Our studio held a dissertation workshop for UC graduate students March 17-18, 2014 at UC Santa Cruz. Graduate students had the opportunity to share and receive comments on a chapter of their research project, which was read by two UC faculty in the Humanities Studio, our international scholar, Leshu Torchin, and other workshop participants. It was a unique opportunity for graduate students researching the intersections of religion, humanitarianism and politics to meet scholars and peers in the field.
Anna Goodman, UC Berkeley
Rachel Caesar, UC Berkeley/ UCSF
Anndretta Wilson, UCLA
Robin Sacolick, UC Santa Cruz
Natalie Avalos Cisneros, UC Santa Barbara
Reflection on Workshop by Anna Goodman
In a time when it is unfashionable to study something called culture and when economic rationales structure both our lives and the way we practice research, the “Humanitarian Ethics, Religious Affinities” Humanities Studio offers an exciting and promising alternative. Professors Atanasoski and Lam’s influence and the predispositions of the participants made a feminist perspective, which recognizes the performance of the self while questioning pre-existing categories, central to our discussions. Consensus around these points made it a very unique space in my academic experience. The simultaneous ambition and rigor of the project and the practice of an ethics of care resulted in a climate of genuine exchange and respect. If creative scholarship is a political project, then this workshop serves as a starting point for us to face this project in good company. In addition to the positive example the workshop set for academic exchanges, our conversations also impacted my project in a number of significant ways.
Though the study of architectural history is enmeshed in political and social questions, it is tempting to solely focus on the ideas and perspectives of (white male) architects. Historical records, often housed in the archives of “great men,” encourage biographical framings. As my subject is participatory and community-based design methods, I tried to avoid the trope of the hero figure. Yet, this proved easier said than done. Through the workshop, I came to see the need to be extremely careful not to allow the profession’s limitations to become limitations of my project. After our discussion, I returned to primary materials to ensure that the interpretations of minorities, women and other silenced groups read as clearly in the work as those of designers. Further, the workshop alerted me to a number of larger questions surrounding humanitarian practice and its complex boundary-crossing agendas. I have since tried to use the experience of architects as an entry point into discussions of the tangled realities of “parachuting” humanitarian aid into unfamiliar contexts. This phenomenon, which occurs in many fields and geographies, deserves careful historical and theoretical grounding. As mentioned above, critiques of the motives of volunteers and aid workers often miss the shades of uncertainly, genuine shifts in worldview and larger stories of co-option and collaboration that play out in these practices.
Finally, the workshop highlighted for me an on-going discussion unfolding around performance, belief and politics. Each participant considered in some way the relationship of bodies and voices in space and the political consequences of these relationships. Anndretta Lyle Wilson explores the relationship between performance of belief and the consumption of that performance in her creative rethinking of gospel musicians disinterested in representing Blackness. Rachel Ceasar’s work on forensic archeology of the remains of victims of the Spanish Civil War –– in which spectators create a ceremonial practice within a scientific/secular space –– call forth the blurry and shifting lines between modern and ancient traditions and the unexpected ritual practices that follow trauma. Robin Sacolick’s work in ethnomusicology demonstrates that the collective space of politics resides not only in the physical realm but also in shared cultural performances that serve as common ground for people across space and time. Finally, Natalie Avalos Cisneros’s work on the peace rituals and political protests of Tibetan Buddhists and Native Americans merges ritual and politics, suggesting fertile ground in already existing indigenous imaginations around human-environmental relations. In the context of these fascinating research projects, I was able to rethink how architects’ perform their beliefs within economic and institutional constraints and to find not just shortcomings but also hope in their desire to practice different kinds of selves.