Travel Report: Lauren Rattray, International Studies

August 29, 2017

Lauren Rattray, a Master's student in International Studies, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Her report: 

After being awarded the GIRTA in the summer of 2016, I was able to fund my travel to Tanzania to conduct three months of research on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar. I lived in Stone Town on the island of Unguja to study the informal street economy there as part of my thesis research for a Master of Arts in International Studies (concentration in Governance and Conflict) in SFU’s School of International Studies. My work focuses on the kinds of social relationships that exist among entrepreneurs of the informal mobile street economy and examines those relations against broader political and cultural identity tensions between Zanzibari islanders and Tanzanian mainlanders.

The GIRTA was incredibly helpful to my research as it allowed me to immerse myself into an important and often-overlooked environment to learn directly from the people themselves. Those hustling everyday in the street economy of Zanzibar offer a depth of knowledge and perspective that could not have been properly understood without traveling there to observe it myself.

I conducted informal interviews, engaged in participatory observation and distributed a questionnaire to various entrepreneurs working in the streets of Stone Town. I spent three months getting to know tour guides, vendors and fishermen who were predominantly involved in informal tourism sector activities. My research explored the processes of relationship formation between these entrepreneurs, and my resulting thesis presents an ethnographic account of the daily routines, spatial practices, and interactions of Zanzibar’s street entrepreneurs. I worked to answer a question about whether participation in the street economy can facilitate cooperative social relations between actors instead of antagonistic ones.

As Zanzibar has long been the site of intense identity politics – where political and cultural views divide islanders and Tanzanian mainlanders – the fact that multiple identities operate in the street economy presents an intriguing puzzle as to what sort of social networks exist among them. What I was able to find out – thanks to my GIRTA funding and being able to develop a very immersive study – was that along with the sharing of space, positive connections were also formed between entrepreneurs along the lines of mobility, shared understandings of struggle and the necessity of interdependence in their work. Overall, I found that Zanzibaris, as especially tolerant and peaceful people, recognized their fellow street entrepreneurs as individuals not characterized by where they were from, but by their perseverance as street hustlers.

As well has having a successful research experience, I also was grateful that my GIRTA allowed me to stay in a home with a local family. I spent my mornings and evenings with a Zanzibari family who helped me settle into daily life, introduced me to local meals, and helped me practice my Kiswahili. They were a great daily comfort and a wonderful way to learn more about typical Zanzibar life.

I would like to thank the department and awards committee for recognizing and supporting my research. I am also extremely grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Elizabeth Cooper, who was there to support me from beginning to end.

Upon successfully defending my thesis and earning my degree, I have returned to Zanzibar to work with an NGO. I plan to write a shorter paper based on my findings with the goal of having it published in a journal. I am also eager to attend any conference that might come up in order to present a paper based on my research.

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