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Researchers of NTU: Yousif Al-Daffaie

Meet the people behind our research, discover their areas of expertise and find out about life in NTU's research community

Yousif Al-Daffaie

Yousif Al-Daffaie is a PhD Researcher and Research Assistant in our School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment. His research area is post-war communities and post-war architecture and urbanism.

Can you outline your key research objectives?

My research focuses on exploring the ‘network of places’ that created the daily life of pre-war Mosul, and how we can utilise the locals, shop-owners and craftsmen as the backbone for post-war reconstruction. These communities hold memories and narratives of generational practices that are being erased after the war. These memories and narratives, if utilised in the reconstruction, will ensure the continuation of the familiar daily life in the city, and prevent the alienation of the locals from their own city. So, in a way, this research vitalises the intangible as a means to guide the tangible aspects of Mosul’s heritage.

The premise behind these objectives is ensuring the ‘survival’ of the Mosuli culture following the massive destruction the city has seen, through safeguarding the continuation of the dying practices that created the spirit of the city for centuries. Following times of war, cities witness mass transformations, which sometimes pose a threat to the authenticity of said cities. Mosul cannot afford such transformations, as the cultural heritage did not only create a sense of identity and belonging, but also created the daily life of its habitants.

What inspired you to get into your area of research?

Growing up away from my home country has always been difficult, and witnessing the wars even from abroad has always upset me. Therefore, as I was studying architecture, I felt this responsibility to serve these generations who are being born at war, and attempt to make an impact, or at least an effort, to help them have a better future. After I completed my masters, continuing my PhD in such an area was a no-brainer, and has such scope for real-world impact.

How does being based at NTU allow you to fulfil your research aspirations?

NTU’s diversity and acceptance of multiple strands of research allows me to communicate my research to a wide audience from different backgrounds, all within the community of NTU. This access to many cultures within the university itself really broadened my horizons, just by speaking to them. Additionally, NTU offers so much support for applying for grants and extra funding (in addition to the internal scholarship I receive), as well as part time opportunities including teaching. The financial piece of mind helps me focus on doing what I am here for; my research.

How do you think your research has had an impact?

As I have visited the city and engaged with the local community, I have opened multiple discussions within workshops and interviews, which invoked answers that were ‘hidden’. These answers included places that are not taken into account within the governmental reconstruction strategies. Additionally, I have documented previously undocumented aspects of the city’s reconstruction, which includes homes that are being rebuilt due to the strong community bond, and craftsmen who returned to their original places just because ‘they love the city too much’. This documentation and emphasis on hidden places of cultural memory sets out to achieve an impact by highlighting areas that are neglected within the reconstruction plans. It also creates a bottom-up approach to include the locals’ stories, narratives and generational acts within the physical reconstruction of post-war cities.

Which partners, both at NTU and externally, have you worked with?

Within NTU, I enjoy a vibrant workplace that brought together Doctoral Candidates and research staff from all over the world, each contributing to the formation of my work through daily informal discussions. On a more formal level, I have applied for a grant to fund my fieldwork in Mosul, and with help from Nathaniel Golden in NTU's Research and Partnership Development team, I was successful in securing an external fund of £2204 from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI). They were extremely supportive and flexible, and I thank them for sponsoring this fieldwork. Additionally, during my fieldwork in Mosul, I have worked with a number of staff members at the University of Mosul including the head of department of architecture, to organise a workshop about collecting qualitative data in post-war countries. It was attended by members of staff, post-graduate researchers, and graduate architects from the University.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

The first challenge was the ethical considerations when it comes to engaging with post-war communities, as they could be traumatised and vulnerable. I have worked with my supervisor, professor Mohammed Gamal Abdelmonem, and my second supervisor, professor Michael White, to take into account such delicate ethical considerations, and ensure that I ask questions that do not trigger trauma or hurtful memories. The second challenge, which I think is being faced by all the PhD Researchers currently; the impact of COVID-19. I have once again worked with my supervisory team to ensure minimal impact, so we decided to extend the period of the pilot study and theoretical investigations, and undertake the field trip when it is safe to travel and while taking all the measures advised to prevent the spread of the virus. I am sure these two challenges will not be the last, however by working closely with my supervisory team, hopefully I will be ready!

What has been the highlight of your research journey so far?

Within the long journey of disseminating my work, there have been many highs (luckily more than the lows!) I cannot name one highlight, as I am equally proud of all the achievements. My research was selected to be published in the RIBA’s President Awards for Research 2019 Book of Abstracts, following my Research Matters presentation. Another achievement that I am equally proud of is the aforementioned fieldwork grant from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq.

That being said, winning the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition at NTU, East Midlands Doctoral Network (EMDoc), and the People’s Choice award, was a very challenging experience. Gaining appreciation from academics in conferences and funding competitions is very flattering indeed, however disseminating the work to a wide audience through simplifying the work is a very different experience. As academic researchers, we absorb a lot of sophisticated knowledge, which causes us to unintentionally write and speak in jargon. This makes it frustrating when attempting to explain the research to friends and family. Therefore, I always attempt to take my research back to its humanitarian roots when talking about it to a non-academic audience. Instead of focusing on the academic objectives, I attempt to communicate the very simple goal of my research: working with the people to preserve the culture of Mosul.

I am blessed and very thankful to win three awards for my 3MT alone, and I would like to thank NTU, especially Simone Apel from Researcher Development, for her support and communications throughout my 3MT experience.

What three tips would you give to someone embarking on their research journey at NTU?

  1. You have to love your research. There will be times where you feel like everything is going south, and the only thing that will keep you going is the love you have for your topic.
  2. Make connections and be vocal about your work. It doesn’t matter how much you think your work is uninteresting, there will be someone somewhere that will find it fascinating, and these people will either become your colleagues after graduation, or your academic friends.
  3. Organise your time, balance your work, sleep, and social life. It might seem overwhelming and difficult to do, but time management is just as important to learn in a PhD journey as academic writing!

What are your ambitions for the future?

My ultimate goal is to continue helping Mosul after I graduate, through research projects, or on-the-ground fieldwork that engages with the local communities. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in that city, and I would love to be a part of it. I believe that research should never stop upon graduation, and that PhDs should continue to research their areas until they achieve real-world impact.

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Find out more about Yousif's research, fieldwork and awards

Researchers of NTU: Yousif Al-Daffaie

Published on 1 October 2020
  • Subject area: Architecture and civil engineering
  • Category: Research; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

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