Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Latin Americans Do Not Participate in Latin American Studies

Enrique Mu and Milagros Pereyra-Rojas, "Impact on Society Versus Impact on Knowledge: Why Latin American Scholars Do Not Participate in Latin American Studies," Latin American Research Review 50, 2 (2015): 216-238.


Although Latin America is home to 8 percent of the world’s population, only 1.7 percent of scholarly knowledge about Latin America is produced there. The limited voice of Latin American scholars in Latin American studies constitutes the loss of a valuable and unique cultural perspective. To address this issue, we interviewed Latin American studies scholars residing in Latin America as well as those residing in the United States and United Kingdom to reveal how and to what extent these scholars participate in the international academic community. Our findings show that the two groups were markedly different. Latin American scholars identify themselves as agents of change, motivated by a desire to solve problems and fulfill social needs in the region, whereas US/UK-based scholars see themselves mainly as experts in the field, driven by a desire to impact the knowledge about the region.

This is a really cool article that should spark both introspection and discussion. Especially through the quotes of US/UK scholars I saw myself in it. For me, it all started with learning Spanish starting in 7th grade (which at the time was the beginning of junior high):

I love Latin American studies. And I think that, for me, the most exciting thing is the interdisciplinary aspects about it. That is to say, many of us—many people like me—come into area studies, Latin American studies, even though we’re in political science, or in social science, we really got very excited about the language, about Spanish. . . . We really got excited about the culture. People who were studying in Latin America, they had experiences that shaped their lives. (28-US-F)

Like other interviewees, one of my major goals is to get people (like my students, but the general public as well) to understand Latin America better.

I guess somebody who is strongly committed both to teaching and research. So I enjoy both parts of that, and probably more than some, I guess, I feel my role is also to try to sort of reach out beyond the academy to help people to—well, to help students and others really understand issues of Latin American politics and the economy. (22-USA-M)

These motivations are very different from Latin American scholars, who came to this area of study in large part because of the problems they saw around them and/or experienced directly themselves. In the article, the juxtaposition of answers from Latin American versus US/UK scholars is really fascinating. Especially since I did not grow up in Latin America and do not live there, it seems presumptuous for me to claim an identity as an agent of change. I got into Latin American Studies because other people, my teachers, showed me how much they valued it. In college I took Spanish courses and read Latin American novels while also taking Latin American politics. During my MA I took Latin American history courses, and the interdisciplinary nature of my studies really appealed to me. It further drove me to understand how my own government dealt with the region.

There are other issues in the article as well. If you study Latin America, I recommend it.

In summary, a key lesson of this study is that the field of Latin American studies would be enriched by promoting the participation of Latin American scholars in the international academic community. For this purpose, the international academic community needs to be inclusive of the different but complementary worldviews of scholars and scholarship inside and outside the Latin American region in order to develop a truthful Latin American studies discipline in both depth and breadth.



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