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Seeing bodies in social sciences research: Body mapping and violent extremism in Kenya

Sahla Aroussi, Fathima A Badurdeen, Xavier Verhoest, Michaelina Jakala

2022 Kenya, Africa

While violence is often targeted at and experienced by bodies with different identities or appearance, studies of violence in social sciences research often neglect the body as a data source and site of analysis. This article makes an original contribution to the literature on visual methods in general and arts-based approaches specifically, by focusing on the understudied and underutilised method of body mapping. It is novel in developing techniques for using body mapping as a tool for seeing violent extremism in international politics. The approach here enables researchers to engage with a potentially difficult topic and interrogate the nuances of how violent extremism is understood, experienced and resisted at a local community level. In so doing, it produces a rich, original data set of 20 body maps, interviews and focus group discussions with 10 men and 10 women from Muslim communities from around the coast in Kenya created during two 5-day intensive body mapping workshops held in Mombasa in November 2019. This embodied story-telling challenges dominant ideas about violent extremism and makes visible otherwise marginalised and obscured personal narratives and lived experiences of violence. This is of fundamental importance because everyday violence and exclusion not only go unaddressed in the efforts to tackle violent extremism but are also exacerbated by the excessive security measures used by the government in its effort to counter the threat of groups such as Al-Shabaab. The techniques we develop in this article have significant advocacy potential and societal impact: body mapping creates a platform and a tool for highlighting and challenging everyday practices such as female genital mutilation, violence against women, discrimination, racism, police brutality, tribalism and marginalisation. It can also transcend linguistic and educational barriers to enable access to a diverse audience and create bridges between divided communities.

Violence, arts, body mapping, violent extremism, gender, gender-based violence, visual methods, Kenya