Starting the other way round? Reflections on my PhD journey

my PhD journey
Convivial commoning at the Comunità Rurale Diffusa’s Christmas farmers market hosted by WEGO’s project partner Punti di Vista in Bolsena, December 2019. Photo: Anna Katharina Voss

Within WEGO, I am enrolled as a non-resident PhD at ISS in The Hague while being based in Rome. The virtue of starting my PhD journey moving to the country where I will also carry out my research – Italy – is that since the very beginning, I had the chance to immerse myself into the “field”, that is to explore what is happening in the agroecological networks I want to work with. Parallel to engaging with the theory of academic literature I consider relevant to my topic on feminist political agroecologies, I could already get a glimpse of how these visions, debates and practices are taking place on the ground in Italy by participating in meetings and assemblies about self-organisation, food sovereignty, social and ecological justice in urban and rural territories, solidarity and alliance-building from below and beyond borders but also discussions around social reproduction, care and gender relations within these networks. 

“I could already get a glimpse of how
these visions, debates and practices are
taking place on the ground in Italy”

At the same time, seeing the theories and practices of feminist political ecology merge so tangibly I also came to understand how this seeing has shaped my very own-personal-positioned-situated self and meaning-making of “reality”. Now, feeling that everything is interconnected and that there are endless theoretical and methodological possibilities of approaching a topic and so many projects, initiatives and people whose stories are all worth telling, how to disentangle these complexities, select what, how and (with) who(m) to focus on and bring them into coherent pieces of academic writing? 

Women’s group sharing experiences and discussions around care-full ways of being and working together at ‘Terra e libertà’ (Land and Freedom), Fuorimercato’s national assembly on social and environmental justice in Puglia, October 2019.

I sometimes wonder how it would have been had I started my PhD elaborating the theoretical framework and research questions on a university desktop far away from the “object” and “subjects” of my research and then only set off to do my “fieldwork”, as had been my previous experience in academia. Maybe being more detached, also geographically, would have made the writing part of my proposal more easy and straightforward. And yet, I wouldn’t want to miss the observations and impressions I now have already gained moving in these networks in Italy which have given me a strong feeling that the questions I want to ask are relevant for the people I will work with. 

“I sometimes wonder how it would have been had I
started my PhD … on a university desktop far away from
the “object” and “subjects” of my research”

Reflecting back, a substantial part of my journey with WEGO so far has been about un-learning and re-learning what research can also be – a process of co-learning from the people and places we engage with, a ‘diálogo de saberes’ (‘dialogue of knowledges’) which does not aspire to be objective, impersonal or complete. I can only be grateful to be part of such an amazing research network. Nonetheless, what I have missed is the everyday exchange with other PhD peers and the encouraging working environment at the university, which is why I now came to ISS for a few months to concentrate on refining my proposal before officially starting my “fieldwork” with the actual “workers of the fields” in Italy who are cultivating fertile territories of resistant agricultures.

For the next months I look forward to an inspiring sharing of ideas within the Dutch WEGO network of mentors and PhD’s and the upcoming “Shut-Up and Write” sessions with fellow PhD students at ISS!

Anna Katharina Voss
4 March, 2020

Me participating in the working group on political ecology at food sovereignty network Genuino Clandestino’s annual spring meeting in Abruzzo, April 2019. (Retrieved from CDCA Abruzzo – Centro Documentazione sui Conflitti Ambientali, https://m.facebook.com/abruzzocdca/photos/pcb.2362257697390197/2362249890724311).

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