GPP Student Researchers Among the New Generation of Poverty Scholars

This semester, the Blum Center for Developing Economies welcomed five students from the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) to assist Professor Ananya Roy and research fellow Emma Shaw Crane in the development of a book on the recently held Territories of Poverty conference.

Luis Flores

“We’re doing research in reverse,” explained student researcher Stephanie Ullrich. “We’re going from practice to theory.”

newsletter-ullrich-with-caption300pxThis semester, the Blum Center for Developing Economies welcomed five students from the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) to assist Professor Ananya Roy and research fellow Emma Shaw Crane in the development of a book on the recently held Territories of Poverty conference. These student researchers are not motivated by an imperative to publish, nor are they seeking a key to the gates of the academy; rather, these young scholars embody a paradigmatic shift that is at the core of the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) minor. Their research approach is informed by the contextual understandings developed in lecture halls and reading rooms but cedes formative authority to the inhabitants of the territories of poverty.

Stephaine Ullrich, a senior pursuing degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies and Media Studies, will work along with Anh-Thi Le, Aviya McGuire, Somaya Abdelgany, and Rebecca Peters, on the development of a book to be published next semester. In addition to a deep interest in global citizenship, Ullrich and her student colleagues share a new outlook on development practice and research.

Ullrich, who has worked on a variety of initiatives in Spain, Guatemala, northern India, and Uganda, has entered academic research after a great deal of in-the-field experience. While in India, Ullrich worked for Tata, one of the largest companies in India. During her time there, she conducted research aimed to increase the role of women in the management of water wells. She then completed her GPP practice experience in Uganda, where she worked with the Uganda Village Project on its “Healthy Villages” project. Ullrich worked with community-based organizations on efforts to increase virus awareness.

Student research assistant Rebecca Peters, a senior in International Development & Economics, shares Ullrich’s community-oriented approach. “I didn’t say, ‘I’m here to help you,’ but instead said, ‘let’s have a conversation,’” explained Peters, recounting her research approach in Cochabamba, Bolivia. During the summer of 2012, Peters conducted interviews and surveys in Bolivia to document rural access to water and sanitation services. She chose to work with Agua Para el Pueblo (water for the village), largely because of the value this NGO places on community relationships and participation. This commitment to listen rather than impose is among the transformative innovations of the GPP experience.

The cautiousness displayed by Peters and Ullrich results from exposure to the multitude of failed systems that together create conditions of poverty. The fear of inadvertently reinforcing these structures through their fieldwork is itself an attribute of the new generation of poverty scholars. Yet Peters and Ullrich do not allow consciousness to become disabling.

“Not becoming paralyzed is something that the minor really helps you with,” explained Peters. She reasoned that the GPP minor’s coursework on the ethics and morality of fieldwork allowed her to gather research while challenging north-south development paradigms.

In addition to their research with Professor Roy, Peters and Ullrich co-teach a student-led deCal course on water and international human rights. In their second semester of teaching, Peters and Ullrich expose 30 students to international discourses of human rights and water and their relationship to public policy, anthropology, sociology, economics, and even philosophy. In addition to examining case studies, Ullrich and Peter’s course bring in guest lecturers, and concludes with capstone group presentations.

The new generation of poverty scholars is bound neither by disciplinary borders, linear development theories, nor dichotomous understandings of poverty. Perhaps, more than progressing from practice to theory, this young group of scholars is forcing theory and practice to develop not as a binary, but together as one.

Visual Notetaking: A New Way to Learn in the GPP Minor

Abby Van Muijen discusses the Visual Notetaking DeCal and the ways in which this learned skill can improve the learning experience both in and outside of the classroom.

Christina Gossmann

Abby Van Muijen graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 with a major in urban design. Now she works at the Blum Center as a Visual Communication Specialist, developing a new learning tool for the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) minor and teaching a class on visual notetaking.

newsletter-abbyWhat is visual notetaking? Regardless of whether you’re putting a box around a word, improving your handwriting or sketching out entire pages, visual notetaking is all about breaking away from the conventional structure of notetaking that we’ve all fallen so helplessly into. We’re imagining alternatives to the spiral bound notebooks we all have–the ones filled with nothing but lines and lines of words that we will undoubtedly throw away at the end of the semester.

How did you start visual note-taking? I actually started visual notetaking while I was studying abroad. I was listening to guest lectures, working on projects, visiting sites and being given a lot of information, but the structure of the program made me feel like I didn’t need to remember everything. So I only wrote down the things I really wanted to remember. I would write words really bold or draw boxes around them and spent a lot of time doodling, drawing and listening. At the end of the trip, I had a sketchbook full of just the things I wanted to remember. But more than just having pages that sparked a lot of interest aesthetically, I felt like I was learning much more efficiently. I didn’t have to re-teach myself everything I had copied down in lecture anymore. I could look back at the visuals I had made and remember what I was thinking when I made them and studying felt more like reading a comic book than painfully trying to cram information into my brain.

newsletter-notetaking-01What is The GPP coloring book? It is a compilation of all of my visual notes from Ananya Roy’s GPP 115 course from last fall when I took the class. This fall, students have been experimenting with it as a learning tool. Half of the book provides a visual outline of the lecture material so that students can sit in lecture and focus on understanding the main concepts, rather than worry about copying down every detail. The other half of the book consists of pages designed for students to fill in their own thoughts, questions, opinions and any other details that they feel are significant–the things they want to remember. The goal of the coloring book is not to get students to start bringing crayons to class, but rather to go beyond the black and white information they are presented with and add a bit of “color” of their own.

You teach a class on visual note-taking at Berkeley. Who takes this class and how do you go about teaching? I took my first drawing class my sophomore year in college. On the first day, they told us to spend 15 minutes drawing whatever we wanted. I drew a tree that looked like a stick of cotton candy with a small, slightly ill-looking stick figure that I initially intended to be myself, but out of embarrassment, put a top hat on and labeled as Abraham Lincoln. Needless to say, it was an incredibly unimpressive effort. That was two years ago. I wasn’t magically bestowed with the ability to take notes the way I do. It was something I practiced every day, and taught myself how to do. I started Visual Notetaking 101 because I realized that this is a skill that people can learn. Visual notetaking can revolutionize your entire outlook on your education, as it did for me. Seeing your thoughts and ideas and opinions come to life, even if just on paper, is empowering. Rather than feeling sleepy and confused at the end of a lecture and having gained nothing more than a headache and a few pieces of binder paper that I won’t look at until the midterm. I now walk out of lecture feeling brilliant, creative and accomplished every day, holding on to a few pages of paper that I might cry if I lost. And that’s what I came to UC Berkeley to do, to be inspired each and every day not just by my professors, but my myself and my classmates.

newsletter-notetaking-02 How does the class work? Visual Notetaking 101 is designed so that everyone can participate. We have about 150 students from all different majors, ages, drawing abilities and walks of life. We meet every week for an hour and a half to take on a new element of visual learning beyond just visual notetaking, everything from fonts and page layouts to engaging presentation slides and résumé design. Each class starts off with a review, a quick lecture, a series of workshop activities, and for homework, we practice more. For the final review at the end of the semester students must come up with a project that is visual, academic and awesome. Last year’s projects were absolutely phenomenal–I’d encourage anyone interested to come check them out this year.

The Final Review for Visual Notetaking 101 will take place on December 4th in the Blum Center classrooms.

Tweeting to the Masses: A New Podium for Global Poverty Discourse

How UC Berkeley professors, Ananya Roy and Tara Graham, are using social media in the classroom to help students become more engaged and foster a new academic community where all voices are heard.

Javier Kordi

Twitter has played a critical role in helping oppressed citizens challenge totalitarian regimes around the globe. Being able to transmit messages to a global audience within seconds, the site has led to a phenomenon that social scientists call “ambient awareness:” the notion that we can possess omnipresent knowledge of the whereabouts of friends, celebrities, organizations, and most recently, the course of history—all through 140-character blurbs of information known as “tweets.”

The micro-blogging service helped overthrow Mubarak in Egypt and challenge information blackouts in China, but in Ananya Roy’s Global Poverty and Practice class, it took on quite a different hue. While the sight of 700 students using their gadgets during class may resemble anarchy for some, a new sort of classroom community was being fostered through the use of Twitter.

newsletter-twitter_photoProfessor Roy described her mission as establishing “a democratic means of communication, [to] change how we learn and how we interact.” No longer restrained by the convention of hand-raising or one’s shyness, students were given the opportunity to have their ideas heard. In the realm of Twitter, students are free to exchange ideas, challenge others, and even alter the course of the lecture.

As Professor Roy delivered her lecture on Jeffery Sachs and William Easterly, a live Twitter feed was projected on the screen behind her. Grouped under the hash-tag #GlobalPov, a mosaic of ideas and commentary materialized behind Professor Roy, back dropping her lecture and adding a new dimension of interaction.

Tara Graham, the architect of this project, explains how it seeks to “encourage a many-to-many lecture”, where “the feed becomes the focal point” of the classroom. Chipping away at the tradition of hierarchical education, the Twitter project restructures social relations within the classroom.

While most professors have chosen to outright ban social networking during class, the approach undertaken by Professors Roy and Graham reflects a new ideology. Tara argues that “the idea in pedagogy is figuring out how to reach the ‘millennial generation’. Instead of complaining about these tools, the faculty needs to start confronting the tools.” This is particularly relevant in the context of the Global Poverty and Practice curriculum, where students are being trained to be active members in the public debates surrounding development. Being a public medium, Twitter allows anyone to join the conversation, but also forces Berkeley students to think of themselves as public scholars— everything they post falls under the scrutiny of the global community.

This is certainly uncharted territory. In the digital age, student’s engagement with scholars shouldn’t be limited to black-and-white texts on the tables of Doe Library. While students discussed the debate between Sachs and Easterly on the #GlobalPov Twitter feed, they were a mere “@” symbol away from sending their messages directly to these scholars’ personal Twitter accounts. Professor Graham concludes: “It can do for academia what it has done for celebrity culture… how people feel like they have a direct connection with the celebrity. Academics don’t have to be so distant… there can be more of a connection.”

Ultimately, Twitter has the ability to disintegrate barriers and foster a new academic community where all voices are heard—even those thousands of miles away from Wheeler Hall.


Theory “Rides the Bus” at the Territories of Poverty Conference

At the Territories of Poverty Conference, Emma Shaw Crane discusses how to challenge traditional approaches to tackling poverty by leaving the academic setting and going into the field to ensure that theory “rides the bus”.

Christina Gossmann

“When people ask me what I do and I tell them that I work on poverty, I get one of two responses,” Emma Shaw Crane told a room full of attendees during her closing remarks at the Territories of Poverty conference. “One answer is ‘Oh my God, I love KIVA [a non-profit microfinance institution]! I actually have this woman that I’m lending five dollars to every month’ or I get the raised eyebrows and ‘Oh, how is that going?’”

newsletter-emmavertical The audience chuckled, and Shaw Crane continued to explain that these common reactions represented the often limited scope of thought about poverty scholarship.

The interdisciplinary, intergenerational two-day conference took place on the 14th and 15th of September and was hosted by the Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Department of City and Regional Planning. In two panels on Friday and one panel on Saturday morning, 12 academics from different disciplines, each with a unique set of experiences and opinions, worked on expanding the definition of poverty scholarship. The discussion was built around three major themes: new paradigms of the welfare state, the ethics of encounter and geographies of penality and risk.

Working at the intersection of these three themes, Shaw Crane was not afraid to challenge traditional poverty scholarship and the scholars who had influenced her throughout her academic and professional career. As an undergraduate at the University of California Berkeley, she was surprised to learn that “experts on poverty” had often learned about poverty in an elite environment, a trend that Shaw Crane felt necessary to change. Instead of staying in the classroom, theory should dare leave academia to enter the field; in essence, theory should “ride the bus,” Shaw Crane suggested, borrowing the metaphor from poet Ruth Forman. Shaw Crane decided to pursue the minor in Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) because it undermined the hierarchy of top-down poverty scholarship.

“The minor is a project of dislocation,” Shaw Crane said. “Because it sends undergraduates, me included, into the field to engage in the messy and contradictory and complex work of poverty alleviation and the work of building power with community organizations and government institutions.”

Shaw Crane’s own path since graduating from UC Berkeley can be seen as a testament to this interdisciplinary approach of theory and practice. After receiving the University Medal, an award given to the student with the most outstanding academic record, Shaw Crane researched the impact of the new healthcare system in the lives of families living with HIV in Bogotá, Colombia as a Fulbright fellow. She returned to the Bay Area to work in a community health clinic and organizing project in Oakland, until she joined the Blum Center as a research fellow earlier this year. Together with Professor Ananya Roy, Shaw Crane co-directed the Territories of Poverty conference, a get-together of her “intellectual dream team, an inter-generational, inter-disciplinary wish-list,” as she jokingly referred to the panelists.

According to Shaw Crane, the conference is also a project of dislocation, from studying “the bodies and places and behaviors and choices of the often pathologized poor” to examining and challenging institutions that manage and govern poverty. Poverty then, explained Shaw Crane, is no longer a problem of specific people, “for whom the rest of us can choose to engage with, with benevolence and often tremendous self-importance,” but poverty is a larger process that reflects how capitalism works, how inequality is produced, spatialized and governed and how the middle-class makes and unmakes itself.

In her closing remarks, Shaw Crane brought attention to another inspirational piece within this new paradigm of poverty scholarship that was introduced by Michael Katz, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. Not only do the conference and GPP minor provide specific implementation strategies, but they show that the gap between theory and implementation is filled with power, “very serious and constructive and problematic and complex, but nonetheless, power,” Shaw Crane said.

“That is something I need to write on a Post-It note and carry around with me for the rest of my life!” With these words, she looked into the audience of practicing poverty scholars and poverty scholars to be. Many heads nodded in agreement and numerous hands took the note down, to make sure not to forget.

It is building awareness around the notion of power and possibility—through this conference and the minor—that enables new frontiers in poverty scholarship.

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