Elizabeth Vibert, Kaitlyn Findlay receive REACH Awards

Elizabeth Vibert and Kaitlyn Findlay received REACH Awards.

History professor Elizabeth Vibert was honoured last night with a University of Victoria REACH Award for research excellence for her work on The Thinking Garden project. History student Kaitlyn Findlay was also honoured with a teaching excellence award for graduate students. Vibert gave a moving speech about the collaborative nature of her work. She has kindly given us permission to share her words here:

"My kind nominators, two of whom are here tonight (Lynne Marks and Christine St Peter), will tell you that I was a very reluctant nominee. That’s because, if the world were just, I’d be standing up here with 27 women, small-scale farmers from Jopi village in South Africa; and my indispensable research collaborator, Basani Ngobeni; and a whole film crew, from our wonderful director Christine Welsh to my friend Colleen Smith; and my family.

Our culture valorizes the heroic individual. The women at the farm, on the other hand, emphasise our interconnectedness. They have a concept for it, xilo xinwe, which means, essentially, that we are human through our relationships with others, living and dead, human and other-than-human. If we lose sight of xilo xinwe, bad things happen: big men forget their place; we waste our shared goods; we get sick from having too much.

I like to think xilo xinwe made our film. When I started research with the women in 2012, I explained that I would be writing academic articles and a book. All well and good for me, they said, but no use to them. ‘Aren’t you going to make a movie about us?’ A movie would capture their oral tradition of knowledge sharing, and could be shared with their community. It took a while, but by 2014 they had convinced me that a film was the perfect vehicle to tell their story – to convey the sense of the place, their personalities, the grounded meaning of xilo xinwe.

During our years together the women have trained me to listen. If we actively and ethically listen to our research participants – be they living humans or points in a data set – they may have stories to tell us that challenge what we think we know. When we’re open to those stories, we’re open to change – and maybe the world with us."