Zareen Thomas, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut, USA, visited RAPOLITICS in Denmark for the whole month of June 2016. Here she unveils a bit about her reflections on our work.
How Did You Get in Touch with RAPOLITICS?
I initiated contact with members of the RAPOLITICS team in February 2012, during my first year of graduate school, in the hopes of securing Bolivian hip-hop contacts in El Alto, where I would eventually conduct research and where RAPOLITICS had worked the year prior. Over the years, I remained in touch with Lucas, one of the co-founders and project leaders within the organization, and in October 2015, while I was conducting my dissertation fieldwork in El Alto and La Paz, I was finally able to meet him and fellow RAPOLITICS board member Camilla.
As a complement to my research in Bolivia about hip-hop, identity politics, and grassroots organizations, I decided to visit RAPOLITICS in Copenhagen during the summer of 2016 to better understand their partnership with the Bolivian youth organization KAI (Khana Aru Imanthata), and to learn about their projects in Denmark and abroad. As a sociocultural anthropologist, my work is grounded in ethnographic research methods – principally participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Over the course of my stay in Denmark, I conducted ten interviews, attended the organization’s events and activities, and worked daily in the RAPOLITICS office with the secretariat, in the process learning about their organizational and operational dynamics.
What Do You Think about the Way RAPOLITICS Seek to Engage Young People?
As a grassroots organization, RAPOLITICS subverts traditional top-down development initiatives, seeking within their work to collaborate with ¬– rather than merely for – local community organizations around the world in equal partnerships. At the same time, as an organization, they are aware of the privileges that emerge with being an NGO in a Nordic nation, where access to governmental and civil society funds for cultural activities may be accessed more easily than in many other countries. Drawing from their backgrounds in education, leadership, music, and project management, team members develop and implement projects with equal input from their partner organizations in Latin America and the Middle East.
These international organization partners are vital for many reasons, among which, they possess critical knowledge of local cultural contexts. Working with these organizations, diverse groups of young people manage to navigate – with some obstacles, and countless successes – local governmental structures, community needs, and event productions. The tangible results, which emerge in the form of performances, cultural centers, studios, and workshops, speak to the passion and dedication of all those involved. However equally as important are the processes of artistic production itself, which involve new intercultural encounters, and facilitate knowledge and more nuanced understandings of diverse cultures and peoples. These processes, allow participants on all sides of the exchange to reflect upon notions of difference, belonging, art, power, and citizenship in a globalized world.
Within RAPOLITICS’ projects in Denmark and abroad, youth are constructed as agential rights-bearers and leaders of their own development. Young people are encouraged to speak on national and international affairs – about refugees, Danish culture, indigeneity, political protests, etc. – and in doing so, develop critical thinking skills to reflect upon their lives and the lives of others. Although youth around the world make themselves heard and are frequently at the forefront of social and political changes, many are disillusioned by traditional political processes. RAPOLITICS however promotes the idea of “everyday politics” where decision-making, reflection, and participation become political acts in which youth may assert themselves as citizens and leaders within their communities.
What Are Your Plans after Visting Denmark?
Over the course of the next year, I will be analyzing my data from Denmark – as well as from my field sites in Colombia and Bolivia – aiming to shed light on the influence of institutions on young people’s artistic productions, moral considerations, and citizenship participation. I anticipate that such an analysis will offer important insight into the value of art initiatives and civil society platforms. I hope to highlight the tireless work of organization leaders, youth participants, and artists in these diverse settings, who are all seeking to contribute to more just and peaceful futures.
Read more about Zareen´s research here: Rap Music is the CNN of the Barrio
About the author: Zareen Thomas is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut. Her research was made possible through grants from Fulbright IIE, the Inter-American Foundation, as well UConn’s Human Rights Institute, CLAS, and El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Latin American and Caribbean Studies. All views expressed are her own and do not represent the views of the aforementioned institutes, programs or the U.S. Department of State.