Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

In Latin America: Grad Students Test Ideas in the Field

October 14, 2010

Fieldwork is the cure for misconception, according to Richard Snyder, director of Brown’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. “When you do fieldwork you are forced to confront reality and you take your research problems from reality,” he said, in opening a recent workshop where graduate students shared findings from their summer field research. 

The workshop, “Back from the Field: Cross-Disciplinary Research on Latin America and the Caribbean,” gathered nine of 13 graduate student recipients of Tinker Field Research Grants, from the Departments of Hispanic Studies, Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Economics, Sociology, and Anthropology. Each presented research for constructive feedback in an interdisciplinary setting.

For instance, Ana Tribin of the Economics Department presented her research on “Consejos comunales in Colombia: A Political and Propaganda Tool to Remain in Power, or a Successful Way to Expand Government Presence in Marginalized Regions?” Tribin collected data about the location of these community councils and analyzed whether locations chosen by the government appeared to be related to elections. Her research showed that though the consejos comunales might focus in marginalized regions they are in fact used as a political tool.

Research on “Latin American Projects in Lima and Bogota: Taking (Dis)organization Theory Out of the Anglo-Saxon Context” was presented by Omar Pereyra of the Department of Sociology. In Peru and Colombia, he explored questions about community, such how neighborhoods, communities, and groups negotiate to live in common and to address problems. He identified ways in which class and social capital play a role in the organization and disorganization of a community.

Fieldwork grants from the Tinker Foundation provide funds for graduate students to conduct research in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, “to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of language and culture and to familiarize themselves with information sources relevant to their studies.” Recipients are encouraged to conduct pilot studies, do preliminary investigations, and develop contacts with scholars and institutions in the field.

The recent student presentations included descriptions of their thesis arguments, research conducted in the field, research methodologies, limitations, and potential future research.

Presentations, in addition to Tribin’s and Pereyra’s, included the following:
• “Exploring Cuba’s Contemporary Literary Field,” Ezio Neyra, Department of Hispanic Studies
• “In Search of Brazil in Hispanic America,” Thayse Leal Lima, Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies
• “Poetics in the Tragic: Tyrants as Poets in the sixteenth-century Spanish tragedies,” Felipe Valencia, Department of Hispanic Studies
• “Civil Society, Local Governance, and the Environment in the Brazilian Amazon,” Peter Klein, Department of Sociology
• “‘The Place of Rest’ Under Duress: Conflicts over Natural Resources and Historical Memory in Highland Guatemala,” Josh MacLeod, Department of Anthropology
• “View from the Top: Archeological Excavations at El Diablo, El Zotz, Guatemala,” Sarah Newman, Department of Anthropology
• “Continuity and Innovation at the Las Palmitas Group in El Zotz Guatemala,” Nicholas Carter, Department of Anthropology

Such fieldwork not only tests the graduate students’ theses, according to Snyder, but also helps give them a head-start in competing successfully for additional research grants and dissertations.

And, he said, the field research is “good for Brown. Fieldworkers are ambassadors for Brown University who increase Brown’s reputation and add visibility as an international, interdisciplinary place.”

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Brittaney Check ‘12