dimension of flavours and colours in the learning of the cosmology conveyed by this language. The course of Epistemologies of the South directed by Boaventura de Souza Santos at CLACSO has challenged not only my scholarly work, but also my activism and my way to think about social transformation. This has been thanks to the classes taken, but mainly through an incredible community of shared wisdom created around a Whatsapp group.
* And now Navarre! One of the main activities of my fellowship proposal was carrying out a collaboration with the government of Navarra to contribute to their incipient programme on memory and coexistence that deals with the consequences of the Basque armed conflict. This collaboration could not happen in springtime as planned, but I finally carried it out last autumn. In Iruña, where I write this post, it is cold and foggy. I miss Brighton and my friends, and the sea and the South Downs. At the same time, I am also astonished by the inmense mountains that surround me here. Valley after valley, Navarra is green and majestic. At the Department of Memory and Coexistence (with which I have extended my collaboration beyond the formal ending of my fellowship), I have learned about the limits of academic analysis when applied to institutional action. I have also learned about the potentialities of linking academic research with creative social policy programmes in the improvement of everyday life.
I might be forgetting many things that have happened during the time of my fellowship, but I hope I have managed to convey how important for my mood, my mental health, my work and my way to be in the world has been to work with all those listed above and also through meeting some of the SASS staff at some points. Thanks for unexpected conversations happening in the emptiness of the pandemic building to Roxana Cavalcanti, Matt Smith, Phil Haynes, Raph Schlembach and Bethan Prosser. I appreciate the support given by Lesley Murray, Becky Farmer, Fiona Sutton and Glenn Miller. I feel blessed to have had Niki Khan as my generous mentor, and to Athina Vlachantoni, Andrew Church, Sally Brailsford and Darren Van Laar for giving me the opportunity to explore further how to challenge normalised violences and visibilise everyday practices of peace. This year has confirmed to me the immense possibilities that placing vulnerability and care at the core of relationships can create in different spheres of life, including the academia.