Thursday, November 01, 2018

Ignoring Latin American Scholars

Victor Ray, a sociologist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, published a piece in Inside Higher Ed about racial bias in academic citations. It's well worth reading.

Much of the bias in citation patterns may be unintentional, as a path of dependency is built into them that reflects, reproduces and legitimates racial inequality. Inequality is reflected through a veneration of the classics. In the social sciences and humanities, many of these works were written during a period when racial and gender exclusion was simply expected and taken for granted. What counts as canonical is shaped by who had access to existing knowledge and the tools and institutional resources to produce new knowledge.
This immediately made me think of the study of U.S.-Latin American relations. In my book project I am using the Latin American concept of autonomy to understand the evolution of relations in the 21st century. After a bit of digging--and only a bit, it's all out there to be found--I realized that U.S. scholars were ignoring just about everything south of the border. This is from a draft of my intro chapter:

As it turns out, Latin American academics study the issue in ways that their U.S. counterparts seem mostly unaware of, at least if their citations and references are any guide. My goal is to consciously step out of both the U.S.-based academic literature and U.S. policy-centric viewpoints.
I can only speculate why this is the case, but there are several pretty obvious possibilities:

1. No one has heard of the Latin American journals so assume they are inferior.

2. No one has heard of the Latin American scholars because they cannot afford to attend conferences in the United States.

3. U.S. scholars cannot read Spanish or Portuguese. These days Google Translate can get you through, but you have to do initial literature searches in Spanish or Portuguese.

4. It just doesn't occur to them to look.

For years, I'd say I was guilty of a bit of #2 and a good dose of #4, and it's embarrassing to think about. How did I write two editions of a textbook on the topic without digging more deeply into all these sources?


Unknown 3:44 PM  

While I haven't technically read fully any of Arturo Escobar's work, a review of his most recent book mentions how he pulls a lot of Latin American theory into it, from a variety of Latin American scholars. He is a Colombian anthropologist based at UNC. If might be a good place to start for some folks, and the book is in English. Here's a link to the review:

Thanks for your blog. I check it daily with my rss reader.

Greg Weeks 1:00 PM  

Thanks, though I was referring specifically to the study of US-Latin American relations, which is the field I know. I can't speak to any other fields, though I would be interested to know if it holds elsewhere. And thanks for reading!

Sebastián Arana,  8:13 PM  

His work references international relations, including US-Latin American, and it also might illuminate your consideration of a Latin American sense of autonomy, which is partially why I brought him up.

Thanks for your response.

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