Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Lucila Nejamkis Interview, 2021-2022 Cogut Visiting Professorship

September 22, 2022

The Craig M. Cogut Visiting Professorship in Latin American and Caribbean Studies brings leading scholars from Latin America and the Caribbean to teach and conduct research at Brown University. Visiting Professors are based at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and teach one undergraduate course on Latin America per semester, advise undergraduate and graduate student theses, and give presentations in the Center or affiliated departmental colloquia.

Sebasstian Adriano ‘25 interviewed 2021-2022 Cogut Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies, Lucila Nejamkis, on her research, publications, and experience at Brown. 

Sebasstian Adriano ‘25 (SA): Could you please give us a brief overview of who you are, your academic background, and the focus of your work?

Lucila Nejamkis (LN): I am a sociologist with a degree from Universidad de Buenos Aires. I completed my master’s degree in Madrid on political participation at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, my doctorate in Buenos Aires, and my postdoctoral fellowship in Paris and with CONICET (the National Council on Scientific and Technical Research) in Argentina. I also completed a research visit at  Universitat Pompeau Fabra in Barcelona. I started out studying migration policy in Argentina, Mercosur (the Southern Common Market), and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) for my doctorate. I focused on the human right to migrate as a government policy. At the time, I was interested in learning about the information that governments use to make decisions about migration policy. I also asked about the role of the idea of the nation, national identities, and otherness when managing migration. For me, it was important to understand why certain discourses and practices dominated at different times.

While conducting my postdoctoral research, I worked on migrant women’s political participation in the Buenos Aires metro region. There I focused on going beyond documents, laws, and discourses to look at specific practices linked to the impact of regulations on migrants’ daily lives, and not in the letter of the law. That led me to focus mainly on migrant women, as they are the ones who participate and get involved in community life in their destination communities. As part of that line of work, I am currently co-directing a project funded by the IDRC in Canada on gender, migration, and climate change in the Reconquista area of Buenos Aires. The project examines the resilience of migrant women and workers and their capacity to respond to social-environmental problems. This work has given me an enormous opportunity and experience because it is participatory action research that involves not only learning about but changing the lives of the most vulnerable populations.

I have completed over four years of inter- and trans-disciplinary research with sociologists, anthropologists, architects, environmental engineers, and biologists, to name just a few. This has allowed us to engage in a wide range of activities with the communities and to generate key data that demonstrate the link between migration and climate change and the differential impact on women and girls. 

SA: You have talked a lot about immigration in Latin America, especially South America. Is there a relationship between your work around immigration, the history of the southern part of Latin America, and your personal experiences in Argentina?

LN: Yes. The truth is that the world is migrant. When I start my classes, students are a little perplexed because I tell them that immigration is not a problem. Immigration is the very essence of human beings. Immigration is the rule, not the exception. In that sense, the history of Argentina, like the history of most countries in the world, including Latin America, is shaped by migrants from different parts of the world who have left their countries or regions of origin for various reasons at certain points in time.

SA: Could you tell us more about your work through the National Council on Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET)?

LN: I have been part of CONICET since 2006 in one way or another because the Council funded my doctoral and postdoctoral studies. I managed to become a researcher with the entity, which involves a great deal of work and many different responsibilities. I am now directing graduate students’ master’s degree and doctoral theses and participating in various projects. My current project is related to the participation of internal and international migrant women in environmentally degraded territories. I look at how these women organize and fight for their rights.

I believe that working as a researcher is one of the most gratifying parts of my life. It lets you engage in training on an ongoing basis and train others, explore different places, participate in various projects, and generate new ideas and new knowledge that can help to create a more just world.

SA: It is clear that your work has to do with the connection between environmental issues and migration. Could you tell us a little more about that topic?

LN: I believe that there was always a connection between the environment and migration. However, over the past 50 years, international agencies, the ‘hard’ sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities began to think about climate change as a fundamental issue for the sustainability of human life. In that sense, we understand that it is the productive system, in that it is produced by human beings (it is an anthropogenic issue), that destroys ecosystems, biodiversity, and human groups’ ability to subsist.

The changes that have taken place in Latin America due to this type of production, which is characterized by neo-extractivism, intensive cattle raising, and the indiscriminate planting of soy that drives populations to major cities. There, people settle in informal communities in vulnerable areas that in turn generate deterioration of urban territories, which have already been polluted by industries, waste, etc. 

For example, in our research site, there is a dual relationship: women come from ecologically deteriorated rural places and come to ecologically deteriorated urban spaces or spaces that present environmental injustices. These communities live alongside the largest landfill in Latin America, and many of them suffer from illnesses derived from consuming or smelling waste, or they have gastric problems because they consume polluted water. Those are just a few of the most recurrent problems.

In other words, human beings are responsible for these environmental injustices, and governments and the private sector must create agreements so that people can enjoy an environmentally dignified life.

SA: Why did you apply to be a Craig M. Cogut Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies?

LN: Brown University has a great deal of prestige at the global level. Although I had already completed research stays in other countries, including my master’s degree work in Spain and research visits in Barcelona and Paris, I had never had a direct connection to academia in the US. After the experience of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I liked the idea of working abroad. I received the call for applications and it aligned perfectly with my profile. It looked like a good opportunity to get my work out there, to teach students at Brown, and to share my work, especially the more empirical part, which is based on my field work. It was also an opportunity to expand my reading through access to materials that were not available to me. And it was a chance to engage with other professors and students.

SA: Could you tell us about your work publishing research essays and collaborating on book chapters?

LN: I have published books, articles in national and international journals, book chapters, and other texts over the course of my career about many topics linked to migration, gender, human rights, citizenship, the State, etc. I am currently working on the results of our most recent research on migration, gender, and climate change, developing articles at the national and international levels in English and Spanish. Right now, I am working on three articles.

For example, one of the pieces is an interdisciplinary text that includes engineers, chemists, archaeologists, biologists, and migrant women themselves. We use a “participatory action” strategy, creating practical tools to help migrant populations to work on their own issues. We also are working on an article on maps in which women indicate the environmental and social risks that they are facing.

I presented a paper at the Latin American Studies Association Congress this spring with a colleague who conducted her fieldwork in Paraguay. We compared the experiences of women who remain in Paraguay to those of women who migrate, and discussed how the environmental crisis influences their decisions to stay or move on.

Finally, I am working on a text about a census of people who collect trash to sell or recycle. In many cases, they are internal migrants from a specific area of Argentina -Santa Fe province-, and many cite the floods caused by soy plantations as a key part of their decision to leave home. I am also preparing my next book, which should be out in the middle of next year and involves the collective work that we have done over the past four years.

SA: Which courses did you teach at Brown? Did you like teaching here? What was it like to work with Brown students?

LN: I taught two courses at Brown in fall 2021 and spring 2022. The first was titled “Migration and Gender in Latin America: Crossing Borders and Bridging Disciplines.” The second was “Latin America in Motion: Migration and Crisis in the Post-globalization Era.” The first course was a great experience because there were just six of us, and the students and I engaged in very, very in-depth work. I was so impressed at the outset by the commitment and passion of Brown students, especially how much interest they have in each class. I was flattered when the group grew to 17 for my spring course. That was another very curious and engaged group. The experience was a very, very positive one for me, and I hope that was the case for them as well. I am very grateful to Brown University for all of the support that I received during my stay. It was a great opportunity, and I made the most of every minute. I truly felt very welcome, especially by my CLACS colleagues, who made me feel right at home.

SA: What other programs or activities did you participate in at CLACS?

LN: I have had a very productive experience at CLACS, during both the fall 2021 semester and spring 2022 semester. I took part in various activities. For example, I moderated panels on inter-generational migration and relations at the Sawyer Seminar conference on Migration and Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean. I presented my work on November 11, 2021 in the form of a talk titled “Socio-Environmental Strategies for Strengthening the Resilience of Women Migrant Workers in the Reconquista Area of Buenos Aires.” I also participated in the Sawyer Seminar spring 2022 conference Migration, Race and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, presenting the talk “From Global Categories to Local Experiences: Climate Change, Gender, and Migration in Buenos Aires, Argentina.” I was part of the panel discussions “Exploring Themes in Intra-Regional Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean” and “Climate Change and Displacement: Experiences from Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East.” I helped organize a visit by writer Mariana Enriquez, whose books focus on issues related to my research topics- and she is my favorite contemporary Argentine writer. I had the honor of interviewing Mariana with my colleague Erica Durante. Finally, I was part of the CLACS reading group on Hyper-realism and Horror in Literature by Contemporary Latin American Women Writers.

SA: Are there any research areas that you are interested in and would like to study in the future?

LN: Like any good researcher, I am very curious and interested in many different things! (laughs) I understand that one cannot do it all, though. I think I will continue to work on the environmental crisis and its connection to human mobility. For now, I would like to be able to conduct comparative research in different Latin American countries. I also want to continue to connect my research to issues of gender, which I believe will be key to continued research on issues linked to caregiving.