Research Radar – José Alavez

This week’s Research Radar is with José Alavez, a PhD Candidate from Concordia University’s Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment. His research focuses on life stories of those who experienced death in the context of migration. By using cartographic theories, José’s thesis proposes that death is not the end of a story, but the beginning and extension of many others. You can read more about his research here: https://storytelling.concordia.ca/jose-alavez/.

Who is your favourite academic?

Avril Maddrell is one of them. Her research on the geographies of death has been fundamental to my doctoral thesis.  Further, she is an excellent writer; I often find a new idea every time I read her articles. Also, I am a big fan of Elise Olmedo’s maps and ideas (disclosure: I am biased because she is a good friend). She is a cartographer who developed cutting-edge mapping approaches to chart emotions and memories associated with places and stories.

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

For leisure, I usually read fiction.  I just finished “Hench” by Natalie Sina Walschots. It is a dystopian superhero story told from the point of view of a henchwoman who works filling spreadsheets. It’s a dark and funny critique of the gig economy. For work, I’m reading “Locations of Grief”. The book is about how the death of a loved one transformed our quotidian places.

What podcast do you recommend?

This American Life is my favorite. I enjoy listening to intimate and everyday life narratives. I also like “Welcome to Night Vale”. This podcast is a must if you fancy dystopian narratives, science fiction, and dark humor. On other topics, I recently discovered “On the Reg” by Inger Mewburn and Jason Downs. It is a handy podcast for everyone involved in academia. They address issues ranging from productivity hacks to grad students’ common problems. 

What is your favourite archive or library?

The Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The building is one of Mexico City’s symbols, and its catalog is endless.  I often visited this place with my father when I was a kid. 

What book or movie changed your life?

The Return by Dany Laferrière. A friend recommended it to me when I was writing my thesis proposal. The story is about a Haitian migrant living in Montreal who suddenly received a telephone call announcing his father’s death in New York. After the funeral, the main character traveled back to Haiti to metaphorically repatriate his father’s memories. The book’s narrative is unique and beautiful as it swings between verse and prose.

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

It depends on the activity. When I am writing, I listen to lo-fi, video games or movie soundtracks, or jazz. On the other hand, when I’m creating maps, I play classic rock.

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

It is essential to write every day. The faster you put your ideas in black and white, the better.  If you work from home, a good pair of noise-canceling headphones can save your sanity.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

I like to listen to podcasts, and I also fancy reading and doing yoga.  If I am too overwhelmed, I often take a walk in the park — even in the middle of winter. Plus, like most Mexicans, I like to watch a good soccer match on the TV. 

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