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Writing lives on standby. Feedback on a poetic creation method with the Nairobi Guards


This article presents analysis about writing poetry as a creative method in the field, in order to assist people in expressing themselves about their own life, especially those who are not familiar with storytelling. Such a methodology has been developed during a two year’ethnographic field study with private security guards of Nairobi (otherwise called watchmen), subaltern workers whose lives are structured by precarity, everyday humiliations and under strong relationships of domination. These watchmen of Nairobi appear as highly vulnerable, especially when one asks them to build and tell the story of their own life. The ability of saying “I”, the one of being embedded in a linear and progressive time structure, as well as the ease of giving sense to different lived places, are indeed not obvious skills for each and every one. Facing these challenges, I argue that the use of poetry can be of great help in order to express lives with better fluidity. Nevertheless, this requires particular caution with the concrete conditions of writing, and the examination of the ethical questions that they may raise. This paper thus deals with varied issues at stake when one engages in “making others speak” (or write): co-authorship, materiality of writing, building a “space of one’s own”. Alongside, it questions the different ways by which we – as researchers and writers – can incorporate poetic productions within our own academic texts. This poetic/scientific articulation is far from reaching a deadlock, but is rather an advocacy for giving more space to unstable and precarious forms of writing in our texts.

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