Sonja Schenkel, an RCLA fellow, is currently working on her doctoral dissertation in the field of peace and conflict studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, Switzerland. Previously, she was a visiting scholar at RCLA with funds from Switzerland's National Science Foundation.
Schenkel is a trained filmmaker and scholar, whose aim is to use the emotional quality of art to develop creative methods for social change research and knowledge translation. She earned her MA in Social Anthropology and Psychology from University of Zurich and the National University of Mexico (UNAM) with summa cum laude.
In the course of her academic work, Sonja has taught classes on Social Movements in Latin America and Participatory Filmmaking. She has also engaged in educational activities around similar topics in collaboration with NGOs, schools and individuals in Brazil, Israel/Palestine and Switzerland. In 2011, she was appointed as a research associate at University of Berne with the task of finding artistically appealing and playful ways to implement sustainability standards for an international scientific conference funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The visual summary of this conference will be presented in Berlin in November 2012 in the context of bridging science with practice.
Sonja's dissertation builds on a collaborative approach to research that resonates with RCLA's approach. Her focus lays on how the process of creating a piece of art can lead to self-reflection and empowerment. A group of women were invited to assess their role in educating their children on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the making of a documentary film. Among other themes, Schenkel is exploring questions like: When given the opportunity to direct their own films, which content do women in this context select for public display and what do they keep in private? What are priorities, what are taboos? And what do these dynamics of the “re-location of the private actor in public space” tell us about the social relevance that the ordinary citizen holds for social change?
Prior to engaging with academia, Sonja worked as a producer-director and script consultant in corporate and documentary filmmaking for over ten years. During that time, most of her filmic work related to issues of development cooperation, including extensive research in Latin America, East Africa and Asia. In addition, she has worked for the Non-Governmental Service at the United Nations, and founded her own social entrepreneurship initiative on water and waste management.