Meet the Fellows: 2016 Newcombe Fellow Laura McTighe

photo taken in Cape Town, South Africa web crop

This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph. D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2016 class of Fellows includes Laura McTighe, a Ph.D. candidate in religion at Columbia University. Ms. McTighe expands on how recent activist movements have influenced her doctoral research:

What is the horizon of struggle? What possibilities fill our seemingly dystopic political present? Where do we find them? How do we speak them? How do they speak to us? These are just a few of the questions I have been asking in the field with my colleagues at Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV), a quarter-century old collective for Black women’s social justice and healing. While I have been a partner to WWAV for almost a decade, I began my dissertation fieldwork the summer that Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson and the movement for Black lives rose up nationwide. Being on the ground with longtime activists in New Orleans these last two years has impressed upon me just how deeply today’s organizers both participate in and buck so many of our theories of how social transformation happens. This reality inspired a conversation I recently co-organized with Kali Handelman at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, “Theory on the Ground: religion and spirituality repressing and redeeming the struggles for justice.” In conceptualizing this event, we wanted to honor the ways in which insurgent activism is forcing all of us (including the activists and scholars and religious leaders among us) to rethink the horizons for change and our participation in shaping these horizons.

Twenty-five years ago, WWAV was just an idea, thought up by eight Black women on a front porch in Central City New Orleans. As part of my doctoral fieldwork at WWAV, we have been reflecting on their quarter-century of organizing at the intersection of service, activism, and research. Together, we have termed it “Front Porch Strategy” to name and theorize southern front porches as interstitial spaces, between home and street, in and through which Black women have been building community and speaking truths for generations. As one of my interlocutors/collaborators explained, “We believe in the revolutionary things that can happen on a southern front porch.” In the last months, this concept has been developed, traced, and transformed through a running visual series of porch-talks, porch-sits, and porch-poses.

Ms. McTighe’s dissertation title is “This Day, We Use Our Energy for Revolution”: Black Feminist Ethics of Survival, Struggle, and Renewal in the new New Orleans. For more information on the 2016 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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