Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Kristallnacht Anniversary and Justice for Migrants

Last week was the 77th anniversary of the Kristallnacht 'Night of Broken Glass' pogroms that saw attacks on Jewish homes, shops and synagogues and the deaths of 100 Jewish people in Germany, 1938. Never Again Ever campaigns to engage actively with the process of memorialisation, and last week held an event at SOAS for the Kristallnacht Anniversary and Justice for Migrants. Speakers were asked to talk about the violence taking place in Europe now in the light of the Nazi Holocaust.

Reflecting on the Nazi Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide of 1994, I presented some ideas about the relationship between violence and development, the political, social and legal processes that make violence apparently necessary or inevitable, and some ways to think about and organise resistance.

We also gave a capoeira performance. Capoeira is an art form that developed amongst slave and ex-slave communities in Brazil. Through its music and movement it re-iterates a subaltern history. Capoeira generates a space for creativity and community and provides channel for the continuity of the art form.

Capoeira Bem-Vindo

The audience was invited to write their thoughts on paper darts, and here was one of the reflections.

"Why the capoeira music and dance? It reminded me of how we remember - capoeira is the dance of slaves now spread in celebration of freedom! I wish we could dance the horror (?) in the same way"


Thursday, 3 September 2015


We are looking forward to welcoming the new MSc Violence, Conflict and Development students in a few short weeks' time!
Several people have asked about preparatory readings. There are no textbooks for the course, but if you would like to get to know the research that we do, the easiest way is to browse through our publications pages: Chris Cramer, Jonathan DiJohn, Jonathan Goodhand, Laura Hammond, Tania Kaiser and Zoe Marriage.

I have spent the summer in Salvador, Brazil, consolidating my work on capoeira and security. You can read my blog here.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Looking forward to next year!

It's the end of term... and at the same time we are looking forward to next year! Today we met to discuss MSc Violence, Conflict and Development for the coming academic term, and then went straight on to our exam board meeting for the year that is finishing. We took advantage of the sunny weather and this abundance of meetings to get the first *ever* VCD team photograph.

The VCD teaching team L-R:
Laura Hammond, Colette Harris, Christopher Cramer, Zoe Marriage, Tania Kaiser, Jonathan Goodhand 

If you have an offer for next year and are wondering what to read before coming to SOAS in October, all of us have staff pages that can be found here: http://www.soas.ac.uk/development/staff/
If you select the 'publications' tab, you will find that several articles can be downloaded for free. You can get something of an idea of the kind of research that we do, including geographic specialism and disciplinary perspective.

We are looking forward to welcoming the new cohort in a few months' time!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Bloomsbury Humanitarian Debate

Last Monday I took part in the Bloomsbury Humanitarian Debate, a forum organised by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Birkbeck and MSF. The theme was the securitisation of aid, a subject that is of increasing analytical and political significance in light of current issues of migration across the Mediterranean (and the resourcing of responses), contexts of development and security in areas in which donors have played military roles (particularly Afghanistan) and the existence of IS, which presents development policy makers and practitioners with challenges that disrupt conventional understandings of the state, responsibility, needs and assistance.

The panel was drawn together from academic/research institutions, aid organisations and the military and, as the debate was hosted by the LSHTM, there was a strong theme of public health provision. There was broad agreement across the panel that security has been defined by the global north and that, as a result, the forms of security that are promoted through development tend to reflect powerful northern interests. There was less agreement in terms of the operational solutions to this exercise of power: at times it seemed that the usual distinction between pragmatism and principle had been re-cast as humanitarian principles allow a certain pragmatic distance from political pressure. At other times, the weight of opinion was behind the possibility of working within a diverse array of donor imperatives that allowed for effective aid to be given in particular circumstances.

The debate was drawn together around three questions: Understanding security; responding to security needs; and Security and humanitarian actions.

Full details of the debate can be found here: http://crises.lshtm.ac.uk/?p=1768

As ever it was great to catch up with a couple of VCD alumni who came along and hear about what they have been doing since completing the course! :)  

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

In Place of War - and capoeira

A few months back I made contact with Ruth Daniel who heads up the In Place of War project that promotes art from areas of conflict. It's an amazing project - full details here: http://www.inplaceofwar.net/
As she was hosting an event in London last week I headed down with my capoeira group to support it. It was a great evening of capoeira, inspiring talks and fantastic music. And if that wasn't enough good things in one place, we had VCD students past, present and future there!


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

End of term, music day, dissertations

It's the end of term! It's not all over yet though as we still have dissertation supervision until the end of the month. It's really interesting to see what students have decided to research over the summer and how their ideas and arguments are developing.
And yesterday we had music day when different bands play in the corridor - this year raising money for the Music Department of Kathmandu University, which was badly damaged in the recent earthquake.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Blog from an alumnus - Michel Thill

I recently reconnected with Zoe, who was convening the Violence, Conflict and Development course the year I took it at SOAS in 2010-11. She asked me what I had been up to since then. Here it goes.

After I graduated from SOAS, I got an internship at the Rift Valley Institute (www.riftvalley.net), a non-profit research, education and publishing organization focusing on conflict and post-conflict countries in Eastern and Central Africa. I won’t lie: I was looking for a job, not yet another unpaid internship. But this was the only offer on the table and so I accepted the position. Three and a half years later, I can say with certainty that it was not the worst decision I have ever taken.

In my third month of internship, RVI offered me a full-time position. I started out supporting its first research project in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Usalama Project, which documented armed groups in the Kivus and Ituri. Today, I manage RVI’s Great Lakes programme from London.


Working for a small research NGO operating in an even smaller niche of the fabulous aid industry can be rewarding, but is not always easy. To wear multiple hats, several of which are guaranteed not to fit is a prerequisite. Proposal writing, project management, editing and publishing processes, as well as fundraising have become familiar terrain—even networking is not alien to me anymore.

Doing research in far-flung places of the Earth however—as I pictured my future a few years ago—is not part of my job. I do not regret this. After all, there are many kinds of valuable knowledge and I am very happy to know what it means to run a research project in countries affected by conflict. That said, I have never abandoned the thought of trying to engage with such a country and its people on my own terms—to some extent freed from the burden of professional obligations.

This month, and after a (very) long preparation time, I started a part-time PhD at Ghent University, while I continue to work for RVI in a more limited capacity. My studies will aim to investigate police and policing practices in Kisangani, DRC and its surroundings to shed a light on how public authority is constituted and maintained in urban and rural settings in Congo. And to my delight, this will involve fieldwork in an arguably far-flung place of the Earth.

In my email to Zoe, I asked her if she knew any Congolese Londoners who could teach me Lingala. She gave me good advice: try Okapi Restaurant at Seven Sisters and practice the language while savouring Congolese cuisine. I will certainly do so!


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Scholarships available

The School has just announced a scholarship scheme for Home/EU students who will be graduating this year and are applying for masters study. There are at least 39 £10,000 scholarships.

In order to qualify you must, as a minimum, meet all of the following 5 criteria:
1. be a UK or EU citizen
2. be classified as Home/EU fee status for your chosen Master’s degree at SOAS
3. be graduating in summer 2015 from an undergraduate degree at a UK university where you have been charged under the higher tuition fee regime since 2012 (usually £9,000 per year)
4. not already hold a master’s degree or higher level qualification
5. have applied for admission, and received an offer, to pursue a relevant Master’s degree by the SOAS Postgraduate Support Award application deadline.
Full details are available here:

Friday, 20 February 2015

Art and violence (Ukraine diaries) and Somali remittances

It's been an inspiring week. Last night I was at the opening of Olha Pryymak's exhibition of 'Ukraine diaries', a series of paintings on the war in Ukraine. I was speaking on a panel with Svitlana Pyrkalo, a London-based Ukrainian writer and journalist and Natalia Antonova, a playwright and journalist, both of whom presented extremely thought-provoking personal reflections on the war. I gave an overview of the relationship between violence and art, something that has fascinated me for a long time. 

I based my talk around my observations of music in Congo and capoeira in Brazil, two art forms that have developed and persisted in contexts of violence and oppression. There is an intriguing contradiction that emerges from these two art forms and Olha Pryymak's paintings. It is that art is seldom strategic (and it is helpful to get away from an overly functional interpretation of its political mechanisms), but it can often be extremely effective nonetheless. How it is effective if it does not have a strategic function then becomes an engaging question. One of the answers is that it provides space that is simultaneously personal and political in which people can vest themselves emotionally and ideologically. Capoeira players create space for expressing historical continuity and Afro-Brazilian identity, Congolese musicians generate musical forms, tropes and styles that contribute to a positive national image. Last night the art exhibition last night a space for people to discuss the war and its human and political impact.

Ukraine Diaries by Olha Pryymak, Krilova Stelfox Gallery (at 5th Base)

23 Heneage Street (off Brick lane) London E1 5LJ

Ukraine Diaries by Olha Pryymak, Krilova Stelfox Gallery (at 5th Base)

23 Heneage Street (off Brick lane) London E1 5LJ

Meanwhile Laura Hammond has been publishing in the Guardian on Somali cash transfers. Read her article here.http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/feb/20/somalia-remittance-money-transfer-operators-american-banking-regulations-terrorism

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Never Again Ever - Holocaust Memorial

It was a real privilege to speak at Never Again Ever's Holocaust Memorial at the weekend. A tricky brief: detecting patterns from past genocides to inform lessons for preventing contemporary violence - and in a cabaret style. Referring to the Nazi holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda, I talked about processes of othering - how groups are seen as distinct - and how these groups become the subject of hatred or fear. I then reflected on how violence moves from the unthinkable to the inevitable through shifting norms and institutions.

The mass atrocities that have taken place in Congo in the last couple of decades manifest these patterns in a particular way: much of the population of Congo has been 'othered' for their lack of economic purpose within a globalised market; they are also - ironically - feared as their existence and way of life pose critical challenges to mainstream processes of development, which has been pursued largely through the sale of mineral assets and agricultural land. Through the narrative of 'rational violence' the deaths, particularly in eastern Congo, have come to be seen as inevitable, and my speech was about unpicking the apparent inevitability that groups of people will be killed.

Here are the props: the mask representing the othering, the umbrella the fear, and the £10 the apparent inevitability of the market and the deaths that it implies in this context.

It was great to meet a former VCD student there and current SOAS students!
Here's the whole caboodle: http://neveragainever.org/2015/02/02/14th-february-2015-4-to-7-pm-the-nazi-holocaust-is-history-right-a-unique-never-again-ever-memorial-activism-programme-of-speakers-and-performances-to-pass-on-the-legacy-of-survivors/

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Chris Cramer - postcard from Ethiopia

Chris Cramer has recently been working in Ethiopia, and has sent back a few photos.

At the official opening of Ethiopia's first wine export
Here's what he says:
"I was in Addis Ababa running some workshops on economic theory and policy and also developing a new research project on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is being built on the Nile at a cost of some $5bn, to be funded entirely by Ethiopia, through diaspora bonds, lottery funds, a public sector payroll levy, and so on. Some 8,500 migrant workers are involved directly in building the dam. And there is intense national and international debate about whether the dam is a very good thing or whether it has seriously problematic consequences."

Monday, 12 January 2015

New BA Development Studies programme

Exciting happy new year news is that from September 2015 the department is offering a new BA Development Studies degree. Full details here: http://www.soas.ac.uk/development/programmes/badevstuds/


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....