Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies (PhD)
Ritual as Praxis: The Responsibility of the Activist in the Face of Genocide
Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
In January 1979, a ship ferrying armed Ugandan exiles and members of the Tanzanian army sank on Lake Victoria. Up to three hundred people are believed to have died on that ship, at least one hundred and eleven of them Ugandan. There is no commemoration or social memory of the account. This event is uncanny, incomplete and yet is an insistent memory of the 1978-79 Liberation war, during which the ship sank. From interviews with Ugandan war veterans, and in the tradition of the Luo-speaking Acholi people of Uganda, I present wer, song or poetry, an already existing form of resistance and reclamation, as a decolonizing project. Drawing from political memory in postcolonial, African, Black, Indigenous and Diaspora studies, I argue that truth-telling, a fundamental aspect of reconciliation and restoration of justice among the Acholi, can be achieved through poetic expression. This dissertation extends the technical definition of Okot p’Bitek’s Song school of poetry to include form and content and the space for social and political commentary in various voices and landscapes. The poet as historian, and the artist as ruler, both Okot p’Bitek’s concepts, are illustrated through “Songs of Soldiers”. This work is deeply rooted in displacement and the desire to return – continuing factors in where and how I think about and articulate myself.
In the aftermath of nearly three decades of conflict in northern Uganda, children born into the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) experience social, economic, and political exclusion. Thousands were born to mothers and often fathers who were abducted by the LRA and forced to marry inside the rebel group. The children are part of a global population of people born of sexual violence in conflict. This dissertation contributes to the small but growing body of work on this population called ‘children born of war.’ Using a child-centered methodology, this study is grounded in the everyday experiences of 29 children born into the LRA, with data collected at various points over a period of eight months between 2011 and 2016 in northern Uganda. The following research questions guided my inquiry: 1) How do the children experience their everyday social lives? 2) How do they make sense of their experiences? 3) What strategies and resources do they use or access to help navigate their everyday lives? 4) What macro and micro processes lend insight into or explain these experiences? To answer these questions, I developed a conceptual framework consisting of the ideas of a) the politics of belonging, inclusive of place-based, and b) nation-building and hegemonic masculinity. The findings point to the role of place-making in shaping the children’s social experiences. Careful examination of their everyday lives reveals the children’s efforts to negotiate the boundaries of their exclusion in effort to navigate toward better positions in life. Through drawings, journals, storytelling, and play, I interpret how the children make sense of their experiences and construct a sense of legitimacy despite their marginalization. By situating their experiences within current and historical political forces, their everyday experiences become intelligible as central to a local and national politics of belonging.
This thesis examines the homing experiences of LGBT refugees in Vancouver, British Columbia. Using participatory photography, ethnography, and oral history, this project interrogates home and belonging for individuals claiming and receiving asylum based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The issues examined lie at the intersection of two ongoing discussions in migration scholarship: on race, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity in refugee settlement in Canada, and on home and belonging for LGBT refugees. This examination contributes to both of these discussions. The research suggests reimagining refugee settlement in Canada through the lens of sexualized and gendered bodies in order to queer refugee settlement and expand the scope of home and belonging beyond the pragmatic to aspects of relatedness to places, bodies, and persons. LGBT refugees are caught in between two “(un)homey” places, Canada and their home countries, in which they experience marginalization as queer minorities. LGBT refugees’ experiences challenge the binary between home and homelessness/ displacement and emplacement. Home is not cemented in Vancouver or LGBT refugees’ countries of origin. It rests in the attachments LGBT refugees make with different places, communities, and their own bodies. The relationships LGBT refugees maintain between Canada and their countries serves as a necessary means for them to create a sense of home. These transnational relationships push homemaking outside of the heterosexual neoliberal nation-state and challenge static concepts of home. The fluidity of transnational relationships for LGBT refugees challenges the conceptualization of “home” within policy and academic literatures on settlement. This research unsettles homonational narratives around Canada being a progressive safe haven and discourses about “saving” LGBT refugees.Finally, the thesis reflects on the potential role of the activist-scholar in working with persons living precarious lives in precarious situations, and the responsibilities held by both the researcher and participants in documenting, interpreting, and exhibiting LGBT refugees’ experiences of home and belonging.
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
How does theorizing from a state of emergency inform representations of Syrian refugee children? This thesis introduces a theoretical framework that brings into consideration Edward Said’s Orientalism, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Through a reading of these texts, the thesis explores why it is essential for representation to “exceed the language and practices of security” and the emergency framework. This thesis has a two-fold argument. First, I argue that the humanitarian discourse and the anti-refugee/immigrant discourse on Syrian refugees and children reincarnate a colonial approach and language to studying the Other. Resultantly, some of the circulated representations of the Syrian ‘refugee crisis’ either vilifies refugees collectively or overlooks their agency by romanticizing them. On one hand, these representations are then problematically employed to justify rigid border control measures; on the other, to legitimate humanitarianism as a response to the refugee crisis. Secondly, I argue that theorizing from emergency results in “killing of [the] lives” that it sought to preserve, through a recourse to a colonial discourse that alienates Syrian children from their “way of life – life as it is lived” and relegates them to a zone of extinction. To further demonstrate the presence of discontinuities between some of these representations and acts of resistance and reclamation that Syrian refugees and children engage in, I draw on stories and actions of war affected Syrian refugees, in documentary radio and social media campaigns.
This thesis explores the role of memory expressed as art in contexts of transitional justice, recognizing that traditional mechanisms are limited in confronting the responsible structures for mass violence. My discussion is located in the larger discussion in transitional justice on moving towards transformative justice as a new agenda of praxis. My contribution maps out how memory as art can function as a mechanism that allows for transformative possibilities since memory as art is about invoking the past in the present in a normative way that demands judgement. By doing so, there is the ability to confront the structures of the past that persist in the present as even though transition is occurring or has already occurred, the sources of mass violence are often just muted or repatterned. In my discussion, I focus on looking at what the arts do to perceivers or secondary witnesses. I suggest that by conveying memory through forms of art, survivors and activists can impart more meaningful understanding, which draws from empathy more than facts, and with understanding, re-imagination and transformative politics becomes possible. Thus, this paper advocates for the use of memory in the form of art as a complimentary and necessary mechanism for achieving the goals of transformative justice. Finally, a concrete example of theory in practice is provided with a discussion of an original participatory art piece titled Now-Then.
My thesis examines the possibility for decolonization in the aftermath of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and proposes settler-shame as both generative and necessary to decolonizing and disrupting the patterns of ongoing colonial violence against Indigenous bodies. I specifically focus on how sound and performance can be used to critically engage and educate on both historical and ongoing colonial violence prevalent in settler-colonial society. I elaborate on how my own performances are an embodied form of settler-shame and put forward a sound technique I’ve called time-stretched witnessing. I draw on encounters within my own practice as an electronic artist/producer as a means of addressing the degree to which it might be possible to create space for meaningful knowledge sharing, memorialization, social transformation, and decolonization. To decolonize is to work towards a reconciliation that refuses ‘reconciliation’ as we have known it thus far, one that refuses settler innocence and encourages settler-shame, and centres Indigenous leadership, the return of land and an end to gender-based violence. Supplementary material : [http://hdl.handle.net/2429/57409]
This paper explores The Missing Children Project of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and examines the responses of communities and families of children who died or went missing in the residential school system from the 1870s to 1996. It uses Jenny Edkins’ discussion of how responses to missing persons and demands for information about their whereabouts, or in some cases, the circumstances of their deaths, represents a different kind of politics, one that acknowledges the person-as-such. Edkins’ framework is used to analyze comments from family and friends of some missing students and to examine family and community commemoration efforts. The paper also examines some of the Canadian federal government’s responses to the broader demand of recognition and to the Missing Children Project. The residential school system as a whole exemplified a type of politics that sought to reduce its victims to bare life; this is particularly evident in the way that deaths within the schools were handled: families were often not informed about the deaths of their children, and if they were, they were provided no details on the circumstances of their death and location of their burial. By demanding answers from the federal government, the families and communities of the missing insist on recognition, reclaiming the personhood of these victims, and seek a different type of political relationship with the Canadian state, a relationship which has at its centre an acknowledgement of the person-as-such.