“Seen Through a Spatial Lens … ”: Interview with Joshua B. Forrest
This interview is part of the series “Seen Through a Spatial Lens … – Spatializations in Global Times”. The series presents the guests invited by the Collaborative Research Centre 1199 “Processes of Globalization Under the Global Condition” at the University of Leipzig. The short interviews combine a peek at the scholars’ research with an invitation to creatively reflect upon the centre’s focus on spatializations. Enjoy reading!
The first interview is with Joshua B. Forrest, associate professor and department chair of history and political science at La Roche College in Pittsburgh (US). Joshua B. Forrest received a PhD in political science and public administration from the University of Wisconsin, where he also studied political science and French area studies. Joshua Forrest has researched resistance against pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial intervention in Guinea-Bissau for more than twenty years. He is the author of Lineages of State Fragility. Rural Civil Society in Guinea-Bissau and Subnationalism in Africa: Ethnicity, Alliances, and Politics.
In three sentences, what do you research and which questions guide your research?
Three broad questions which guide my research include (among others): What types of local resistance take place in the face of external attempts to gain access to lands and natural resources? Does political decentralization represent a viable alternative to protect the local autonomy of towns and villages? To what extent are sub-national, regional movements in Africa monoethnic or multiethnic? In previous decades I have explored such questions carrying out empirical fieldwork in Guinea-Bissau and Namibia; more recently I have aimed to write comparative studies including other nations and other world areas.
What motivates you in your research? Which personal experiences encourage you to continue your research?
Permit me to answer this on two levels. At the level of internal personal motivation, I am mostly motivated by my interest in better understanding how people, both as individuals and as members of groups or collectivities, struggle for their own sense of freedom, fulfilment, and autonomy. At the level of intellectual inquiry, I am fascinated by the ways in which different disciplines – political science (the area of my PhD), history, anthropology, economics, geography, and sociology – each approach these research issues and how each discipline offers insight based on differing but often-complimentary perspectives. Discussions with local government officials, with peasants, students, and working class people in Africa, Europe, and the U.S. throughout several decades convinced me of the importance of a multidisciplinary, multilevel approach.
Which key insights from your research do you consider to be the most surprising for general audiences? Why do you believe this to be the case?
Perhaps the finding that generally receives the most surprise is that all people are NOT alike: all individuals, communities, societies do not have the same needs, goals, desires, or dreams. Even defining “needs” can differ dramatically between communities or individuals. This is surprising to many. I came to conclude that there is no single “objective” definition of “needs” – much less human or social priorities or goals – thus the importance of relative and comparative analysis, and of appreciating historical and social context and local specificity. The one universal value is the quest for autonomous decision-making – even if that leads to abiding by group decision-making, people still want to have the freedom to make that decision autonomously.
Seen through a spatial lens, which processes of spatialization – understood as a central dimension and result of social actions – are particularly relevant in your research? Why?
The ways in which different local communities respond to challenges over local control of natural resources is best viewed through the lens of spatialization, because it takes into account multiple social influences and actors as well as territorial and historical dimensions – all keys to appreciating the great variety of local reactions to these challenges in differing communities and regions.
Let’s take a look from the future! Which processes of spatialization in the early 21st century were crucial for society in 2050?
I think that it will be clear, looking back from 2050, that the social resistance to and policy decisions regarding the prevention of – as well as the promotion of – global warming will prove to have been the most crucial processes. This would be made clear by examining the spatialization of control over natural resources (especially freshwater).
What role could science – and your research – have played in this development and how do you think this could have happened?
Scientific findings regarding global warming will have increasingly exposed the dangers of current warming trends but will also have been disputed as part of the enormous struggle among social actors for control of the natural environment. My own research, in a very small and all-too-indirect way, may help to reveal some ways in which global warming contributes to local level outcomes of struggles over the spatialization of natural resource management.
Citation: – Interview with Joshua B. Forrest, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 13.04.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/6223