Welcome! — Karibuni!
My name is Carol, and the best way to sum me up is that I am basically a perpetual student. I find it hard to turn off my critical analysis filter, and I read all the time. And as a wanna-be anthropologist who finds that anthropological methods and ways of seeing come naturally, I am always studying and learning from my environment by watching/listening to people; whether I’m in New York City or eastern Congo.
I have an MA in African Studies (Yale); MS in Global Affairs (NYU); and BFA in Film (School of Visual Arts). I’m currently PhD’ing at Cambridge, writing about the World Bank’s DDR program in the DR Congo.
I noticed that I first wrote this “About” page nearly 7 years ago, well before I started finding my voice or knowing exactly what it was I wanted to do here, and so I thought it was time for an update. Since then, I’ve decided that I’m not very good at snark (and I often don’t agree with myself afterwards when I try it), and that I want this blog to be about pretty much anything that interests me or sets my intellectual or artistic loins ablaze. Initially, I wanted to keep some kind of humanitarian/development aid blog that would have an academic and philosophical tinge, or position me as some kind of “Congo watcher,” but then I realized I was interested in too many things, and I didn’t want to restrict myself to any particular theme (for wonky political commentary, mostly about politics in central Africa, you can see all my posts over at UN Dispatch). The upshot is, I would like this blog to be more personal than professional, even though the two realms are highly blurred for me. Plus “Congo watcher” sounds kind of voyeuristic to me.
So, very briefly, here’s a summary of where I’m currently at ideologically and academically in the form of a list of interests I hope to keep exploring here: Politics, law, and international relations; human rights; the aid and development industries; anthropology; genealogies of ontologies; languages, linguistics, and metaphors; postmodernism; critical theory; critical race theory; Black Power; postcolonialism; intersectional feminism; democratic socialism and/or economic democracy; political philosophy; philosophy of science; public health; mental health; books; art, music, and poetry; Afropunk; La Sapologie; prisons; restorative justice; peacebuilding; ex-combatants and veterans; and one of my favorite places on earth, eastern Congo.
One thing I would like to note is that in the past I have made awful, prejudiced mistakes in in life and in my academic work, without anyone calling me out on it – I only saw these mistakes in hindsight, after self-reflection and reading like crazy and making an effort to listen to lots of different perspectives. I am much better than I used to be, but I’m sure there’s still plenty of room for improvement. So I see anything I write here as a work in progress, and I welcome criticism. Like I said, I’m a perpetual student – I am constantly learning. Criticism helps me move forward. Nothing I write here should be taken as any kind of Carol Doctrine – it’s all just, basically, thinking out loud. I want to use this space as part of my own “life-long journey of questioning internalised assumptions [and] problematizing ‘truths’.”
As Atul Gawande, a surgeon and public-health researcher at Harvard, put it in his commencement speech at the California Institute of Technology:
Ultimately, you hope to observe the world with an open mind, gathering facts and testing your predictions and expectations against them. Then you make up your mind and either affirm or reject the ideas at hand. But you also hope to accept that nothing is ever completely settled, that all knowledge is just probable knowledge. A contradictory piece of evidence can always emerge.
Anytime I write anything, I have that possibility of a “contradictory piece of evidence” in mind. And for me, particularly in the social sciences, personal narratives are included in that. Stories are important.
I also plan on being relatively informal here, as I want to explore ideas without having to think too hard about putting thoughts into academic language, or, worse, conforming to neoliberal disciplining. You have been warned.
With that, I leave you with the rest of the (lightly edited/updated) About Me page I wrote 7 years ago:
“There is a reason for everything” is more than a teleological axiom– it applies to political science, economics, anthropology, public health, history, psychology, and just about all the social sciences. You can argue over what the reasons are, but you can’t deny that they exist. It is through the pursuit of these causal relationships, as they play out in all these fields, that solutions to countless problems might be found.
I am driven to better understand how the dots can be connected between international policy and local realities. Out of this comes a desire to understand “local” perceptions of aid, peacebuilding, and development interventions by powerful Western organizations and governments. People affected by emergencies or adverse circumstances don’t just sit around waiting for help. They initiate processes themselves that make sense to them, through structures that, prior to the disruption, were familiar and organic to that place. In most cases these structures aren’t completely obliterated but are merely interrupted or damaged. It is a mistake, I think, to treat conflict or disaster affected areas as a blank slate, as though people and communities in such places don’t have a history, or any politics, or their own social mechanisms for interpreting and dealing with changes and challenges.
This mistaken approach takes a host of culturally subjective assumptions and applies them to places where those frameworks don’t work or don’t exist. But it also ignores those very people who are working to improve the situation of their communities, and assumes that outside expertise or intervention is what will “save” them. Many of these same dilemmas apply to conflict- or disaster- affected places within the United States, and the state institutions that intervene in communities. It’s not limited to Western neoliberalism intervening in other parts of the world. (The way “we” deal with and talk about “the homeless,” for example; or the way the medical establishment views depression in contrast to those that experience it.)
I am — or at least try to be — a nuance-appreciator of the nothing-is-black-and-white persuasion. I may occasionally write about things as though I vehemently believe them, and most of the time I do believe them if I’m committed enough to put it in writing. But I can’t think of very many things that I wouldn’t be willing to change my mind about should someone say something convincing enough to make me reconsider. These processes of debate, self-criticism, and self-reflexivity are extremely important to me. It’s not about me and whether I’m right or wrong; it’s about the substantive issues. I’m not married to my opinions and I don’t take criticism of them personally. In that sense, for me, nothing is sacred and I welcome spirited debate.
Commenting Policy and Safety Warnings
This blog, not that it’s that widely read, needs some caveats. It is purely for my own intellectual meanderings and academic explorations. Opinions, thoughts, philosophical excursions, assertions, etc. are mine and not those of any organization or person or institution I have had or may have in the future some kind of academic or professional connection to (all the usual caveats, basically). Much of what I write is for the sake of argument, and while I often try to be explicit by prefacing what I really think by saying “I think that” or “IMHO,” I don’t always make the distinction clear. As I believe the important thing is the arguments and their merit, this shouldn’t matter much. I would encourage readers and commenters to take the same approach and try to separate themselves from their arguments, and to respect the points of view of others.
Civil, well argued, and thoughtful comments that I happen to disagree with will be published with enthusiasm.
Abusive, hateful, and completely pointless comments will not be published (unless I find them hilarious or somehow instructive). That’s my prerogative, as it is anyone who has a blog.
At the same time, it should be noted that I do not intend this blog to be a safe space, either. I think it will be, for the most part. But I also intend to confront potentially upsetting subject matter very bluntly sometimes. So consider this a trigger and content warning for the whole blog — though I will do my best to flag posts that may be especially problematic or upsetting.
All that said, welcome — and enjoy!
And, if you’ve made it this far, let me start you off with one of my favorite posts; one that should endear you to me. ;-)
Asante sana na karibuni!
Carol / Nzigire