Profile with Laurence Deschamps-Laporte
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte (Quebec & Magdalen 2011) is a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. Her interest in international development has led her to work at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Institute and the Earth Institute. She holds an M.Phil. in International Development from the University of Oxford and a B.A. in International Studies from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I’ve spent a lot of time abroad in the last years, but I still call Québec home, as that’s where my family is.
Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I wanted to be a painter and later when I was about 13, I went to Paris and I specifically wanted to be a painter on Montmartre. I still paint today, but I quickly realised that I had other strengths that I wanted to invest in.
Rhodes Project: Have you found your Oxford experience intellectually fulfilling? Was it what you were expecting?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I’ve found it very fulfilling and luckily it’s not over as I am continuing on with the DPhil. I didn’t expect the kind of effort and psychological strength that would be needed for writing a thesis or to do graduate work. It’s independent work and even though there’s a wonderful community at Oxford, a lot of the work ends up being by yourself, so in a way that was an unexpected challenge.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a bit about a favourite past project?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I’ve done quite a bit of research in international development, and one of the experiences that stands out to me is when I was researching family planning in Mali and Senegal from 2009 to 2011. I had to build the project on my own from beginning to end, which involved meeting the women in the communities and sharing my findings with public health organisations. It was a very gratifying and fulfilling experience because I felt like I learnt so much through the communities that I worked with and the research really opened a door to another world.
Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in Middle Eastern Studies?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I’ve always been passionate about the communities and the social movements that animate Middle Eastern societies. It is really about understanding social change and the people who drive it, which is what development really is.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a bit about what you’ll be researching in your DPhil?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I’m working on Salafism, which is a global conservative Islamic movement, and I specifically focus on Egypt. My research is trying to get at what drives people to affiliate themselves with these movements and what role poverty plays in that. I’ve started doing some of that work through my Master’s and I’m going to be continuing with this research – of course it’s becoming a bit tense right now while doing field work in Egypt but it’s always very relevant.
Rhodes Project: What is the biggest challenge in your research?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I think the political situation is a major challenge, but mainly in order to be able to conduct strong and meaningful research I think you need to have empathy. There needs to be a feeling of common humanity between the interviewer and interviewee, or between the researcher and the social movement and the people that make it up. Sometimes, it can be challenging because our ideologies are very different, no matter how neutral and objective I try to remain.
Rhodes Project: What motivates you?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I am constantly motivated because I feel I’m filling a void. Islamist movements are a current issue, and we’re interested in it. It drives current affairs yet we don’t really understand these movements. Whilst I don’t claim I will be able to fully decipher how they work, I can at least contribute to understanding the big picture of these movements. That’s really what drives me, because I would like foreign policy to be informed by research rather than reports with no evidence.
Rhodes Project: Do you have any mentors?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: I have had some wonderful professors I’ve encountered along the way who have mentored me. My professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Omid Safi, truly influenced my thinking and opened me up to literature and poetry and the different ways of analysing the Middle East region. I have been lucky to have other wonderful mentors such as Laura-Julie Perreault who is an inspiring journalist based in Montreal.
Rhodes Project: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: Continuing with development work and research, hopefully at a level where I can have a more positive impact. I see a lot of fragmentation in the world of NGOs and international affairs, and if there’s a way to bring all the good work that’s being done, consolidate it and coordinate it then I’d like to be part of an organisation or firm which enables that.
Rhodes Project: What do you do in your free time?
Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: Painting is my main hobby. I’m passionate about art and I feel it’s a beautiful way to express things that I can’t express in any other way. I do Arabic calligraphy and also abstract portraits of women.
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