23 SES 12 B, Researching Memories of Displacement and Exile in Higher Education: Conflict, political governance, and states of (in)security
In this workshop, we describe a methodological conceptualization to capacity building and research methods drawing upon a sample of 19 Syrian academics living in exile in Turkey, and a sub-sample of Syrian students and staff and their accounts of Higher Education (HE) before and after the onset of the war in Syria in 2011. Our key aims are to: (a) report on the methodological dilemmas which arise in working with those that have experienced protracted displacement, war, conflict and who work/study in HE; (b) provide an account of a methodological approach – broadly phenomenological - which seeks to bridge qualitative approaches that embrace Paul Ricoeur’s temporal arc (the past, present and future), Bhaktin’s notion of selfhood and Lefebvre’s (1991) account of space and power –and their conjoined role in better understanding memories of displacement; (c) provide the audience with a picture of a dual-approach to capacity building and methodology in conflict sites with HE stakeholder groups (see Fimyar, 2018, Dillabough & Dillabough-Lefebvre, forthcoming 2018). A series of visual methods – alongside capacity building methods – and associated qualitative methods (timelines, visual mapping and reimagined mapping projects) will be showcased and discussed in part 1 of the workshop, and the second part will be devoted to engaging the audience in ‘timescape’ methodologies, using timelines and mapping techniques (highlighting cartographies of HE governance, and power formations) to chart the temporal meanings of HE and displacement. Timescapes is a methodological approach adopted by the ESRC Research Centre (Neale, 2012), which incorporates a temporal-spatial approach to gathering data about people’s life experiences, memories and key moments of change. Whilst these methods are popular in many other areas of educationa research, they are not commonly used in HE research and we argue for, and demonstrate, their value in conflict HE research sites.
We also report on methodological issues that arise when examining Syrian academics’ and student experiences of HE and displacement. We outline ethical issues that emerge around researcher witnessing, confidentiality, trust and safety and identify emergent political/ethical issues when interviewing participants who may feel unable to fully trust ‘outsider’ researchers. Whilst there is much debate about the insider/outsider relationship in research, in conflict sites it must be seen in a different vein. For example, in a standard qualitative research paradigm, insider/outsider is typically viewed as a difference in life experience or degrees of difference around ethnicity or class within a similar and familiar space. However, degrees of variation in this context did not simply stem from this notion of insider/outsider within the same geo-political region. Instead, this relationship was constructed through notions of imagined geographical space such as ‘the West’, ‘Europe’, and the ‘Arab World’, and an outsider can be anyone who is capable of reporting to the public on matters that could undermine one’s security in their home country or whilst in exile. Within autocratic states there are also other layers of insecurity associated with this dilemma, such as ‘regime supporters’, ‘allies’, ‘cronies’ and other groups, and this further complicates methodological approaches. We discuss the many layers of insecurity around collecting personal data which cannot be seen as equivalent to the kinds of insider/outsider dilemmas that emerge more typically in more democratic contexts. Witnessing accounts of journeys’ into exile was difficult for us as researchers and being an ‘outsider’ to Syria meant raising new methodological issues about our roles and responsibilities. There was also the question of rare memory and forms of forgetting and their part in reconceptualising interviewing techniques which addressed what Sean Field (2001) refers to as ‘the traumatic mark’ embodied by human actors who have experienced atrocities.
This project represented a collaboration between Syrian academics, Cara (Council for At Risk Academics) and the University of Cambridge. In this part of the workshop we discuss methodological and theoretical concerns related to what a researcher needs to ‘know’ before developing methods on HE and displacement. As Sassen (2014) argues, it is important to see experiences of expulsion not as static but as a dynamic where one in many forces shape understanding professional, HE and conflict. This presupposition demands, for example, a methodological recognition of political histories of state conflict, regime charge, HE governance, conflicted notions of citizenship, and extra-territorial economic and policy pressures/reforms. Baraket (1993) writes that “The forces of change are explained in terms of internal and external contradictions, renewed historical challenges [and] the West has served more as a challenge than as a model to be emulated.” Consequently, we address this latter concern through examples of post-colonial critique and methods, the need to avoid essentializing 'Syrians' and Arab societies as it relates to HE more generally. A second issue for future reflection points to the role of methods in prevailing conditions of conflict, and how to address this in climates where the suppression of civic debate and patronage has rendered feelings of alienation amongst academics in exile. This latter concern is largely related to the length of time any post-conflict HE transformation might take for professional and personal lives to return to normality. Particularly after 2011, for some HE was deemed ‘a land of no return’, a site of fear and control, or a place of inequality that played a vital part in shaping much greater instability in Syrian HE. There were also dimensions of a lost professional identity for many as a result of exile: trapped in the 'false temporariness' of exile. And of course there is the tragedy underlying a lost academic identity and family and friends and the stigma that emerges as one must defend themselves in new worlds whilst trying to live with displacement simultaneously. Hopes for renewed future lives were pervasive and omnipresent as were fears of never being to return ‘home’. We therefore identify the role of ‘home’, loss and belonging as concepts that can be assessed through innovative methods (as described in the previous section) and demonstrate their use in the workshop.
One conclusion we make is that we need methods which are better able to contextualise a narrator’s account of displacement and HE: for example, the political, cultural, religious, temporal and spatial contexts of personal and professional experience. We also point to the power of memory and the cultural politics of ‘home’, belonging and forgetting, in the making of ethically minded conflict-based research in HE. Yet in charting approaches and dilemmas, we have been left with more questions about research in conflict sites than answers. ‘What did the narrator of displacement mean when she/he spoke to the researcher in the first place? What about the silences which may have masked other aspects of displacement in HE? How much importance are we going to place upon the idea of authorial intention: is this the key to understanding memories of displacement in HE and their political expression. And what might be the relationship of wounded memory to just memory and can this change the course of our methods on HE and displacement? Were we the right people to witness Syrian academics in exile? What methodological tools are to hand that might make witnessing Field’s traumatic mark (2001) in the case of Syria more valuable and more bearable? What are our burdens of authorship now and into the future? How do we ensure that such witnessing does not become a commodification of trauma and how can historical responsibility in researching HE displacement become something that challenges trends in education research which positions the researcher as ‘’other to the self’’’? Can we, as HE researchers, do justice to our own ethical dilemmas? And is this becoming more problematic as we enter less familiar international post-colonial terrains? And if so, what of Syria, and the associated demands for decolonizing knowledge, research and the like?
Dillabough, J. & Dillabough-Lefebvre, D. (in press). The Long Distance Ethnographer in the New Academy of Global Fetishes: a reflection on the lost gifts of ethnographic exchange in the young lives of MK freedom fighters in South Africa. Chapter published in K. Gallagher's (2018), The Ethnographic Dilemma Ten Years on. New York: Routledge. Felman, S. (2001). Theatres of Justice: Arendt in Jerusalem, the Eichmann Trial, and the Redefinition of Legal meaning in the Wake of the Holocaust. Critical Inquiry, 27, 201-217. Field, S. (2001a). Memory, the TRC and the significance of oral history in post-apartheid South Africa Field, S. (Ed.). (2001b). Lost communities, living memories: Remembering forced removals in Cape Town. New Africa Books. Fimyar, O. (2008). Educational policy-making in post-communist Ukraine as an example of emerging governmentality: Discourse analysis of curriculum choice and assessment policy documents (1999-2003). Journal of Educational Policy, 571-584. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell. Neale, S. (2012. Timescape Methods. ESRC Training Guide. http://www.timescapes.leeds.ac.uk/assets/files/methods-guides/timescapes-methods-guides-introduction.pdf Sassen, S. (2014). Expulsions. Boston, MASS: Harvard University Press.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
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