Research Radar – Ali Kenefick

Ali Kenefick is a PhD candidate in Concordia University’s Individualized Program, focusing on Design in Meat Politics. She was interviewed for this segment by Gabrielle Machnik-Kekesi.

Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why? 

Donna Haraway. She, like other ecofeminist authors like Anna Tsing, Vinciane Despret, Marilyn Strathearn, Isabelle Stengers, grapples with complexity, entanglement, and cosmopolitics in such an elegant way.  Haraway in particular writes with such poeticism that it draws me to this wonderful, whimsical world that sends my mind spinning.  I almost forget that I am reading elaborate theory.  It’s hypnotic, fleshy, material, and is gushing with possibility.

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

I have a hard time picking up books strictly for leisure, unless it somehow relates to my work.  I think it is because I love my research so much, that inevitably, everything I read has to do with meat, animals, and entanglement theory.  Research-wise, right now I’m reading Eco-Feminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the EarthThe essays probe everything from compassion and ecosexualities to eating animals.

What podcast do you recommend?

 I don’t regularly listen to podcasts.  I tend to use podcasts as a way to get unstuck from a habitual pattern of thinking.  I’ll type in a keyword with which I’m working and I’ll see what pops up.  I recently fell down an Ayurveda rabbit hole.

What is your favourite archive or library? / What is your fondest research memory?

Being in the studio or interviewing people in the fields; nature is my favourite archive.  I did a lot of walking in Ireland, across fields, spending time with cows, who I consider informants.  They are themselves an archive.  These places without words have so much to teach us about multi-species coexistence.

What book or movie changed your life?

I’m such a cinephile.  “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “North by Northwest,” “Amélie,” “Spirited Away,” “Babette’s Feast,” “Seven Samurai,” and “Tampopo.”  I love movies that are character-based and movies about food; food makes for such a great narrative.  In terms of formative books, I think of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I’ve read it four or five times, and I still cry at the middle part.  It’s so powerful.  Also, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and the works of M.F.K. Fisher.  In terms of TV, Good Eats; Alton Brown explained food in such an engaging, tactile way, and I aim to bring that into my own teaching.

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?

When I read or write, no.  It has to be silent.  When I’m drawing, I have to listen to music that evokes the mood of what I’m drawing.  It’s so situation specific, but I can recall moments when the drawings had the right “soul” when I was listening to Jimi’s Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” (evoking the feeling of escape) and Modest Mouse’s “Float On” (the transience of bad news).

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

This is such a vital question.  What I’ve learned: Do your own thing, back yourself, and stop worrying.  Grad school comes with many implicit hang ups: What is my supervisor going to think?  How is that article I wrote going to be reviewed?  How is my design going to be critiqued?  Do my parents get my work?  What it comes down to is that you are the expert on your work. You have to trust that, be confident, and stand by your work; get your rockstar swagger on (while cultivating respect for others and their work) because everyone else is just trying to figure things out too.

What is your favourite way to de-stress? / What habits or hobbies support your research practice and/or allow you to destress? 

I try to bring a lot of therapeutic practices into my daily life: meditation, yoga, long and leisurely walks, listening to music, and playing video games.  I also love going to the movies alone.  You are by yourself, in the dark, forced to engage with a new story, and you can separate yourself from your research for a dedicated period of time. 

What advice do you have for other ECAs? 
Consider and prepare for a generative way with which to engage critique.  My undergrad is in Design, so I spent several formative years learning how to engage with others’ work thoughtfully, productively, and respectfully.  That learning is so valuable to me now in graduate studies.

Is there a research initiative that you would like to use this platform to highlight?
The Centre for Imaginative Ethnography. I think the centre may have originated out of Simon Fraser University in BC, but now it’s a transnational organization open to anyone looking to bend the contours of traditional ethnographic practice.  They have a very multisensory approach to pedagogy that works particularly well for those, like myself, investigating food and other animals.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?
On a super basic level, the internet.  Thank you accessibility to the worldwide web!

Also, my computer.  I’ve moved around a lot and I’ve called my computer “my home”; everything lives on it, including programs that are essential to my work and life in general (Abode Acrobat, InDesign, Illustrator, Premier Pro).  Finally, a pen and a notebook.  It might take me a year to get through a notebook, but I always need one on me.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

Strangely, my research practice was positively impacted.  I was living in Montreal, but my work hinges on a connection to where I’m from in British Columbia.  The themes of localism, placeness, and situated experience were drawing me back home, and when the pandemic hit, I relocated back to BC.  Since arriving, my work opened up in a wonderful way; the pandemic forced me where I needed to go.  I’m working with BIPOC communities here, meeting humans and other animals, and it’s the silver lining of an awful global pandemic.

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