CLAS TFRG Colloquium 2015
Questions of how best to conduct preliminary field research in order to cultivate a dissertation or thesis topic span across discipline and region—how does one establish him/herself in a community? What is the appropriate trip length? How does one identify the best information sources and develop scholarly contacts? What happens if you do not find the archive materials you were looking for?
Each year CLAS endeavors to help students answer these questions through the CLAS Tinker Field Research Grant—a travel award that supports master’s, doctoral, and professional school students from all divisions who wish to conduct pre-dissertation fieldwork in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere.
In 2014 CLAS awarded 16 students from Anthropology, Comparative Human Development, History, Music, Political Science, and Romance Languages & Literatures, travel grants to conduct research in all corners of Central and South America. Six of these recipients, Carly Bertrand (Comparative Human Development), Viviana Hong (Romance Languages & Literatures), Alexis Howard (Comparative Human Development) Jack Mullee (Anthropology), Aditi Rajeev Shirodkar (Political Science), and Marco Torres (History), discussed their research projects/field sites, and the lessons they learned while conducting research both in the archives and out in the field in this year’s CLAS Tinker Field Research Grant Colloquium Series
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD
Carly Bertrand, Comparative Human Development
La Casa de la Juventud ["The House of the Youth"] and the precarious politics of creative intervention
Abstract: In the wake of the Argentine economic crash, a growing network of civil associations organized to provide resources to one of the most vulnerable and feared populations, “chicos/as en situación de calle.” The national ratification of the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child has increased attention and funding to programs directed at providing access to human rights to impoverished youth through ‘cultural patrimony.’ However, little research has investigated how these interventions to enforce ‘cultural identity’ are interpreted by youth, and the role these programs play in shaping their sense of self. Using semi-structured interviews and ethnographic field notes, I explore the experiences of participants and employees in one state cultural center, La Casa de la Juventud. Employees of La Casa work to socialize youth to adapt to an institutional language and structured schedules necessary to gain educational and professional opportunities. However, the behavioral strategies and relational skills encouraged by the center are seen as maladaptive by youth in the context of the street, and do not address underlying structural challenges. Individual youth develop a variety of coping strategies to remain flexible to contradictory demands, often developing a bifurcated identity as they code-switch between stable and unstable environments.
Alexis Howard, Comparative Human Development
Returning to Dignity: Possibilities for the Future among the Aging Homeless of Santiago, Chile
Abstract: Chile is the second most rapidly aging country in Latin America, yet its pension system is one of the least protective, largely due to neoliberal reform instituted during the Pinochet dictatorship. How do Chileans who are approaching old age under serious economic difficulty conceive of the self and plan for the future, given the insecurity of the pension system? This ethnographic work explores the ways in which a group of aging homeless men residing in a Jesuit casa de acogida (re)construct their own identities and conceive of possibilities for the future through the use of differing discourses on dignity. In this particular context, there are two predominant discourses of dignity—a religious claim that the human being is innately dignified, and a sociopolitical orientation that asserts that dignity is achieved through labor productivity and fulfillment of familial expectations. Ultimately, both of these frameworks provide very specific ways in which one can achieve a dignified future. Residents of this service center find that dignity can be used as an agentive concept that can both challenge and reinforce traditional understandings of neoliberal subjectivity.
Jack Mullee, Anthropology
Whither the “Mega’-City? How to do an anthropology of ‘too much’ in São Paulo, Brazil
Abstract: Demais – this is a metric frequently used by residents of São Paulo to describe life in their city: too much. Too many bodies pack commuter train platforms in rush hour, corrupt politicians have gone too far and wait-times for medical care are too long. In journalistic and academic writing, in turn, São Paulo is often characterized as a megacity “in crisis”: crises of transit, violence, healthcare and, most recently, water, are described as hammering residents’ expectations of good lives. As the 20th-century city that “could not stop” settles down into a more modest demographic trend, São Paulo seems increasingly “tropicalized” as at once a token of the unwieldy, maybe-doomed global megacity of the 21st-century, and a stereotypically Brazilian problem-city inflected with local characteristics. The methodological dimension of my dissertation is an intervention into the selection of such characteristics: how will we construe the ‘too much’ city? How will we think mega-urban sociality beyond a series of dystopic tropes and singular objects that have come to naively stand for ‘the city’? I propose a reinvigoration of megacity metonyms, writing less about São Paulo the city than about a corporeal milieu richly visible in classic metonymic spaces like transit stations and mega-hospitals.
DIGGING THROUGH THE ARCHIVES
Viviana Hong, Romance Languages & Literatures
“Censorship in Children’s Literature during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976–1983)”
Abstract: The object of this research project was to learn about the processes of literary censorship and regulation of cultural production during the Argentine military dictatorship (1976–1983), also known as the “Dirty War.” My research focused on the circulation of children’s books and textbooks during this period, many of which were prohibited by the armed forces as part of an extensive and rigorous “ideological cleansing” national project—“Proceso de Reorganización Nacional”—designed to transform not only state institutions but also Argentine society as a whole. The regime recognized the power of stories in promoting potentially rebellious tendencies and behaviors in young children to breed a new generation of subversives. Thus, they closely monitored the circulation of school materials presented to children through numerous bulletins and pamphlets distributed regularly to school administrators with directives on how to modify internal operations as well as curricula. My research mainly consisted of the examination of administrative documents and educational modules before and after the military era to compare yearly adjustments of study plans and textbook contents to enhance my understanding of how the authoritarian government controlled the circulation of ideas and knowledge in the area of education during this period.
Aditi Rajeev Shirodkar, Political Science
Faith in Conquest: Colonialism and Christianity in Portuguese Brazil and India
Abstract: This dissertation attempts to develop an understanding of early modern empires where conquest was determined by and through religion. The questions that must be addressed are: How was colonial civil authority both justified and contested by spiritual authority? In other words, what role did religion play in the conceptualization of imperial projects, in envisioning the purpose of expansion, as well as the mode through which it was to be realized? And how was religion itself invoked by colonized subjects to challenge colonial assertions of moral authority and stake claims to being moral subjects capable of governing themselves? While existing scholarship on the emergence of new-found faith under grossly non-egalitarian and formally coercive regimes has brought to the fore the uneasy relationship between power and spiritual self-discipline, I suggest that viewing religious conversion in the context of colonialism through a singular lens of oppression elides its seductions and its promises. I argue that complete assimilation to the colonial religion and way of life need not imply submission. Colonial religion was a sphere for the production of knowledge and the formation of the spiritual subject must be localized as much in assent as in dissent.
Marco Torres, History
The Popular Front in México (1933–1943)
Abstract: My preliminary dissertation research has been on the question of the labor movement and state formation in 1930s Mexico. During this period, labor unions underwent a rapid increase in political influence, followed by a swift integration as a bureaucratic arm of the state apparatus. As the economy recovered from the ravages of the Great Depression, unions became increasingly combative. In the midst of an unprecedented strike wave, the disperse and often conflictive leadership of the movement joined together into a single national federation, the CTM. Allied to the government of Lázaro Cárdenas, the CTM led mass mobilizations and pushed for reform, most famously the oil nationalization of 1938. However, as the labor movement grew closer to the government, it also had to push its radical leadership and abandon its oppositional role. In my research I sought out internal documents of labor leaders at the time in order to seek an explanation for this rapid political transformation.