This week we have a guest post from Mika Schroder, a third year PhD student at the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance. Her key interests pertain to the recognition and safeguarding of community rights, knowledges and perspectives within decision-making processes. Her research explores the meaning and practice of local actor participation within biodiversity law from the perspective of spatial justice and ethics. She is also a writer for IISD-ENB where she reports on international environment and sustainable development negotiations. She loves being outdoors, whether its cycling, climbing, trekking/running, swimming, kayaking or simply being. When at home she reads, knits and tends to her indoor garden. She is currently based in Oban.
My original plan for this post was to offer a short summary (what I did, why I did it, etc) of a fieldwork trip I did to Montreal this past November which SGSAH kindly provided funded for. However, I’ve decided to take a different route, for reasons I’m sure will be clear towards the end. I’d like to instead speak about the relationships and connections that I’ve made along the way of my research and learning journey as a PhD student, and what they have come to mean to me.
Attending international negotiations on biodiversity protection, which form the sites of my fieldwork, has not only been a way to collect research data. It´s also been a way of (re)learning and looking afresh at these spaces. More importantly, it’s been a way of meeting people; fellow researchers and activists, journalists and reporters, and leaders in the movements fighting for their rights as youth, women, local community representatives and Indigenous Peoples. Under traditional research labels these would fall under the category of ‘interviewees’. But to me they became so much more. Over the weeks spent at UN negotiations, they became close acquaintances, fellows in arms, and some even became friends. I have immense respect for their work and the time (seldom paid) they offer to these movements, to which they often hold a personal stake.
Making these connections, meeting these people, seeing and hearing from them first hand, has had an immense impact on how I approach international law (both as a research topic and as a thing of this world). It has also contributed to my understanding of related ideas concerning land rights, human-nature connections, governance structures, knowledge systems, decision-making and so on. It’s also influenced how I perceive myself, my role as a researcher and aspiring activist and ally, and the aim of my research project and work outside of the PhD.
Coming from a discipline where its often implied and expected that a researcher be separated from their research, I have broken this rule by making explicit the ways that my work is not only personal, but also in alignment to particular movements that I believe in. Having committed to a research methodology which is grounded in decolonising ethics and research agendas, the curriculum, conservation practice and international law, how could I not? I read, interpret, write and make decisions as a person, as a collection of experiences, values, hopes and dreams. Connecting and speaking with people is a form of learning, a way of shifting your understandings of the world and your own experiences. As such, my empirical and theoretical work are not separate, linear activities. They are squiggles on a page which overlap and intertwine. Research doesn’t happen in isolation, nor should it. There are bigger things going on than us and our worlds, and we are merely drops in the sea of change. Drops that hopefully lead to puddles, which lead to streams, rivers, rapids, waterfalls, which eventually lead to the seas that enact the changes we need to see in order to right the wrongs of the past and of today. As I reported on from my November 2018 trip, [international negotiations] are spaces of defeat and sometimes even injustice, yet they are also spaces of hard-won victories. Included in these victories is our existence, our very presence in these spaces, and the presence of those fighting for their rights and for better and more just protection of earths biodiversity.
So, my fieldwork has been more than data collection. It’s been a learning experience, a way of finding community or connecting with the ones to which I hope to be a friend and ally. It’s been about broadening my perspective of the world. My knowledge and awareness have deepened and my understanding has become more nuanced. And for this I can only thank the people who I have met along the way, who have offered me their time, believed in my project, taken me under their wing, seen in me a friend and ally, but also those who have simply tolerated/accepted my presence within spaces to which I wasn’t privy until they told me otherwise. My deepest thanks also go to my supervisors Saskia Vermeylen and Elisa Morgera who support me in this creative learning experience, and to SGSAH for providing the financial support that has made it possible.
I would like to dedicate this post to Ghanimat Azhdari, who was a force to be reckoned with. She was a proud member of the Qashqai tribe and a fierce, passionate and powerful activist and leader. She was warm, funny, sharp, dedicated and worked passionately for local community conservation projects both at home and abroad. She was also a fellow PhD colleague across seas and what we’ve seen of her work so far I’m sure was only a fraction, the very beginning, of what she would’ve brought to the fight for indigenous rights and the improved and more just protection of earths biodiversity. Her passing is a huge loss to the movements that she was part of, as well as to her family and friends whose presence she always brightened. I hold them in my thoughts as I celebrate her life and mourn her death.
Cover photo by Alireza Javaheri via Wikimedia Commons(CC BY 3.0)