Sunday, August 10, 2008
An Andean Adios
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.