CRES Graduate Spotlight--Christian Alvarado (History of Consciousness)

January 13, 2020


An interview with Jane Komori, also a CRES DE in the Department of History of Consciousness

JK: You're a PhD candidate in the History of Consciousness Department with a Designated Emphasis in CRES. What does this interdisciplinary formation offer you that you might not have in a more traditional academic setting?

CA: The interdisciplinary formations that I have been able to work within through my embeddedness in both HistCon and CRES allow me to traverse exceptionally diverse constellations of thought in my research. As someone with a disciplined historical background, the multiplicity of intellectual traditions that inhabit these programs has broadened my work in a way that studying in a more traditional setting would have precluded. As a historian of Africa, education, and gender (three relatively marginalized fields within the historical discipline), I’ve been able to ask questions and pursue lines of inquiry that would likely have been either structurally or disciplinarily impossible elsewhere.


JK: You recently completed your Qualifying Exams. Congratulations! What did your writing for the exams include? And what's next for you and your research?

CA: Thanks! My exams included an introduction to the project, two draft dissertation chapters, and a prospectus. The first chapter explores the academic work of Jomo Kenyatta in relation to two things: the rise of the Kikuyu Independent School network (which operated as a grassroots alternative to mission education in central Kenya during the 1920s) and contemporary anthropological thought in Great Britain. I examine the manner in which Kenyatta’s articulation of education as both idea and structure drew from each of these as he narrativized life in precolonial Kenya. The second chapter looks at the “Rehabilitation” camps and educational programming created during the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion. I examine the pedagogical arrangements deployed by the British counter-insurgency as well as the logics through which particular populations were deemed “(un)educatable” within the broader Rehabilitation project. My next piece of research will examine the memoirs and autobiographies of former insurgents, many of whom went on to attain notable places in the Kenyan state apparatus while fashioning a militant form of masculinity predicated in large part on their political education during the Mau Mau era.


JK: You completed archival research in Kenya in 2018. Do you have other research that's going to take you outside of the university on the horizon?


CA: I certainly hope so! I’m currently rolling the dice on trying to secure grants to travel to key sites for my research. I hope to not only return to Kenya (where I’ll have a much better idea of what I’m doing this time), but also visit the so-called “migrated archives” in London. This collection consist of material extracted from Kenya immediately before national independence and contains documents that deeply trouble the official colonial (and, indeed, postcolonial) narrative. One of the things that has been particularly compelling about researching the educational dynamics of this movement and their place within the historiography of this event is the relative sparsity of research that has turned an eye to it. Yet the records of educational ministries, missionary organizations, and so forth have so far been exceptionally rich resources for understanding both the struggle itself and historical articulations of it.


JK: How does CRES inform your place-based, interdisciplinary historical research about education in (post)colonial Africa? Has CRES shaped your research questions, methods, or reading practices?


CA: I think that the ethos of CRES informs how I think about both education and history in some very fundamental ways. It is difficult to understand ideas of education and institutions of schooling that are deemed “modern” without attending to the processes of racialization which underwrite them. The genealogies of particular educational trajectories that one might situate under categories such as “national,” “regional,” “state,” and so forth diverge in many important ways, but they share a common interest in being preoccupied with the production of particular types of subjects. This, almost by definition, creates spaces in which the normative and non-normative, or the included and the excluded, are institutionalized. As different as the education systems of Kenya and the US are, they both grapple with similar issues bound to these broader questions. Reading “education” (especially when words such as “proper,” “moral,” or “correct” antecede it) is never about understanding something organic. Of course, the same goes with regard to thinking about what constitutes “history” and “the historical.” In the case of Kenya, for example, one has to attend to both the formulation of educational ideologies within anthropological frameworks as well as the multiplicity of different groups jostling for influence within institutions in order to understand these connections. While I wouldn’t say that work that focuses on similar issues in the US or Europe always translates cleanly, the general ethos of questioning received knowledges and institutions through the lens of racialization and rhetorical critique is exceptionally valuable.


JK: You're currently teaching as a lecturer at San Jose State and you also TA in CRES. Can you share a little bit about how a critical race perspective informs your pedagogy in these different settings?


CA: I’m happy to say that I think that the answer to this lies in both content and praxis. The classes I’m teaching at SJSU are focused explicitly on the history of education and the manner in which work within the field of critical pedagogy illuminates the historical functionality of education and schooling. The structure of the course itself uses an variety of case studies to think through this that are rooted in expressions of racial, ethnic, and feminist consciousness. In a somewhat similar way, TAing in CRES has allowed me to engage with content that often draws from critiques of educational apparatuses and visions of more just alternatives. Most importantly, a critical race perspective fundamentally informs how I design the settings in which I engage with my students and the manner in which we pursue inquiry together. My students in both of these institutions come from a diverse array of racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I view our classes not as a space to dictate to them why a given case study or pedagogical theory is important or “radical,” but rather to explore the ways in which interfacing with the material we look at together allows them to draw from their own lived experience in order to better understand the world they live in and imagine future ones we might one day inhabit.