Many thanks to Swarthmore’s News and Information Office for this piece that has appeared on the College’s webpage. Congratulations again to Elowyn Corby!
Elowyn Corby ’13 Wins Peace and Justice Studies Thesis Award
by Jenni Lu ’16
October 21, 2013
Elowyn Corby ’13 presented her winning thesis at the Peace and Justice Studies Association’s awards banquet this past weekend.
If you want to be heard, speak up. It’s a basic concept that has driven the progression of democracy, the rise of cohesive communities, and now, Elowyn Corby’s [’13] thesis research, which recently caught the attention of the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA).
Titled “Training for Change: Moving from Theory to Practice in Adult Education for Empowerment,” Corby’s thesis garnered her the association’s 2013 Undergraduate Student Thesis Award. Corby, a peace education and political science major with a minor in conflict studies from Santa Cruz, Calif., accepted the award and presented her work this past weekend at PJSA’s annual meeting in Waterloo, Ontario.
Participation supports both the individual and the collective, according to Corby. It allows for the formation of social trust and social connection between people and within a society, and prevents communities from becoming too insular and controlling. However, participation has always been unevenly distributed.
“What we see is certain people getting heard a lot, often because they tend to participate a lot,” she says. “The government listens to those who participate. My question was, how does education tie into this? We know we need democratic skills and participatory skills. How do we get there? Is that something that can be trained?”
Corby’s hope was to determine whether activism training could reduce the inequalities that typically arise out of the most common way people develop activism skills: in the workplace.
“The experience that you accrue in the workplace is very biased along racial and socioeconomic lines,” she explains. “So if you’re developing leadership experience in the workplace, it’s much more likely that you’re a white male from a privileged socioeconomic background than you’re a person of color, or a woman, from a working class background.”
For her research, Corby chose to focus on Training for Change, an activism training organization that she had been in contact with since her freshman year at Swarthmore. Using them as a case study, she conducted 278 surveys and seven long-form interviews over the span of a year and a half.
“Statistically, Training for Change does increase [participants’] democratic confidence and how much they can engage in issues they care about across the board,” Corby says. “They engage more frequently, they attend more meetings, they run more meetings.”
However, Corby also stumbled upon a second discovery. Not only did Training for Change equalize the participatory playing field, it did so by exponentially increasing activism skills among people of color.
“Training for Change is not only increasing democratic participatory skills,” she says, “but it’s also doing it in a way that disproportionately affects communities that are much more likely to be silenced by our current democratic system. So it’s combating larger social inequalities.”
Corby’s findings have solidified her staunch belief that anyone can become an activist, and hopes that her research can compel more people to consider the inequalities found in current activist participation in a new light. It’s just a matter of channeling your passion and honing your skills.
“I think one of the things that holds activism training back is that it’s not understood very well,” she says. “It’s not seen as something that’s actually viable for facilitating and catalyzing social change. So there’s a lot of need for activism training.”
Corby credits her advisers, Associate Professor of Educational Studies Diane Anderson and Associate Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey, with providing support and encouragement. “Lee in particular spent hours and hours with me going over the data and number crunching,” Corby says. “I feel strange taking credit for this because it was all of us.”
Elowyn Corby ’13 received the Undergraduate Thesis Award from the Peace and Justice Studies Association this weekend. Sa’ed Atshan ’05 was there in Waterloo, Ontario to congratulate her.
We also learned that last year’s Graduate Thesis Award went to a Swarthmore alum, Sara Koopman, who graduated in 1993. Prof. Joy Charlton was her adviser and she was a Sociology and Anthropology major.
Dr. Koopman won the award for her geography thesis, “Making Space for Peace: International Protective Accompaniment in Colombia (2007-2009)”
Dr. Koopman is a feminist political geographer who does collaborative research with international solidarity movements to support their efforts to decolonize the relationships between global North and South. Her work also speaks to dynamics in humanitarianism, development, and peacebuilding more generally.
She has written about the movement to close the US Army’s School of the Americas, the World Social Forum, and her most recent research is on international protective accompaniment, a strategy used in conflict zones which puts people who are less at risk literally next to people who are under threat because of their work for peace and justice. The paradox of accompaniment is that it uses global systems that make some lives ‘count’ more, to build a world where everyone ‘counts’. In doing so it can both reinforce and wear away systems of inequality.
Her postdoctoral research builds on her arguments for understanding some grassroots activism as altergeopolitics by asking what an alterbiopolitics might be, and how the two might work together to foster peace, rather than war. To do so she is creating a public digital archive of stories from conflict zones in Colombia shared by international accompaniers (often as calls for action to pressure states), and engaging in a collaborative analysis with both accompaniers and those accompanied as to what worked well in those stories, with the intention of focusing on best practices for sharing stories online from conflict zones for purposes of solidarity and peace building.
Making Space for Peace: International Protective Accompaniment. 2013. Invited chapter in Geographies of Peace, ed. Fiona McConnell, Nick Megoran, and Philippa Williams. (I. B. Tauris), forthcoming.
Alter-geopolitics: Other securities are happening. 2011. Geoforum 42:3 (June), 274-284.
Let’s take peace to pieces. 2011. Political Geography 30:4 (May), 193-194. (cited 3 times)
Cutting through Topologies: Crossing Lines at the School of the Americas. 2008. Antipode. 40:5, 825-847.
Imperialism Within: Can the Master’s Tools Bring Down Empire? / Imperialismo Adentro: Pueden las Herramientas del Amo Derribar el Imperio? 2008. Acme: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies. 7:2, 1-27. (cited 21 times)
A liberatory space? Rumors of rapes at the 5th World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, 2005. 2005. Special Issue of Journal of International Women’s Studies on Women and the World Social Forum, 8:3 (April), 149-163. (cited 7 times)
Bringing Torture Home: Women Shutting Down the School of the Americas. 2006. Field note in special issue on the Global and the Intimate. Women’s Studies Quarterly. 34: 1-2 (Spring/Summer) 90-93.
Congratulations to both Sara Koopman and Elowyn Corby for their continuing contributions to the field of Peace and Conflict Studies.