The Institute for the Study of Human Rights welcomes Zoë West to our faculty. West is an anthropologist and oral historian whose work centers on labor, migration, and human rights. She is teaching Human Rights & Oral History: Testimony, Memory, and Trauma at Columbia University in Spring 2018.
West's current research explores the promises and challenges of alternative labor organizing models for marginalized workers. West positions herself at the intersection of grassroots and academic work, rooted in the commitment to helping social movements use research and documentation to fuel and strengthen their work. In this vein, she also actively supports groups in building power through creative strategy, deeper internal processes, and strong workshop and training programs.
As a founding member of Rhiza Collective, West develops frameworks for implementing collaborative research, transformative leadership development, narrative and healing work, and political education. As part of her work with Rhiza Collective, she recently returned from facilitating a series of workshops with refugees in Greece combining healing/psychosocial support, advocacy, and theater/storytelling.
Another current project is developing an international toolkit and training of trainers program for defenders of human rights and the environment. She edited and compiled the oral history collection Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime (McSweeney’s/Voice of Witness, 2011), which was later published in Burmese (NDSP Books, 2016). West received her PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oxford.
Human Rights & Oral History: Testimony, Memory, and Trauma will explore the possibilities and challenges of using oral history methods in the context of human rights work. With its commitment to long-form, biographical interviewing and archival preservation, oral history is distinctive from, for example, the collection of testimony in a court of law or through a truth and reconciliation process. Oral history can be a powerful means of documenting human rights abuses and conflict “from the bottom up,” contributing to individual and collective healing, and facilitating processes of conflict transformation and reconciliation.