Who would have said that researching could be so messy?
Hmm…Probably, 99,5% of researchers, but I don’t know them anyway. Now, I am experiencing it on my own skin. Sometimes so exciting, sometimes so confusing. Last Friday I was at the police station. Now I am standing in front of the pages of a notebook full of uncomprehensive circles, arrows and brackets. If we take into account the very many ups and downs research entails, could it be considered as a form of extreme sport?
I have been almost 2 months in Uganda, and many of my assumptions regarding my research have either proven wrong or become far more complex than what I expected. As the point of departure, I had taken the ‘sisterhood’, which essentially refers to an ‘alternative form of social network which enables individual women to move away from dependency on the traditional social relations available to them’ based on collective action and political solidarity (Sweetman 2013, 218), as a core element to understand the room of manoeuvre of Ugandan women in the context of in their daily life in Kampala.
The internship at Akina Mama wa Afrika, which is one of the most active organisations in the country when it comes to women’s rights, was to provide me with access to some of these women. However, the contribution has become far more significant. To be honest, this space is in constant change…And my research with it! Been deeply grateful for the warm welcoming received, its members have integrated me from the very first day in many of the activities they undertake as organisation. Symposiums, meetings, visits to social-action projects, movie premieres…Even more disconcerting, I was introduced in numerous WhatsApp groups composed of both the organisation staff members and the alumnae that have passed by its Women-Leadership programmes. More importantly, it has provided me with access to the feminist circles created and encouraged by the organisation through active conversations and gatherings.
Nevertheless, all this activity originates in a single, localised place: the office. Such a purple space serves most of the day as working space while it becomes a feminist political forum at lunchtime. As a researcher and good eater, it is my favourite time of the day. Phone in hand, discussions around the living-room table occur and engage many of the staff members. It is my peephole through which I observe the current affairs affecting not only Uganda but also the world. Particularly interesting, most of the news or topics of discussion are brought by Twitter, which apparently stands as the main source of information that nurtures and inflames the conversations. That is why I decided to incorporate it as a second level of my research: it contains many of the interactions between the most active members, but especially, the connections with other feminists in Uganda and beyond. Illuminated by the prodigious contribution of my friend and confidant, Alma, my first observations and active listening led me to distinguish 3 different types of ‘sisterhood’ networks: the formally organized sisterhood, referring to the networks established by an organisation (in this case, Akina Mama wa Afrika) between the participants of their programmes; the semi-formally organized sisterhood, pointing out to the networks influenced by such organisation but not expressly generated by an explicit objective of the organisation’s programmes, and finally, the informally-organized sisterhood, composed of feminists that interact with each other with nothing more than a common identity and ideology. To materialize them, I attached one or two apparently examples to each of them with the promise of coming back to them.
Oh, dear. While I am writing I realise how hurried I felt to designate concepts and categories to my untrained, researching eyes. Ironically enough, I was trying to make sense of what I was seeing without observing! To prove these first assumptions, I started looking closely and writing many of those things that had gone unnoticed. I am still in the process. Interviewing, transcribing, observing, eating and laughing at lunchtime is part of it. The careful reading of the WhatsApp conversations occurring every Thursday and the Twitter threads is still on the list.
Can you tell how crazy the journey has been so far?
Well…Relax, sit back and enjoy.