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Graduate Student Research in Progress, November 2013

The following Northwestern graduate students were awarded funding by EDGS in March 2013 for their summer research projects. Below is a description of their research in progress.

Hayrunnisa Goksel
PhD student, Department of Sociology

Project Title: “Unbearable Heaviness of the Past: Kurdish Women’s Narratives of Violence, Forced Migration, and Politics”

I used the EDGS summer research award to support the ethnographic research for my dissertation, titled Kurdish Women’s Political Activism Across Space: Narratives of Peace, War, and Identity. I looked at the demands and concerns of Kurdish women who have organized demonstrations, meetings, and protests by themselves and with other peace and human rights groups in Turkey and beyond. I focused on understanding Kurdish women’s political mobilization through their opinions on ethnic conflict vis-à-vis gender and sexual violence. Thanks to the EDGS fellowship, I conducted a significant part of my dissertation research in Istanbul and Diyarbakır for two and a half months during the summer of 2013.

Jael Goldsmith Weil
PhD student, Department of Political Science

During July 1 and August 10th with the financial support of the EDGS program, I conducted research in Santiago, Chile for the project titled “Striving for Services: Democratic and still bypassing the state: The Vicariously Incorporated, 1990-2010.” This included interviewing key decision-makers: both experts and designated and elected officials of the center-left coalition Concertación that governed Chile during this time period.  Interviewees consisted of ex-president Ricardo Lagos (2000-6), Minister of Health Jorge Jímenez de la Jara (1990-2), Minister of Health Osvaldo Artaza (2002-3), Minister of Health Pedro García Artillaga (2003-6), and experts in public health and infant nutrition: Dr. Francico Mardones Santander and Dr. Jaime Rozowski.

Nurhaizatul Jamil
PhD student, Department of Anthropology

I am grateful to the EDGS working group for funding my summer research and the preliminary phase of my extended fieldwork. I am still in the field, and will be in Singapore until August 2014 conducting research on my project titled “Marketing Islamic Manners Makeover: Sufi Piety Movement and Neoliberal Agency in Contemporary Singapore”. I was able to reconnect with one of my key preacher interlocutors offering religious classes and seminars. As a volunteer at her organization, I was to de-code and analyze a few surveys she had conducted. These surveys were intended to understand young Muslim women’s motivations for attending her classes and what types of classes and seminars they desired. We are also in the process of discussing possible focus group discussions. I will facilitate these discussions in order to get extended responses from these women. In return for my “services,” she has allowed me to utilize the survey information as part of my dissertation research. This marks tremendous progress for my research as I am primarily interested in women’s attraction to these classes that often involve a syncretic blending of Sufism, market Islam, and American self-help rhetoric. The survey data will enable me to further fine tune my research questions and the emergent themes.

In September, a progressive Islamic reading group in Singapore selected me to attend a weekend seminar on Islam and human rights in Kuala Lumpur. I managed to network with fellow scholars and engaged in very productive discussions on Islam, gender, and LGBTQ rights. We even had a session dedicated to the hermeneutics of the Quran, language and mediation, and the implicit gender bias in the Arabic language. This experience was radical as Islam is very much depoliticized in Singapore and public discourses on Islam here often elide the language of rights and social justice.  As we interpreted and mulled over Quranic verses, I had never found my training in Modern Standard Arabic at Northwestern University as a graduate student to be more useful. This seminar re-invigorated my interest in my research and reminded me to think about my research question in critical ways. Finally, the EDGS funding also allowed me to attend religious classes weekly. These classes have been illuminating and have prompted me to consider more critical questions.

Raevin Jimenez
PhD student, Department of History

The grant from EDGS was essential in allowing me to acquire the archaeological skills and experience I will need to engage with material data and work with archaeologists, and to conduct research and reconnaissance in linguistic collections in both Cape Town and Pretoria.  For my research project titled, “Conceptualizing Trade in Southern Africa as Entering into Social and Power Relations Rooted in Livestock Sharing and Exchange,” I conducted pre-dissertation research and reconnaissance in Hungary and South Africa. My primary aims were to locate primary sources and establish professional contacts in South Africa where I anticipate conducting dissertation fieldwork during the 2014-2015 academic year. My research uses language data in order to reconstruct the history of cattle keeping in southern Africa from the 1st to 17th centuries. Locating language materials from the earliest time periods possible, for the greatest sample of southern African languages was thus essential to my preparatory work.

I also did archaeological fieldwork in Hungary. While my field of study is in History, and my geographical focus is in Africa, my research will require that I incorporate archaeological data already on record. In the future, I also plan to work with the archaeologist with whom I excavated, coordinating a project that uses original data from historical linguistic fieldwork in conjunction with original data from archaeological excavation. This project will be the first of its kind in southern Africa.

Khairunnisa Mohamedali
PhD student, Department of Political Science

I spent the summer months in Toronto building contacts within the Somali Diaspora community living in the neighborhood of Etobicoke, in order to collect data on community members’ internal organization within the city and their relationships with members of the greater Somali Diaspora. This is part of my larger research project titled, “How Ruling Elites in African States Balance Competing Domestic and International Pressures in Consolidating their Rule, and the Impact this has on Institutional Development,”  investigating how the Somali Diaspora contributes to business investments in Eastleigh, Kenya, and how state institutions affect the internal organization of ethnic (business) groups. Specifically, I used EDGS funding to gain more information on the flow of investment capital versus remittances within the Somali Diaspora’s extensive global network; on the strength of the ties that unite members of the Somali Diaspora; and how information flows over such long distances within the network. I collected this data using one-on-one interviews with members of the network, and surveys that were distributed by the community’s largest community association.

The data I gathered enhances my graduate research in two ways. First, the Canadian and Torontonian governments’ policies to govern the Somali community, and the community’s attempts to build a dialogue with these branches of government has provided a valuable comparative case for my research on the effects of formal state institutional strength on the internal organization of informal, social norms-based ethnic groups. Second, I learned that the majority of Somalis in Toronto send remittances to their family in Somalia and Kenya more so than investment capital. Wealthier members of the community—who are more likely to invest in business ventures in Kenya and Somalia—have chosen to return to Africa in the face of the poverty and violence in the Toronto community, to remove themselves from the community in Etobicoke, or to operate their business activities in the shadows away from state scrutiny. This latter group’s behaviors shows that the global ties among Somalis offer ways for moving capital to maximize business capacity, and reinforces one of the major findings in my dissertation research that the Kenyan-Somali business community’s voluntary attempts to negotiate formal institutional regulations with an unreliable Kenyan state is a unique occurrence with meaningful implications for the Kenyan state-building project.

Andre Nickow
PhD student, Department of Sociology

Project Title: “How and to What Extent can Development Projects Cultivate Effective Community-level Institutions in Order to Advance Equitable Social and Economic Development?”

I used the EDGS fellowship to cover travel expenses to go to India, where I carried out approximately 18 interviews and collected several hundred pages of primary documents. My goal was to study the strategies through which civil society and social movements attempt to build institutions that effectively promote equitable development, as well as the challenges faced and the outcomes achieved. In particular, I decided to narrow this project down to focus on the role of civil society and social movements in shaping de facto land rights, which in turn have an immense bearing on the distribution of resources and power in an overwhelmingly agrarian economy.

My current plan is to develop this EDGS-funded project into my dissertation, and hopefully as the basis for a few published papers in development journals. The fellowship was invaluable in allowing me to travel to my research site, get a much clearer sense of the challenges and opportunities on the ground, and make important contacts that I am remaining in touch with. This allows me to reorient the theoretical development of my project as I move toward the prospectus milestone. As the fieldwork progressed, I increasingly realized that future rounds of data collection will be required. Nonetheless, the data I was able to collect on this trip provides me with what will be a significant segment of the project’s data. Furthermore, I now have the contacts I need to set up some more formal data collection operations, such as surveys and possibly randomized control trials.

David Peyton
PhD student, Department of Political Science

The generous EDGS award that I received in the spring of 2013 contributed to my graduate studies in vital ways. The funds were used to undertake a research project in the Democratic Republic of Congo titled, “Political and Spatial Development in Contested Cities.” This ongoing project seeks to understand the ways in which conflict impacts local politics and spatial development inside cities. While conventional wisdom suggests that warfare is an inherently destructive force for cities – indeed, numerous wars have destroyed cities – my study looked at the ways in which warfare may under certain circumstances serve as a generative force for urban areas.

My preliminary findings suggest that protracted conflict in Eastern Congo has caused Goma to quadruple its population, expand its boundaries, and build its infrastructure over the past two decades. While conflict is driving urbanization in Eastern Congo, this growth presents a set of nettlesome challenges that merit increased scrutiny. My study assessed the ways in which conflict-driven urbanization results in large-scale informal settlements (slums), wealthy enclaves inhabited by international aid workers, and increased political and economic competition between elites. The funds that I received from EDGS allowed me to gather interview data among Congolese businesspeople, local government officials, UN Peacekeepers, and humanitarian workers. The EDGS funds also enabled me to collect important cadastral records and legal documents dealing with real estate development since the outbreak of Eastern Congo’s conflict. I intend to use this data to conduct a comparative study of urbanization trends in cities whose politics and built environments are impacted by conflict – additional case studies may include cities in South Sudan, Southern Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Diana Rodriguez-Franco
PhD student, Department of Sociology

Project Title: “Greening Latin America: The Causes and Consequences of Green Governance in the Andean Amazon”

I focused on the Amazon region of two countries: Colombia and Peru.  Interestingly, while 72% of the Peruvian Amazon is covered with oil activities, 90% of the Colombian Amazon just on the other side of the border, is free from oil activities.  Thus, the Colombian Amazon in general represents a case of green governance (or relative non-extraction) and the Peruvian Amazon represents a traditional case of extraction.  My hypothesis is that two land governance institutions set up in the Colombian Amazon –indigenous territories and natural protected areas-, have been particularly effective for blocking extractive activities and protecting the environment.  Indigenous territories, by granting collective ownership and governance of the territory, create a political opportunity structure for the local population, which unintentionally, proves instrumental in determining the paths of extractive development. The essence of the project is (i) explaining how forms of green governance are possible and how they operate, (ii) understanding what explains the variation in level of extractive activity between countries and (iii) addressing the puzzle of why are some developing countries foregoing extraction despite all the incentives to do otherwise, but shifted the unit of analysis from the cases to the Amazon regions of Peru and Colombia.  This explains why I spent all of my summer conducting research in Colombia trying to understand why and how Colombia has conserved its Amazon region and foregone potential oil revenue.

The funds generously granted by EDGS contributed to my research in four ways.  First, I was able to conduct some interviews with experts on the Amazon.  Second, using primary information I was able to build an excel spreadsheet that documents every indigenous territory and natural protected area created in the Colombia Amazon. Third, I was able to conduct research on the origins and evolution of the different types of institutions that govern the amazon. Fourth, the funds allowed me to be in Bogotá and become affiliated to Dejusticia, a think tank that works on related issues.

Alvaro Villagran
PhD student, Department of History

Thanks to EDGS´s support, I was able to conduct my summer research in Brazil. For my project, titled, “Urban Transportation, Politics and Citizenship: The Cases of Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo During the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, 1964-1985,″ I visited archives in Rio de Janeiro. I also had meetings with professors at FGV and PUC-Rio. These meetings were very productive to guide my archival research, and to get in contact with part of the academic community working on urban history in Rio de Janeiro. Besides, I was able to contact the author of a book on buses in Rio –Mr. Silvio Rabaça -, and a former member of the Secretary of Transportation – Mr. Sergio Balloussier. The later has an impressive private collection of documents and books about urban transportation.

Popular protests against bus companies have been going on across Brazil in the last month. Because of this political conflict, it was impossible for me to get information either from private bus companies or from their federation – FETRANSPOR  -. However, I made some contacts with people who might be willing to share some information with me, if the political conflict around buses diminishes. On the other hand, the ongoing protest against bus companies confirmed me the relevance of this topic, and the underdevelopment of academic research on it.

In my two weeks staying in Sao Paulo, I conducted research in two very useful archives, because they are specialized in urban transportation: the Biblioteca Metro de Sao Paulo, and the Museu dos Transportes Públicos. I also met peers working on Brazilian contemporary history, and political activists of the Movimento Passe Livre.

Ella Wilhoit
PhD student, Department of Anthropology

EDGS graciously funded my archival research in the summer of 2013.  For my project titled, “Social Position in the Rural Andes: Revisiting Gender through a Lens of Property Ownership,” I used the funding specifically to record and analyze data on land titling from my research site, Luricocha, in Ayacucho, Peru, and to begin establishing a comparative database with information from the nearby site of Huamanguilla.  I have indeed confirmed the unusual finding that a large number of titles in the rural district in which I work were given to women in the 1990s.  This is surprising in light of the finding, by feminist economists, that women are less likely to receive titles in formalization programs around the Americas.  It also seems that a select group of women in Luricocha did indeed receive multiple titles. I had not foreseen, however, the surprising finding that this is only the case in my study site of Luricocha, and not found in my comparison site of Huamanguilla. This is the kind of conclusion I could only reach after systematizing this data.   Huamanguilla is a much poorer community and, despite being less than thirty minutes drive from Luricocha, is at a higher altitude and is considerably more arid.  Additionally, Huamanguilla’s history differs significantly from Luricocha’s.  Huamanguilla was, until 2007, a registered, official peasant community, claiming historical continuity and ethnic solidarity dating back hundreds of years and maintaining communal land.  Luricocha, on the other hand, was the site of major haciendas throughout colonial history and transitioned, in the twentieth century, from this latifundio or feudalistic system to a highly active, capitalist land market.

This finding provides only clearer proof that the mechanisms of inequalities are quite complex and localized in this area of the Andes.  This finding is, I believe, a key first step in understanding the apparent failures of development programs to promote equitable well-being there. I can also then begin to examine the question, using my own qualitative ethnographic and interview data, of how and why a specific group of women in Luricocha has obtained a considerable amount of land, potentially to the exclusion of poorer women in the area.  I remain convinced that this research has the potential to provide a service to the people of Ayacucho, in paving the way for more-carefully designed titling initiatives in the future.