Saturday, February 13, 2010

Publications, presentations, and teaching

It's been quite a while since we posted, but we've been busy nonetheless, and our work has resulted in another conference presentation (in Brazil), a set of four linked/translated articles about Ecuador's constitution and battles for natural resources, and a forthcoming peer-reviewed article based on our 60 interviews in El Alto and La Paz. It's taken a LOT of patience and revising and resubmitting (and revising and resubmitting) to get this far and we are now nearing the end of this project's epic trajectory. We plan to have the last major publication -- a bi-lingual online photo essay co-authored by James Lerager and Jesús Valencia -- finished and published by April 2010.

The other notable outcome of our work is that we are currently co-teaching an introductory course at Macalester College, "Latin America through Women's Eyes," that builds on the rapport and expertise we developed while studying women's leadership in the Andes. It is a fitting book end, since Nicole and I met through the same course in September 2006, when she took it as her first class at Macalester.

Here are the citations of the recent and forthcoming items:

“Presence, Status, Respect, Voice: Gender Dynamics and Anti-Privatization Movements in Bolivia and Ecuador,” paper presented at the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (Rio de Janeiro, June 2009).

“Correa vs. Social Movements: Showdown in Ecuador,” NACLA Report on the Americas 42, 5 (September 2009): 21-24. Available at

“Correa vs. Movimientos Sociales: Conflicto en Ecuador,” translated by César Flores, NACLA Report on the Americas 42, 5 (September 2009). Available at

“Under Fire: Ecuador’s Acción Ecológica,” NACLA Report on the Americas 42, 5 (September 2009). Available at

“Bajo Fuego: Acción Ecológica de Ecuador,” translated by César Flores, NACLA Report on the Americas 42, 5 (September 2009). Available at

“Women’s Voices on the Executive Council: Popular Organizations and Resource Battles in Bolivia and Ecuador” (with photographs by James Lerager), Latin American Perspectives 37, 4 (forthcoming July 2010).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Slideshow and lecture at Macalester

Today we gave a presentation at Macalester as part of the Pi Sigma Alpha lecture series. We were well-dressed, and just moments before we were about to begin, a voice bellowed from the corridor: "Nicole! You look like a Republican!"

Always good to have David Seitz at an event.

Speaking for about 35 minutes, Nicole and I briefly summarized our model of Complementary Collaboration, showed Jaime's photos and told anecdotes about four popular movements in Quito and El Alto, and presented our academic argument about women's inclusion on the executive councils of these movements. We had a full house and received another 30 minutes of good questions and comments, as well as suggestions for the future direction of our research.
Our various anecdotes about interviewing a vampire, being briefly imprisoned, and getting kicked out of a restaurant while interviewing one of Ecuador's national political officials were well received. So were the cookies.

It was great for me to be able to share our work with my friends, who have heard tangential anecdotes about my experiences but hadn't heard too much about all the data we've collected and the specifics about our case studies. Oh, bridging connections between worlds! I also liked the juxtaposition between looking like a Daughter of the American Revolution and simultaneously talking about the twin beasts of neoliberalism and privatization. What would Sarah Palin say?!

--Paul and Nicole

Monday, November 10, 2008

Halloween with the North Central Council of Latin Americanists

On Halloween afternoon, we presented our initial research findings at the North Central Council of Latin Americanists conference, held at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. Pictured with us are Fiorella Ormeño Incio and Brendan Duke, who also presented papers at the conference. We had some good drama leading up to our talk, because two days beforehand I lost my voice! Erik Larson called it a public service. Up until about an hour before our talk, we didn't know if Nicole was going to have to do the whole talk by herself, but my voice returned and we put on a good show, complete with a Halloween-themed handout of our causal argument. Our paper was titled "Presence, Status, Respect, Voice: Gender Dynamics and Anti-Privatization Movements in Bolivia and Ecuador." NCCLA was a small conference, so it was easy to get to know a number of people as you saw the same faces at most of the panels over the course of two days. By contrast, when we present the final version of our work in Rio de Janeiro in June, there will be over 5,000 people at the Latin American Studies Association conference. It was a lot of fun for me to present at this conference with Nicole, and also have a current student (Fiorella) and former student (Brendan) presenting as well. And Brendan won the Student Research Award for best conference paper!
Probably the most disappointing part of the conference was not wearing costumes. Nicole had high hopes that we would buy bunny ears and/or a knife-through-the-head headband on the way to the conference, but this plan never materialized.
The most memorable line from our talk was when Nicole philosophically asked the audience: "Do retrograde patriarchal thugs pay a price for their misogyny?"

We spent Halloween eating leftover candy and discussing Obama and different birthing practices. Not quite Trick or Treating, but still a good time. After listening to Brendan's excellent presentation on Saturday morning, we ate Afghan food in Madison (they were setting up for the huge Halloween party) and headed back to St Paul. On the way back, we stopped for some authentic Wisconsin ice-cream (it's a tradition to stuff our faces with high-calorie deliciousness after working).

The adventure continues!

--Paul and Nicole


Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Andean Adios

Clean cut in Miami, pre-departure (June)

Ragged and research-weary in El Alto, Bolivia (July)

All gussied up in Quito, Ecuador (August)

Tomorrow we fly home via Miami, so this is our last post from the Andes, and probably our last post for some weeks, but though our 2008 summer field research prompted our creation of this blog, our collaboration (and thus the blog) hardly ends with tomorrow's jet travel. Looking ahead, we will be writing a conference paper in September, presenting the paper at the North Central Council of Latin Americanists at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater in October, preparing an article manuscript for Latin American Perspectives in November, and drafting text for a bi-lingual online photo essay in December. In 2009, we anticipate publishing two articles in Bolivian and Ecuadorian periodicals, submitting a pedagogy article about faculty-student collaboration to PS: Politics and Political Science, presenting our pedagogical reflections on our "Complementary Collaboration" model via Macalester's Center for Scholarship and Teaching, and presenting our final research findings and photographs at the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

So we're not quite done yet.

Reflecting back on the past nine weeks with Nicole, I recall an interview on June 13, our second day of fieldwork. Toward the end of that interview, I was explaining to our interview subject how Nicole and I knew each other, and without thinking about what I was saying, I said "Nicole era mi estudiante" ("Nicole was my student"). Nicole and I looked at each other across the table and both burst out laughing.

Some months before our fieldwork began, Nicole concluded that she was unlikely to take any more classes of mine. It came up in the context of discussing my Latin American Politics class—the logical "sequel" to the first-year seminar she took with me, Latin America through Women's Eyes. During her first year at Macalester, Nicole and I had both assumed she would eventually take the second course, and probably others with me as well. But, she told me (this past March), it would be too awkward, especially on the heels of an entire summer of research in the Andes together.

At the time, my reaction was one of understanding, but not really agreement. Basically, I felt that if she was uncomfortable with it, she shouldn't take the course, but that it was up to her. It definitely contradicted my expectations. Up until Nicole, many of the students with whom I worked/mentored took 3 to 7 courses with me, and I figured she would likely follow this pattern. But after her first semester at Macalester, I went on sabbatical and didn't offer any courses for over a year.

Up until we got to Bolivia, I still thought it possible that she would change her mind, but by our second day of Bolivia, I was surprised that I started to feel the same way: that it just wouldn't work. She had become one of my principle colleagues, and my classes, at least as they are currently designed, don't really offer a logical space in which she would fit. Instead, we are talking about co-teaching Latin America through Women's Eyes (Fall 2009), which would flow smoothly from our research on gender dynamics among Andean social movements.

I have learned a lot about collaboration with a research partner (Nicole) and about collaboration with a research team (Nicole, James, Jesús, and César). The two are very different. Working with Nicole, in Minnesota and in the Andes, I very much felt like I was working with a peer and an equal. Working with a team, it was obvious to everyone that I was in charge, which was difficult for me after getting used to such a level playing field with Nicole. It was also awkward for me to get used to Nicole switching roles. As research partners, she and I usually felt comfortable "giving orders" to each other, but in the team setting, Nicole wasn't in a position of authority to direct the other team members, which somewhat re-shaped how she related to me. In our final week, however, when it was just the two of us back on the interview trail, I was pleased at how easily we reverted to our status as research partners, which we prefer.

This research experience has definitely been like none other. There were many intense challenges, some of which pushed me to (and past) the breaking point like no previous trip had. We have a lot more reflection ahead of us, but one satisfying reflection I have already is this: looking at the scope, depth, and quality of what we accomplished in terms of our research project, I could not possibly have done it alone. I will sleep well tonight.


Nine weeks later, and we're on the eve of departure. From this crazy Andean adventure, we move onto the next stages of our academic work: articles, conferences, who knows what else. But to me, sitting in Quito after having been away from home for 63 days--my longest time away yet--it seems as though perhaps the most momentous challenges will not be spoken of at conference presentations or discussed within academic papers. The real challenge, for me, lies in incorporating all that I've learned from this voyage (which extends far beyond gender dynamics) into the rest of my life, making these 63 days not solely about studying someone else's struggle, but in fortifying my own sense of community, values, and justice. What that means in practice, I have not yet decided--but I sure hope it involves lots of friendship and ice cream.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mild-mannered Patricio Endara

Today Nicole and I had our final day of field interviews. Our 60th and final interview was with a prominent member of Quito's metropolitan council who will likely compete in the next mayoral election. His high profile and status was confirmed by the fact that our 3:00 appointment got bumped to 3:30, 3:45, 4:15, and finally 4:35. And our 30 minute slot was sliced down to 20 minutes. While we were waiting, we did electronic chores, charmed the office staff (yielded full access to the archives we needed), and ran into our friend Patricio Endara.
Patricio appears to be a mild-mannered Clark Kent type. He speaks in a quiet voice, doesn't emote much, and seems harmless. He says the following phrases all in the same tone: "I had coffee for breakfast," "I'm mobilizing 100,000 people to occupy central Quito next Saturday," and "Please pass the butter."

I met Patricio in 2002 when he was in charge of the Coordinadora Popular de Quito (Popular Coordinating Committee of Quito) which, when it (kind of) absorbed several other organizations (the most horizontal, consensual takeover you've ever heard of), morphed into the Foro Urbano (Urban Forum).

Patricio showed up to see the city councilman we were waiting to interview. It was clear from the office staff's reactions that Patricio would not need an appointment in order to cut in front of the entire line of well-dressed petitioners waiting their turn.

Patricio has no plans to run for office, but I predict a Paul Wellstone-like trajectory for him. He'll try to stick to movement politics, but in another decade he'll be dragooned into electoral politics by his allies and supporters who decide he's just too good to not put him in charge. His current project is to lead a massive groundswell of support for the "Sí" ("Yes") vote in the upcoming September Constitutional referendum (that's what the 100,000 people are for).

I once asked him to describe his greatest defeat. He was quiet for a long time, then shrugged, his only answer a faint smile that betrayed just a trace of ego, as if to say "I'll let you know if that happens. But don't hold your breath."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Foro Urbano

The Foro Urbano (Urban Forum), one of the case studies for our research project, in an articulation of the needs for a new direction for Ecuador, focuses specifically on creating connections between grassroots groups in urban zones. It is a network of people and groups working together at the grassroots to improve their poor communities and to create public policy to push Ecuador into becoming a more progressive country to meet the needs of all of its citizens. The current networks within the Foro Urbano are the women's movements (which is the most active), a network of poor neighborhoods, and land invasion communities. Last weekend, Mujeres por la Vida (Women Struggling for Life) and Foro Urbano held a two-day long workshop for activists from throughout the country to discuss the new constitution, why they should vote in favor of it in the referendum on September 27, and how to organize nationally in support of the constitution. Four of the 130 assembly members in the 8-month long constitutional assembly process came from Foro Urbano/Mujeres por la Vida's ranks (and answered specific questions about the constitution during the workshop), but all of the members of this grassroots movement are inspirational, intelligent, and articulate people fighting for change. Here, we give you a snapshot of some of those leaders.

A press conference after the workshop. Here (from left to right) you can see assembly member Ximena Orosco, president of the land invasion network Luis Esparza, Mujeres por la Vida president and Quito sub-councilwoman Maria Hernandez, and assembly member Betty Tola. Behind them, standing strong, are other activists from the national movements of Mujeres por la Vida and Foro Urbano who are organizing in support of the new constitution.

I met María Hernández in 2002, when I was studying the neighborhood of Itchimbía in downtown Quito. Itchimbía was founded by an illegal land invasion and María was the president of the group from 1996 to 2006. In 2002, she was organizing 150-200 meetings and events a year, both in her neighborhood and around Quito, plus parenting her son, plus earning income, plus aspiring to a political career. In 2004, she elected as one of the 30 City Council members that, with the mayor, govern metropolitan Quito. She's now President of Mujeres por la Vida and one of the most visible representatives of the Foro Urbano. She is incredibly smart and knowledgeable, and our latest interview with her nearly reach two hours because she can talk/teach effectively about most of the topics that interest us. She has an older brother named Virgilio...

Virgilio Hernández has been a prominent social movement leader for 25 years (he's now 42; do the math). A key Foro Urbano leader he was elected to the Constituent Assembly and has spent the last eight months co-drafting Ecuador's new Constitution. During our interview with him, we were repeatedly interrupted by fans, who came up to pat him on the back, shake his hand, and one abuela pretty much did jumping jacks for joy she was so excited and proud to see him in person and rave to me and Nicole about how he is the best Asambleista ever elected. His celebrity was lost, however, on the manager of the café where we were interviewing him, and she kicked all three of us out for taking too long to finish our drinks. Maybe she just doesn't like the new Constitution?

Until recently, Sara Proaño says, she was self-absorbed and held "neoliberal ideas." Focused only on making more money and improving her social status as the only wealthy doctor in her poor neighborhood in Quito, Sara understood life to be about buying new cars and protecting herself from the ruckus of the outside world. She thought the Itchimbia land invasion (ironically led by her future colleague Maria Hernandez) was accomplished by a group of hooligans with no respect for the law. A neighborhood meeting about increasing crime on the street changed this; Sara transformed into a community leader and then eventually the president of her neighborhood. After attending a transformative political leadership school for women, where Sara learned from illiterate indigenous women about globalization, neoliberalism, and the need for true community solidarity, she became a key leader in the national movement Mujeres por la Vida. Now, Sara remarks, she has completely changed her lifestyle and understanding of herself. Instead of driving two cars and continually buying new goods, she sold her cars, makes very little money, and works 365 days a year fighting for women's rights in Ecuador. Despite having renounced her wealthy former lifestyle, she says she's the happiest she's ever been.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cell Phone Use 101

If, you have the personal numbers of several of Ecuador's highest-ranking elected officials in your cell phone's directory,

And if, you have a curious two-year-old in the house who likes to push buttons,

Then, you should keep the cell phone key-locked,

To avoid embarrassment.