6: Tory Brykalski
Program and Year of Study
PhD, 4th year
Previous degrees and colleges
BA International Relations and Theology, Wheaton College
MA International Affairs and Development, Columbia University
Where did you grow up?
In the so-called “Republic of Boulder,” CO.
Where do you live now?
I live in Beirut, Lebanon, in a sweet neighborhood called Mar Mikhayel.
What's your favorite spot in Davis?
My favorite spot in Davis is Solano Park, Davis’ only affordable housing community for students. It is my favorite because it has grass, ducks, cats, and really awesome kids. Unfortunately, UC Davis administrators are threatening to close and demolish it (they’ve already closed Orchard Park, the only other affordable family housing complex). In addition to the ducks, Solano is my favorite spot in Davis because it reminds us that there is another way to live in the university and because they make it possible for families and low income students to do so.
How do you relax?
Right now, in Beirut, I relax by sneaking into the American University of Beirut’s pool and swimming every evening after work. In Davis, I run around the Wildhorse Golf Club at sunset. I also read a lot of novels.
What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I’m reading through all of Margaret Atwood at the moment. I just finished The Year of the Flood and Heart Goes Last and am planning to start Blind Assassin tonight. I am also reading a new fantasy series by N.K. Jemisin; a Syrian novel about Aleppo called No Knives in the Kitchens of this City, by Khaled Khalife; Szilard Borbely’s The Dispossessed; Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing: and Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.
What was the last film you saw at the theater?
Afterimage by Andrzej Wajda
Syria/Lebanon, children, families, child raising, education, labor, agriculture, the imagination, performance, relationality, futurity.
Dissertation title or topic
The current title I’m working with is When the Hour Comes: Raising Life in the Aftermath. I’m totally open to suggestions though.
Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research
One of my students told me and my teaching team the other day that the only way to heal the sorcerer’s sick dragon and save the people the sorcerer has kidnapped and imprisoned is to go find and bring back dragon medicine from outer space.
[Because I am in the middle of conducting research in a politically sensitive context, this is all I’m ready to share. Come talk to me when I come back to Davis if you want to know more!]
Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?
While working on my Masters in International Affairs and Development at Columbia University, I had the privilege of taking classes with Timothy Mitchell, Lila Abu Lughod, and Mahmoud Mandani. Collectively, these three scholars taught me that if I really wanted to make a difference in the world - as a “humanitarian,” “feminist,” or believer in “human rights” - I needed to learn how to ask better questions. I decided to pursue a PhD in order to figure out what these questions were and to start asking them.
Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?
The first “scholarly text” I read that made me realize just how transformational scholarly work could be was Elizabeth Fiorenza’s In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Discourse. It showed me that scholarly work could be more than just “scholarly” -- it could also be devotional. Academic work, she taught me, can inspire its readers to not only see the world for what it is and learn to think against the world, it can also provide the tools the readers need to feel and act differently within it, and in so doing, transform it. I don’t really wish I could have written Fiorenza’s text, as I am neither Catholic nor a theologian, but I do hope to write something like Fiorenza’s book.
Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?
I think it goes without saying that one of the researchers whose work interests me (and many many others) the most is ISS’s very own Joe Dumit. Though the actual content of my research has very little to do with his, something that Joe has taught me is that sometimes that doesn’t really matter. Joe’s work interests me not just because it is inherently interesting, but also because of the wholehearted and playful passion with which he thinks about it.
Similarly, Omnia El Shakry’s current work on Islamic intellectual history and psychoanalysis -- though super super interesting -- pales in comparison to the commitment with which she pursues it. I have a hard time thinking about her research without also thinking about the ways in which she thinks with others about it, and vice versa. We do not work in a vacuum; the way we are with our students and those around us necessarily shapes and becomes a part of the research we do.
What’s the best thing about being a grad student?
There are a lot of best things. I love thinking with other graduate students and faculty, teaching people, and thinking about what kind of university we want to be a part of and create. I love organizing spaces within and external to the university where thinking and studying can happen, imagining what kinds of questions undergraduate students 10 years from now might be asking, and trying to answer those questions. I love researching and using research as a space/time to grow, heal, and be in community with others. I love working with and learning from scholars who are asking similar questions as me, and who are generous and kind. I love getting paid to do things that I would do for free.
What’s the worst?
There are also a lot of worst things. I don’t love the neoliberalization/privatization of the university, especially UC Davis, which is supposed to be public. I don’t love increasing class sizes, and constraints on what we are able to teach and do in the context of classes and assessment. I don’t love the kinds of surveillance and censorship that exists in social science disciplines that address issues in/around/about/with the Middle East. I don’t love the colonial legacies and ongoing colonial practices of the university and my discipline. I don’t love the strange and often violent hoops that we have to jump through that have nothing to do with (in fact often constrain) thinking or creating knowledge, and yet are essential to the process. I don’t love having to work with thinkers that aren’t generous or kind, though I guess doing so is an opportunity. I don’t love having to turn the things I love to do for free - reading, writing, teaching, learning - into a commodity.
If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?
Honestly, I would probably be doing the same things I’m doing now - teaching and organizing in Lebanon (or wherever).
Finally, please ask yourself a question
What do you love about the Institute for Social Sciences?
Everything! I think it can be really tempting to do academic work in isolation, thinking with only those who think like you. Something I’ve appreciated about ISS is the way it brings a lot of different ways of thinking together. I was able to take an ISS proseminar last year, and, similarly, really enjoyed the opportunity to study something and learn from people not in my immediate intellectual world.
Are you a grad student in the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis? Do you enjoy answering questions? If so, drop Ben a line.