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Andreea Micu

PhD Student in the Performance Studies Program, School of Communication

Ethnographic work is rewarding, but it also poses many challenges. When you spend time in the field and develop relationships with people, you become very aware of the implications of your research and the ways you’re accountable to your research subjects. ”

Andreea Micu, a PhD student in the Performance Studies program, is working on a dissertation titled, “Performing the Commons: Urban Insurrection, Aesthetics, and Economic Crisis in the South of Europe.” This year, Andreea was also the Public Humanities Graduate Assistant at the Chicago Humanities Festival, an assistantship supported by The Graduate School, during which a graduate student engages in substantive public humanities projects with mentorship from practitioners at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Andreea recently answered our questions about her research, her experience in the Public Humanities Graduate Assistantship, and her passion for scholarly and artistic work that reaches broad audiences.

Interested in learning more about the Public Humanities Graduate Assistantship at the Chicago Humanities Festival? See the longer description here and consider applying. Applications for this opportunity are being accepted through February 9, 2018.

What were you doing before you arrived at Northwestern? 

I received my undergraduate degree in Journalism and Communication from the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, Spain. Upon graduation, I worked for a couple of years in film productions in Madrid. I did a variety of things, from script analysis, to budget planning, to actual shootings. On the side, I was also active as a performance practitioner, acting and directing with several small theatre and performance groups in Madrid. 

What influenced you to pursue a graduate degree in Performance Studies? 

Pursuing a graduate degree in Performance Studies gave me the opportunity to bring together my performance practice and my interest in theory and rigorous intellectual exploration. I got my MA in Performance Studies at Texas A&M at a time when several faculty members in the department were Northwestern alumni. Performance Studies at Northwestern has a strong ethnographic tradition that was very appealing to me, so I decided to apply, and here I am.

Tell us about your research.

I study forms of art and performance that have emerged in Spain, Greece, and Italy in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and amidst austerity policies. For example, I analyze urban squats that function as art spaces, or the street performances that housing activists engage in to obstruct home foreclosures. I am interested in the ways in which grassroots social movements use these cultural expressions to envision alternatives to capitalism and imagine a better world.

How is your research rewarding?

A super rewarding aspect of my research is that doing ethnographic fieldwork has allowed me to spend a lot of time in cities I like a lot, such as Athens, Madrid, and Rome; and meet a lot of people whose artistic and activist work I find very inspiring. Spending time in those places over the last few years has been very interesting because a lot of grassroots activist and artistic work has been happening there that has emerged precisely out a sense of historical urgency prompted by the economic crisis. 

What is a challenging aspect of your research? 

Ethnographic work is rewarding, but it also poses many challenges. When you spend time in the field and develop relationships with people, you become very aware of the implications of your research and the ways you’re accountable to your research subjects. For instance, within a particular setting or social movement you might have two interlocutors who in separate conversations express harsh opinions toward each other’s activist work. You have to consider many questions and possible outcomes. Do you write about the difference of opinion and address it as the internal disagreements of a movement that are worth considering? Do you leave it out because it could potentially fuel their conflict? You need to portray those people in ways that are truthful and respectful of what they told you without sacrificing your critical perspective, but also in ways that factor in the potential impact of your work. That’s just one example, but generally ethnographic work is full of broader questions about representation. How are you representing your interlocutors and their actions and are those representations contributing to existing power structures or challenging them?

Describe a typical research day. 

In the sites of my research, I spend a lot of time with my interlocutors, whether in squats, political demonstrations, assemblies, anti-evictions gatherings by housing rights activists, etc. I also interview street artists, visual artists, photographers, etc. that work in that environment. A lot of the time an outsider would just see me participating in those sites without necessarily knowing that in my head I am obsessively recording details that I will write into field notes as soon as I get home.

What led you to apply for the Public Humanities Graduate Assistantship at the Chicago Humanities Festival?

I am very interested in cultural programming outside of academia. As much as I love academic work, I feel that sometimes our ideas and research become too specialized and target mostly academic audiences, so thinking about how to translate those ideas from humanities departments to a broader non-academic audience is very appealing to me. CHF has been a venue to explore that and I've learned a lot in the process. 

What has been the most interesting/challenging/rewarding part of the GAship? 

The most challenging part has been learning that when you create cultural programming for a general audience, you have to consider many elements beyond the ideas you want to put forward, such as audience interests, economic concerns, and the priorities of all the people involved in creating the programming. Wanting to program something because you think is interesting is not enough, as you have to find the right ways to frame those ideas to actually attract an audience. If you program something that is wonderful but people do not come to see it, then your work is somehow futile. Ideas that challenge the status quo or that are particularly forward-thinking have to be framed in a way that appeal to your audiences and it takes time to learn how to do that in effective ways. 

Why should a graduate student consider applying for this Graduate Assistantship?  

I can think of many reasons. As I said, if you're interested in how to communicate humanities research to a broader non-academic audience then this GAship is going to be a great learning opportunity for you. It strengthens your work experience in different environments and allows you to develop skills that you do not necessarily get to practice while getting a PhD. For instance, I enjoyed the opportunity to research presenters and programs that would fit our festival themes, but which were not necessarily names you’d think about in an academic setting. I also liked working in a team, which I got to do a lot while putting together Humanities Without Walls, which is a summer workshop for PhD students in the humanities who are exploring careers in a wide range of fields.

In addition, the CHF staff is a group of talented, creative, hard-working people, and that makes for a very stimulating work environment. Finally, the experience of working on the Fall Festival is exciting. During my graduate assistantship, I was able to participate in the whole process of putting together our 2017 FallFest: Belief, from the first brainstorming sessions around the theme to the completion of the festival. We had so many amazing presenters, including academics, poets, artists, writers, architects, activists, film makers, politicians, etc. It was really interesting to learn about the process. For a grad student in the phase of writing a dissertation, which can sometimes feel a little isolating, spending some time in that kind of working environment can be a really energizing experience.

How has this graduate assistantship shaped your plans for your next steps?

It has helped me realize that cultural programming is something I am interested in beyond academia. So I am thinking that even if I want to pursue an academic career, I would still like to find venues and opportunities to do cultural programming for a more general audience.