Wednesday, 11 December 2013

PhDs in violence/confict related issues

The MSc Violence, Conflict and Development is taught within a research environment of staff and PhD students working on conflict-related issues. In the last couple of weeks two of our dear PhD students have passed their vivas (hurray!), so it seems appropriate to devote a blog to them. I'm copying their abstracts as these give a really good idea of what kinds of topics people focus on for their doctoral studies.

Kim Wale
‘Making our own means’: Counter-Narratives in Squatter Memories of Violence, Resistance and Transition in the Western Cape

The transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa did not bring structural economic transformation and the majority of black South Africans remain marginalised. This thesis examines the role of memory in legitimising and challenging this contradiction of transition without transformation. It asks how local actors who were involved in the squatter struggles of Crossroads in the 1980s bring their lived memories into conversation with national memory discourse. Key findings demonstrate a contradictory relationship between respondents’ lived memory and national memory discourse. On the one hand, local memory is used as a resource through which respondents attempt to gain inclusion into the dominant memory identities and discourses of transitional justice and post-conflict development. On the other hand, it acts as a weapon which challenges the underlying assumptions of this broader memory field. This thesis offers insights into the way in which memory works and the ideological role it plays in the field of transitional justice and postconflict development. Conclusions draw out an alternative narrative of struggle and transition that challenges the memory politics of South Africa’s recent history.

Matilde Stoleroff
Matilde - centre!
This thesis explores the establishment, breakdown and re-establishment of political order in Guinea-Bissau by examining the evolution of the shape and character of its political elite bargains from independence to the outbreak of the civil war in 1998. While there are a variety of scholarly approaches that focus on the structural conditions under which violent conflict is prone to erupt in underdeveloped countries, this thesis adopts an interactional approach to better appreciate how Guinea-Bissau’s political elite bargains have evolved and how these developments explain the outbreak of conflict at a given time. It takes off from and develops North et al’s (2009) framework on limited access orders and the Crisis State Research Centre’s approach to state fragility and resilience and contributes to the study of political elite bargains by proposing that a social boundary analysis is central for assessing degrees of a bargain’s inclusivity/exclusivity and for better understanding what lead to changes in the bargains shape and character. It suggests that as relationships are both the “glue” and the “scissors” underpinning every elite bargain, the analysis of their evolution is key to problems of order and disorder. Applying this method of analysis, it provides a detailed examination of how elite relationships in Guinea-Bissau have changed over time based upon extensive documental research and interviewing with key actors and informants. It explains which, why and how different political identities have emerged, gained and decreased in political relevance, and how their interactions have shaped subsequent interaction and produced political change. 


Guinea Bissau plays Uganda - and wins!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The journey – onwards and outwards!

This week is the first essay deadline of the year!! The topics in the first term are on the theories and causes of violence, looking at political economy, rational choice and other explanations for violent conflict. Essays are part of the journey, and the aim is to give feedback so that students can learn through their comments and grades and improve on their performance through the year.

The whole of academic life is like a journey – people join for parts, leave and meet later. Last week was Reading Week – a week off lectures :) –  and I went to teach in the University of Addis Ababa. In the airport I met one of our VCD students from last year who is now working in Ethiopia, and the long wait in the visa queue flew by.

I was teaching on a Masters programme on Managing Peace and Security in Africa. Its students are high-level professionals from security-related positions across the continent. I had a brilliant week sharing my security notes with them and hearing their insights and experiences. Here’s a pic of me with the cohort and staff.

Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University

At the end of the week I caught up with Chris Cramer who was in Addis presenting some findings from his research of fair trade. I didn’t get a photo – sorry to his fans!!! – but he did send me this from Luton airport!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Studying conflict and what we do in our spare time....

The first five weeks of term is always a bit intense as we settle into the new academic year, people get to know each other and learn to love the London weather, transport and legendarily friendly locals! One of the most positive elements to starting a MSc is that you take your specific interest and get to meet and work with others who are interested in similar things. 

Studying and researching violence and conflict is not like buying toothpaste - it engages us in political and ethical as well as analytical debates, and this extends beyond the lecture hall to our professional lives and values. Last week Laura Hammond took a petition with over 104,000 signatures calling for Barclays bank to keep open cash transfers to Somalia. It has the support of Mo Farah!

Laura with Farhan Hassan (middle, who coordinated the petition) and Jenny Jones (red coat), of the London Assembly and House of Lords

Meanwhile, I was presenting some of my work on capoeira at an Afro Arts festival as part of Black History Month. I was exploring how Africa has been recreated through the art of capoeira and the way that this forges communities and generates sites of resistance against diverse forms of injustice.

Me giving a seminar at AfroArts Fest 2013, hosted by Filhos de Bimba London

 So that's what we get up to in our spare time!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Is economics frightening?

not the point
I have scanned a birthday card that I am sending to an economist friend, and was musing that every year some students ask about studying economics for the first time and many find this a daunting prospect.

We support those who have not studied economics before with an Economics for Beginners course which is non-assessed. It provides a foundation for other courses that are based in economics, introducing microeconomics, macroeconomics, development economics, statistics and econometrics. 

Economics is one of several disciplines that come together in the Violence, Conflict and Development programme. Like others, it provides a set of methodological tools for generating and analysing data and offers a perspective on the phenomena of wars, political and social violence that we are working to understand.

While some academics have a background in economics, others are political scientists, anthropologists or have taken development studies degrees as part of their own training. All of us conduct primary research in areas that experience violent conflict and we draw on a variety of disciplines and narratives in our work.

The VCD programme has been running for ten years now. Chris Cramer, the pioneer convenor of the course, is currently on sabbatical. I tracked him down amongst his research projects and he sent me these photos that he took last year in Bethlehem. He was on a Lecture Tour organised by the Kenyon Society, for which he lectured in Hebron, Birzeit, Ramallah, and East Jerusalem. The photos bring together some of the themes of the course – borders, causes and subjectivities of violence, resistance and the possibility of peace.

So it’s not all about economics, and economics isn’t frightening!

Make humus not war

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Start of lectures - who is here, how many, what are they up to?

It’s the start of the teaching term! We have just welcomed 65 new MSc students to the Violence, Conflict and Development programme. As ever, they come from a wide variety of backgrounds – some straight from undergrad degrees, some with years of experience in development work, others using the MSc to change direction from one profession to another. It’s great to have this mix as everyone brings different skills and experiences to the classes. This week they are finalising choices on optional courses. 

Laura Hammond, our Head of Department who also lectures on the VCD course, gave the welcome speech last week to everyone from across the MSc programmes. She has just returned from a research trip to Somaliland, from where she sent this camel.

Alongside her research and HoD work, Laura has also been spotted on the BBC, talking about the situation surrounding the attack in the Westgate mall in Nairobi. Catch up with her here!

HoD Laura Hammond welcomes the new MSc students

Friday, 13 September 2013

A new term!

My name is ZoĆ« Marriage and I am the convenor of the MSc Violence, Conflict and Development at SOAS this year. I’m going to be blogging through the year to give some idea of what the course is like.
We’re just reaching the end of the last academic year – the MSc dissertations are due in on Monday. It’s an exciting time: last year’s students leaving for new things, this year’s students arriving. The office has put up a ‘congratulations’ sign, so everyone can celebrate what they like!

State-sanctioned sexual violence against women in the Egyptian revolution

Following from last week's post, this is another video submitted as a piece of group work by some of last year's MSc VCD students....