Interns and research felllows at SlaFMig (September 2021)

We introduce you to the interns and research fellows associated with the project who did a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes: Nolwenn Marie Marconnet, Aline Desdevises and Leah Durst Lee. They present here what they have learned and retained from the project for their future careers, now that they are leaving us and moving on to new jobs. We wish them the best of luck.

Aline Desdevises, Intern at SlaFMig, Student in International Relations in Sciences Po Rennes, France

Aline Desdevises, Intern at SlaFMig, Student in International Relations in Sciences Po Rennes, France

I joined the SlaFMig project in April 2021 as an intern, and I have contributed to several activities of the project, in particular the Bamako workshop in July 2021. This internship really increased my technical skills and my will to keep working with the West African region.

Above all, joining the SlaFMig project brought the question of descent-based slavery to my knowledge. I didn’t know about this practice before, while it pervades in many West African countries. The study brings to light how past practices persist and interact with new forms of human exploitation, underlining how it is both insufficient to consider slavery as being only either “traditional” or “modern”.

Apart from the professional experience acquired, working into this research-action project goes along with reflections on positions, status, privilege… Working in African Studies, especially on such sensitive questions, brings to the surface the questions of structural racism, class and gender discriminations. In contrast with the taboo which surrounds descent-based slavery, being part of the SlaFMig project arise explicit questioning about what it represents to be a White European woman. I had the chance to participate in the Bamako workshop, and I was confronted with the race and gender question; for example, even in the context of the workshop, I was in a privileged situation compared to Malian women colleagues, tending to be given more consideration from participants even though I was lower in hierarchy as an intern.

Working in the SlaFMig team confirmed and even increased my interest in African Studies, as my desire to get involved in conscious and committed projects.

Nolwenn Marconnet, Intern and Researcher Fellow at SlaFMig, MA Graduate of Advanced Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Nolwenn Marconnet, Intern and Fellow Researcher at SlaFMig, MA Graduate of Advanced Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

I was contacted by Dr. Lotte Pelckmans in November 2020 to be a part of the SlaFMig project and conduct an online ethnography with an anti-slavery activist movement based in Paris, France, which I in turn used to write my master thesis. Dr. Pelckmans’s email was my first introduction to the concept of descent-based slavery. During my school years in France, I was taught that slavery was something of the past, connected to the triangular slave trade, or even to ancient Rome, and I remember memorizing that slavery had been abolished in France in 1848. I did not remember being taught about descent-based slavery before and I was surprised to learn that such form of slavery was perpetuated in France but not discussed in the public. I know that I am not alone in this lack of awareness and that many Europeans like myself are only taught two perspectives on slavery: the triangular slave trade and its after-effects on the one hand, and so-called modern slavery on the other. Through my interviews with anti-slavery activists however, I discovered what descent-based slavery is and how it remains invisible in the mainstream. As a white French middle-class educated student sitting in my bedroom in Copenhagen, I had the strange feeling that my informants and I were living in two separate worlds which could not possibly cohabitate, a feeling that was accentuated by my inability to travel and meet any of them in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am not myself a survivor of torture, of slavery or any form of physical and psychological exploitation and I have to acknowledge that I still do not know as much as the many activists who offered me some of their time. Navigating this complicated positionality and recognizing my own privileges, I had the opportunity to write blogposts and organize a conference with a Malian activist, which I hope contributed to expand the awareness about descent-based slavery. But my work at SlaFMig probably taught me more than what I was able to give back, and my wish is to continue investing in the study of descent-based slavery to better give a voice to anti-slavery activists and their fight for equality.

Leah Durst-Lee, Research Fellow at SlaFMig, MA Graduate of Advanced Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen, and current International Law and Human Rights Graduate Student at the United Nations University for Peace, Costa Rica

Leah Durst-Lee, Research Fellow at SlaFMig, MA Graduate of Advanced Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen, and current International Law and Human Rights Graduate Student at the United Nations University for Peace, Costa Rica

My participation in the topic of descent-based slavery began in August 2020 during an internship with Dr. Lotte Pelckmans on the SlaFMig project, and continued during my research of the potential for a criminal anti-slavery law in Mali to affect the practice of descent-based slavery. My time with SlaFMig has provided an opportunity to process how, as a white, European-based MA student researching descent-based slavery in West Africa, I stepped into a post-colonial, cultural, racial and religious power dynamic hundreds of years old. My research with SlaFMig has allowed me to practice decolonialized research by centering local voices and knowledge over my own. Being a part of the SlaFMig research team, which consists of international and local researchers, academics and practitioners, has been beneficial to learn and grow with partners outside of my home university of Copenhagen.

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