V’cenza is a PhD researcher at the National University of Ireland Galway. She is also a visual artist and activist engaging with ecofeminist and environmental justice issues. V’cenza’s research and activism has covered issues from divestment from fossil fuels, reproductive justice, period poverty, food sovereignty, refugee solidarity, feminist geopolitics and feminist political ecology. She is deeply influenced by her experiences in non-hierarchical activist spaces, were she engaged with procedures to organize in anti-oppressive ways. Hoping to bring these insights to her academic work, V’cenza explores methods that avoid an extractive research practice, through collaborative, activist and creative methodologies.
Currently her research explores resistance to extractivism in the North of Ireland, where a Canadian mining company seeks to open a gold mine in the Sperrin Mountains. V’cenza took part in the ‘Extracting Us’ exhibition as part of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) conference in 2020. This contribution focused on resistance in the Sperrins.
FIELDWORK Q&A – October 2020
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
Fieldwork represents deep learning with the world to me. Every encounter, from a conversation, a walk in the landscape, joining a protest, offers a chance to co-create knowledge with the world. In terms of my artistic practice, painting ‘en-plein air’ has been central to all my work. Being totally present in a place, capturing the light, colour and shape while battling with the wind, the rain or enjoying the warmth of the sun on your skin is what builds my artistic practice. There’s something sensual about just being in a landscape that challenges dominant masculinist approaches to the outdoors, where the mountain must be conquered, we must reach the summit. I want to apply this philosophy to my geographic practice too. Countering this all-seeing objective researcher, I want to follow feminist geographers and theorists who have highlighted the need for embodied, emotional, self-reflective encounters with fieldwork.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
Fieldwork is a central part of my research, it’s those real world encounters that I can learn from, engage with and be with the world around me. Being with is an important part of this process for me, the embodied experience of being in a particular environment or with a particular person or people creates both the basis of my academic and artistic practice. In an academic sense fieldwork has involved engaged activist action research and participatory methods. For me this helps me remember that the ‘field’ is not somewhere out there we have to go to to extract the ‘raw materials’ of data to bring back to our institutions to ‘process’ in a very neocolonial pattern. Rather, the field is made and remade through relationships and power dynamics, co-constituted by the researcher, human and non-human participants. In my current work as a PhD researcher, I’ve been involved in the community as an activist before I have even started any formal ‘fieldwork’. In this case critical reflexivity is necessary to acknowledge that relationships precede research encounters, and thus requires understanding that time in the ‘field’ is not so clearly defined. All experiences will shape writing up and analysis, therefore I have to be open and acknowledge the influence of information learned outside the formal fieldwork stages.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
With a research project critiquing extractivism, it is paramount that the fieldwork is not ‘extractive’. The importance of developing relationships, collaboration and reciprocity will be key to ensuring research is not exploitative. Being there and just listening before any interviews are held or the tape recorder comes out is really important to me. Although it’s impossible to get rid of those power-imbalances totally, I think these approaches can help minimise them. My PhD project actively engages in a feedback process which is vital to the participatory nature of fieldwork. Feedback sessions have been built into my research plan so that I can incorporate participants’ review of the research. I’m also using a photovoice methodology, so when discussing, theming and narrating participants’ photographs of their experiences of resisting extractivism, participant analysis is included beyond the fieldwork stage of the research as these themes become the structure of my PhD. Also, making sketches and paintings while in a place can help me capture thoughts and feelings that go beyond words, they later become useful in helping me remember the emotive, sensual and embodied experiences I’ve had while doing research.
PhD – Resistance to extractivism in the Sperrin Mountains through a feminist environmental justice lens, 2019 – 2023
This project uses an artist, activist, participatory methodology to explore resistance to extractivism by making visible the worldviews, experiences and practices of those engaged in anti-mining activism in the Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone. In doing so this project aims to highlight voices from frontline communities that are facing environmental injustice, foregrounding their resistance and agency and countering narratives of passive victims in rural peripheral areas exploited by neoliberal extraction. Further, it aims to foreground situated and local communities’ knowledges, practices and counter-narratives to extractivism and to advance scholarship and policy by contributing to a gap in the understanding of how extractive processes and resistance play out in Global North contexts, especially in the North of Ireland with its unique socio-environmental setting.