Pilar Riano-Alcala

Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (2008-2018)
Sexual health and social suffering of youth who head households in Nakuru County, Kenya (2015)

The HIV epidemic and political violence in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990’s have changed structures of care as orphans become caregivers and socioeconomic resources are depleted. As a result, the number of youth who head households has dramatically increased in the region. The dissertation explores how young women who head households in two areas (one urban, one rural) of Nakuru County, Kenya experience sexual ill health and violence in gendered ways, how they embody suffering, and how they respond to suffering amid shifting systems of care in their social environment. Drawing on participatory and community-based research with 58 youth (29 young women; 29 young men) who head households aged 15 to 24 years, I document the interactions of youth with social actors in their environment. Drawing on theories of social suffering and structural violence, I describe their daily-lived experience and the perspectives of youth and community members on the causes and potential methods for alleviating suffering and improving sexual health. I elaborate upon the ways that young women experience and embody violence and suffering in their daily lives. Analysis reveals the relational nature of youth’s suffering and how they navigate supportive and exploitive social relations in daily life. The dissertation makes a contribution to the understanding of sexual health and social suffering of socially vulnerable young women in sub-Saharan Africa by showing the social, physical, moral, political and symbolic ways in which young women embody suffering. Amid exploitive and stigmatizing experiences, social support is shown to be critical to sustaining and increasing the young women’s life force, as they seek to endure and to create opportunities for themselves and their dependents: their siblings, children and ailing adults. The dissertation concludes that young women work to ‘re-create’ structures of support that maintain family relations and stresses the importance of social support in improving their sexual health and wellbeing. It is suggested that programs and policies should be reoriented to support young women in their caregiving roles and to create a supportive social environment by allocating resources to strengthen extended family and community relations.

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/24/items/1.0166177

Post-Wenchuan earthquake rural reconstruction and recovery in Sichuan China : memory, civic participation and government intervention (2014)

On May 12, 2008, an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.9 struck Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, China, which affected 45.5 million people, causing over 15 million people to be evacuated from their homes and leaving more than five million homeless. From an interdisciplinary lens, interrogating the many interrelated elements of recovery, this dissertation examines the post-Wenchuan earthquake reconstruction and recovery. It explores questions about sense of home, civic participation and reconstruction primarily based on the phenomenon of the survivors of the Wenchuan Earthquake losing their sense of home after their post-disaster relocation and reconstruction. The following three aspects of the reconstruction are examined: 1) the influence of local residents’ previous memories of their original hometown on their relocation and the reconstruction of their social worlds and lives, 2) the civic participation that took place throughout the post-disaster reconstruction, 3) the government interventions overseeing and facilitating the entire post-disaster reconstruction. Based on fieldwork, archival and document research, memory workshops and walk-along interviews, a qualitative study was conducted with the aim of examining the earthquake survivors’ general memories of daily life and specific memories of utilizing space in their original hometown. This dissertation attempts to contribute toward improvement of post-disaster reconstruction (particularly in China) by considering survivors’ social and individual memories, which conveyed their place experience regarding their sense of home in their day-to-day lives in their original home. This understanding is applied to explore the survivor’s sense of home after the post-Wenchuan earthquake relocation and reconstruction. This dissertation argues that the disregard of the social dimension in the relocation and physical reconstruction process resulted in failure of a creation of a sense of place among the inhabitants in the newly-built environment. Discussed also is how the local residents’ previous place-making experience played a pivotal role in the development of a new sense of home and in the process of social reconstruction in the new environment. It is suggested that government should guarantee the physical foundation of the reconstruction and ensure the local residents’ input will be utilized towards enhancing and improving the quality of post-disaster reconstruction, recovery and community resilience.

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/24/items/1.0167266

Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
Facing Medusa : (intimate) art and resistance in the Colombian armed conflict (2015)

The Colombian armed conflict is one of the oldest conflicts in the world. Numbers hardly explain the damage it has caused. Artistic responses to war emerge in this context, sometimes with the purpose of exerting some form of resistance to violence. I examine the ways in which similar responses operate and can produce social change, by tracing the work of three Colombian visual creators: Erika Diettes, Jesús Abad Colorado, and Juan Manuel Echavarría. This study reveals how their practice (re) configures certain spaces as intimate public scenarios of collective spectatorship/witnessing. The investigation also speaks of the inmost relation between the victims and survivors that they work with, spectators, and the creators themselves. That relation evidences the creators’ role as companions of the people they work with in conflicted contexts. Resistance becomes a central concept with which to understand both spectatorship/witnessing acts and the companionship relation mentioned above. Ultimately, their visual practice allows publics to resist emotional paralysis when looking at the horrors of war; that is to resist “turning into stone” when looking at Medusa.

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/24/items/1.0166443

Pregnancy loss : women's experiences coping with miscarriage (2015)

This research documents the personal stories of women who have gone through pregnancy loss and seeks to better understand their experiences coping with miscarriage. Through in-depth one to one interviews, I examine the positive and negative aspects of the participants’ experiences, what impacted and influenced their coping, and how they were able to deal with and overcome their loss. This qualitative study uses a narrative approach to analyze seven in-depth interviews. A combination of holistic and categorical analysis is used in analyzing the study's themes and findings. My findings show that women benefit from having support during and after their miscarriage, particularly from their spouse, family, friends, and health care providers. Participants noted that they experienced silence and stigma surrounding miscarriage, and that a considerable aspect of their coping involved talking openly about their experiences. Given the widespread nature of miscarriage, this study is important to the field of social work because of the significance of better understanding the emotional effects, responses, and coping strategies that women find to be of comfort.

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/24/items/1.0166423

Women's perspectives of safety in supportive housing on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and Downtown Core : "this is high emotion here. You're dealing with life here" (2015)

This qualitative research project sought to explore women’s perspectives of safety in supportive housing within Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and Downtown Core (DC). Feminist participatory action research and intersectionality theory were utilized as a research framework. Ten participants, most of who were Aboriginal, were recruited for this project and focus groups and interviews were used for data collection. Five themes were identified using open coding. The first theme focuses on how intersecting stigmas impacted participants’ experiences and perspectives of safety within supportive housing. The second centers on how experiences of trauma informed some women’s housing decisions. The third theme portrays how the location of supportive housing was key to participants’ feelings of safety in their housing and surrounding neighborhoods. The fourth shows that participants viewed safety largely as security measures that were respectful of tenants’ rights to privacy and independence. The fifth theme reveals that pervasive problems in supportive housing put participants at everyday risk. These pervasive problems were identified by participants as being bedbug infestations, dangers associated with sharing bathrooms, social conflict, and negligence from staff and management. The findings of this research project suggest that women’s perspectives of safety were informed by their interlocking social locations, as well as their unique life experiences. This resulted in women having a range of views on what created safety in supportive housing. The findings also indicate that a significant portion of supportive housing stock is substandard in the DTES and DC, especially those that are single room occupancy (SRO) hotels, putting women at risk on an ongoing basis.

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/24/items/1.0166627

Colombian refugees' stories of navigating settlement (2013)

This study examines Colombian refugees’ stories of navigating settlement and integration over time in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. The research question addressed in this study was: What are stories that Colombian refugees tell about their experiences navigating the settlement and integration process? Seven individuals participated in the study, three women and four men, all of whom had arrived in Canada as Government Assisted Refugees between the years of 2000 and 2007 and had settled immediately in the Greater Vancouver region. Information was collected through semi-structured narrative interviews which aimed to identify significant events in settlement over time. Using a narrative approach to analysis, the thesis first introduces each participant and the key aspects of their settlement journey. Next a number of major themes that appeared across the interviews describing the participants’ settlement journey in Canada are introduced, including the refugee experience, navigating around obstacles, and building community and helping others. Personal qualities and practices that served as key techniques for navigating the unfamiliar terrain of the new social environment in Canada are identified and explored in depth. Stories, language, and metaphors used by the participants challenged the concept of integration as a ‘two-way street’ and demonstrate that participants are active agents in their settlement and integration process, relying primarily on their own efforts to incorporate into the new society. Participants narratives revealed their collective identity as people that move forward, overcoming crisis and moving on to build community in their new context, help others, and plan for the future. The findings of this study are relevant to social workers across fields, social work educators, settlement service providers, and others who work in the refugee service provision sector.

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/24/items/1.0074185

Current Students & Alumni

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