Brown University
Development Studies

Charlotte Biren '16

Student Spotlight: Charlotte Biren '16

Name: Charlotte Biren ‘16

Concentration: Development Studies and Latin American and Caribbean Studies 

Hometown: Santa Monica, CA

What is your thesis on?

I am studying the digital representations of a specific Indigenous culture- the Kichwas of Otavalo- in the Northern part of Ecuador. I am looking at how externally-derived online representations from tourist websites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet portray Indigenous Culture through the language, rhetoric, and imagery used. I am comparing that with the way that the Kichwas have represented themselves through multimedia platforms.

Otavalo has a tourism website that is internally derived. They also have many cultural heritage and identity-based websites. I am looking specifically at the Association of Audiovisual Producers Kichwas (APAK). They create videos, music videos, TV series, and documentaries around Otavalo distinct culture, food, music, and clothing and then make their media globally accessible. Their work challenges the idea of Indigenous culture and identity as stereotypically static, localized and stagnant. Producers are committed to undermining notions of indigeneity being antithetical to modernity. I am looking at how different representational strategies are used to mediate entrance into a global economy and global digital sphere.

How did you get interested in this field of study?

There is a personal element to it. My mom is Ecuadorian. While I respect her choice to assimilate upon immigrating to the US, I have felt disconnected from my Ecuadorian heritage. I really wanted to explore that part of my identity and learn as much as I could about Latin American culture and history. I also felt that studying Development Studies and Latin America Studies at Brown was a good way to historically contextualize the forces that have facilitated Latin American migration and transnationalism.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate, I will be working doing digital media planning in San Francisco. I hope to use this experience to gain tangible skills to then go do work in Latin America within the next two years, ideally in Ecuador, with cultural preservation organizations. I want to end up in an organization that is prioritizes multimedia production into their representation strategies.