Maria Eriksson Baaz
“I spent ten years of my childhood in Zaire, when my parents worked at a missionary station in a small village. It made me see things perhaps differently compared to other Swedish kids. However, l also remember how glad l was to move back when l was thirteen. I wanted to be a Swedish teenager, doing what teenagers do here – going to the cinema, watching television and other things not possible there.
l focused my PhD-thesis on why aid workers in field grow prejudices against the population they are supposed to help. I studied solidarity organizations, as they tend to be ‘leftist’ and view themselves as more progressive. The classic stereotypes were there; the Tanzanian co-workers were described as passive, as somehow responsible for their own poverty and unreliable, not to be trusted with money. While such images reflect classic stereotypes, they were strengthened when the development workers were in Tanzania. I wanted to understand why. The quick answer is feelings of failure and inability, but also guilt in relation to the vast socio-economic inequalities, which the development workers somehow are not really prepared for. I think that guilt worked in a similar way as we now see with the current, and new, situation with beggars in Sweden. It creates feelings of discomfort and guilt and we don’t know how to handle it.
Being a researcher and doing in-depth analyses of something you are curious about is a true privilege. Of course, often the findings and conclusions are not very surprising. Yet, sometimes the data you collect go in a very different way than you anticipated. That was the case with the research I conducted on sexual violence together with Maria Stern, which only made it more exciting – we had to let go of several of our previous assumptions and search for literature that was new for us in order to make sense of our material”.
Maria Eriksson Baaz, researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute