2016 VisCrit Alumni Award Winner: Andrea Dooley



Andrea Dooley, VCS Alumni Award winner of 2016, completed an MA in Visual and Critical Studies at CCA in 2006. Andrea’s master’s thesis, “It Seemed the Earth Could Not Hold Them: Public Genocide Memorials in Rwanda,” interrogated emerging strategies of memorialization and public discourse. Building on her research in Rwanda, she went on to earn a PhD in Cultural Studies with a Designated Emphasis in African and African American Studies from the University of California Davis. Focusing on genocide museums and memorials in Rwanda, her work considers genocide museum and memorial spaces that are offered up as strategies to foster a unified Rwandaness, in an attempt to create cohesive community relations and shape post-conflict national identity. Her research interrogates how questions of memory, the negotiation of difference in aftermath of conflict, national belonging and identity are mobilized in public spaces where genocide museums and memorials are at the center of the complex relations of history, memory, mourning and identity. However, her work finds that these same strategies are undone in a real world of social, communal and political relations, creating fluidity, tension and generative instability in the real spaces those relations occupy. Her most recent essay, published in the Journal of Human Rights, is ‘We are All Rwandans’: Repatriation, National Identity and the Plight of Rwanda’s Children. Andrea is currently Visiting Faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies/Critical Studies and is at work on a book submitted and currently under peer review at Roman Littlefield Press titled Implicated Geographies: Public Memory, Post-Conflict Imaginaries and the Remaking of the Rwandan Citizen.


Alumni Profile by Natalie Catasús

Looking at the marginal

Throughout her various projects, scholar and educator Andrea Dooley keeps her critical eye on what structures our engagement with the world around us: the terms of the everyday exchanges between a neighborhood and its residents, a museum and its visitors, or a story and its listener.

Her scholarship and pedagogy take on these exchanges by examining what is given. Of her students in the classroom and in her own writing she asks: what sorts of worldviews has our environment constructed for us?

As Dooley herself explains it, VCS asked her not to look at the usual, but to look at the marginal—to look at our environment of constructed spaces, paradigms, and social hierarchies.

There's an air of resistance here, an energized refusal to accept the status quo. We may have the power create the world we want to see, but first we have to understand the terms by which it presents itself to us. Like many students in VCS, Dooley began to examine the margin—the given parameters—and investigate who sets the limits, who benefits, and at whose expense. As Dooley puts it, “The margin is where real growth, real provocative work, real things happen.”

Not just an academic exercise

Before enrolling at CCA in 2004, Dooley had a clear sense of the kind of research she intended to do. She envisioned her VCS thesis as an investigation into architecture in Rwanda that would examine how memorials get built in post-conflict situations. It had only been ten years since the devastating 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which over a half million people were killed in 100 days, and the Rwandan government was undertaking a nationwide effort to put museums and memorials at the center of the reconciliation process.

A UC Berkeley Extension course on 20th and 21st century genocide had initially piqued her interest in the subject, but Dooley also brought a background in urban studies, having received her Bachelor of Social Science from SF State, where she majored in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in urban theory.

But between her first and second year in VCS, Dooley traveled to Rwanda to do on-the-ground research for her thesis, and everything changed.

“When I talked to survivors I was struck with the individual nature of each story; the details that bound their unique lives to the massive killing that had taken place around them,” she writes.

“This is not just an academic exercise,” she recalls thinking. “It’s really about real people’s lives.”

The statement may seem obvious enough on the page, but it speaks to a crossroads moment that many scholars will encounter many times over the course of their research: deciding when the work calls for you to change course.

After spending three months in Rwanda meeting survivors, listening to their stories and touring museum and memorial sites, Dooley did in fact change course. These conversations led her to develop questions around the voice, the precarity and the messiness of the post-genocide narrative. Only ten years out from the genocide, it seemed that little work had been done to look at the different ways that members of the local communities were thinking of these memorials. Dooley wanted to explore what she saw as the constantly shifting relationships Rwandans had to the memorials in their everyday spaces, and how these relationships were sometimes at odds with the state’s reconciliation project.

“Who’s telling the story?,” she asked. “Who does it benefit to tell that story in a particular way? And how is that story being mobilized?”

Retaining her broader interest in urban studies but narrowing her focus, she decided to investigate how place and narrative play a role in constructing memory and how the memorials in Rwanda played a role in constructing the post-conflict Rwandan citizen.

A human rights-based pedagogy

Dooley's willingness to adapt to a given circumstance, to follow an unanticipated path, and to be open to unexpected possibility is also evident in her career trajectory. Prior to attending CCA, she had diverse professional experience ranging from working in tech to managing the operations of a non-profit that works with women who have been sexually trafficked. Since leaving CCA, Dooley received her PhD in Cultural Studies from UC Davis, and she continues to work in the technology sector. Her forthcoming book Implicated Geographies: The Place of the Museum in the New Rwanda is currently under review, and expands the research she began as a VCS student.

In recent years, Dooley has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at UC Davis and CCA, and since 2011 she has been teaching regularly in the Interdisciplinary Studies, Critical Studies and Exhibition and Museum Studies Department at the San Francisco Art Institute.

The courses she teaches typically blend critical studies with themes of human rights and social justice. Whether teaching about urban renewal, museum exhibitions, the Magna Carta, or even the Declaration of Independence, she is always asking her students to look at the lived realities behind the visual, written, and material objects that compose the world we inhabit.

“What’s great in working in these kinds of liberal arts colleges, is that you have students who are ready to go on that journey with you. Ready to accept something outside of paradigm. Already ready to accept the fluidity of some of these conversations. And that just makes it so much more fun.”

Natalie Catalos (MFA Writing/MA VCS, 2015) is a Miami-born poet, translator, and essayist currently working in the Bay Area.


2016 VisCrit Alumni Award Winner: Andrea Dooley

Andrea Dooley's 2016 VCS Spring Symposium Talk begins at 1:12:45