#PHDstory | Pedro Silva Rocha Lima
What is your research on and where are you conducting it (what stage you are at, what department and university, where you conduct your research?
Last September (2018) I started a PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. My topic is about how global humanitarianism, which usually happens in situations of armed conflict (or natural disaster), is being deployed in places of everyday violence. In particular, I am looking at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its Safer Access initiative in Brazil’s large cities (and mainly within favelas).
Why did you choose this topic of research?
Since my undergraduate studies I was fascinated by humanitarianism, both because of its strong moral appeal today everywhere, and because of its inherent contradictions or “aporias,” which made it a great object of study. When I found out about the ICRC’s work in Brazil I became very intrigued because it is not the “typical” operational setting for the organization.
What contribution your research is going to add?
There has been a lot of research about humanitarianism when it serves to substitute the state in the provision of health care and other services; so usually countries where the state lacks resources or is undergoing war. That is not really the case in Brazil, and I want to see how humanitarianism – and its expertise particularly – operates when it is deployed instead to support state apparatuses.
Tell us a little more about your research and it’s significance – Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years from now?
In the past 15 or so years there has been an emerging field of anthropology of humanitarianism, and parts of it has been in constructive dialogue with UN agencies, MSF, ICRC and others. I am hoping to make a meaningful contribution to that area and hopefully continue into academia after my PhD. Conducting research in a non-academic research environment (e.g. think tank) is another option.
What do you think can be improved in higher education and participation in order to encourage more people to conduct research that makes a change?
One of the things that could be done is rethink the “managerialist” turn we’ve had in academia in the past years. There has been too much of a focus on assessing research in terms of flaky indicators like numbers of citations or articles published in “high impact journals.” We need to push for new ways to assess academic departments, maybe ones that include aspects related to “change,” like social impact, for instance. But that’s just a suggestion, that would be an enormous task in itself.
What inspires you as a person and a researcher?
What got me into International Relations for my bachelor’s, and then Anthropology for the PhD, was a deep curiosity about difference. Connected to that, there is also a feeling of empathy and a desire to positively impact other people’s lives.
Is there anything you would like to share with us regarding a change of perspective or belief you had during your PhD journey?
I think it is still too early in that journey to be able to say something meaningful about that! I can only say I try to always remain open to different perspectives, even if they seriously contradict something I’ve been working on.
What are the challenges and benefits of your type of research and topic?
Ethnographic research, which is something like a defining feature of Anthropology, is unique because it is based on long-term immersion, 12 months for my PhD, in a specific setting. No other method affords such intimacy and close way of getting to know the everyday lives of people. The inherent challenges there are related to ethics, how you present your findings in writing (you may want to avoid making informants feel “betrayed”), and how to gain access.
PhD is a big commitment, what would you like to say to aspiring researchers?
Make sure you really like academic reading and writing first, because you will do a lot of it. And also be sure to be passionate about your topic – you’ll work with it for 4+ years after all.
Where can people follow you and your work (social media accounts, website, LinkedIn etc)?
I am starting to use Twitter as my “academic” social media, so feel free to follow me there @pedrosrlima
“I really enjoyed learning about Pedro’s work and believe that his contribution will be very valuable in regards to how humanitarian work is doing in Brazil which can help identify strengths and weakness that can be further addressed. Fieldwork in areas that are in need of development can reveal to us what work is actually useful in order to affect policies.
Pedro is a great person with so much passion for humanitarian work. I believe he will make great contributions to his area of research. Part of making a change is connecting with like-minded people.
Follow Pedro to learn more about his work and to create a larger circle of intellectuals who are doing their bit of making our earth a better place.”