Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Zine Making as a Method for Family Life History Research

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Zine Making as a Method for Family Life History Research

Article excerpt


A zine is a self-produced print publication that can be any size--as small as a credit card or the size of an 8.5x11 piece of paper folded in half. Derivative of the term magazine, (2) zines can be on any subject ranging from political manifestos, to vegan recipes, to featuring personal photographs and diary entries. They can be made individually or collectively. Zines have a cover and a back page, can be stapled together or sewn together to create a book bind. They can consist of text, pictures, illustrations, popup pictures or a combination of multiple images. While zine-making is a complex practice dating back to the 1930s (3) and intersects with many different subcultures--from punks, to comic book fans, to graffiti artists and more (4)--what I want to focus on is how the medium can be used as a method for family research. By reflecting on a zine-making project I completed with my mother (see appendix for excerpts from the zine), I offer examples on how this practice can facilitate in breaking down silences one may meet when engaging with family research by creating a tactile site which draws in the researcher and research participant(s) in dialogue as they assemble the zine together.

Negotiating the life history project

The zine my mother and I created features a poem she wrote about her migration experience to Canada from Iran as a political asylum seeker. In the first year of my doctoral studies I enrolled in a Life History methods course where for our final project we were given the option to interview a family member about their migration experience. When I first asked my mother to participate in a life history interview about her migration experience, she declined. Her migration story is one I have personally romanticized as a great political escape from Iran. Her saying no to an interview forced me to take a step back as a researcher and reflect on her experiences not only as a possible research participant but also as my mother. This experience demonstrated to me, as a new researcher, the importance of negotiation and respecting participant boundaries. While I found her migration experience exciting, for the first time I began to understand that her story has many layers of personal experience, family history, and difficult memories.

In the introduction to Country School Women: Teaching in Rural California, 1850-1950, author Kathleen Weiler draws the reader's attention to the inspiration of her research and lifelong work: her mother. In her work, Weiler notes that her project on developing life histories of women teachers was a way for her to understand and connect to her "mother's world." (5) While Weiler's mother was a teacher, Weiler admits to knowing "very little about that earlier life," when her mother worked and taught. (6) When my mother declined to participate in the life history interview, I felt: perhaps I do not know her as well as I originally thought. And while Weiler's mother was the inspiration for her project and my mother's migration story is the site of this project, I connect with Weiler's work because, like her, I came to use methods of life history/narrative construction to better connect to my mother's world. It is the curiosity to know the unknown and unsaid, a desire for a deeper understanding and connection with our mothers which prompts this kind of research. In the end, my mother and I re-focused the life history project to be about a poem she wrote about her migration experience, an aspect of the project I have written about elsewhere, (7) and I suggested we use the poem to create a zine.

In our interview about the project, I asked her why she originally declined to participate and she said, "Talking about immigration, to me, it's not just about the procedure; more than anything, it's about the feeling I had to leave behind [when I came] here. All the feelings all the connections, my family, all the supports I had--it's not easy for me to speak about it. …

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