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Greenleaf Symposium Fosters Interdisciplinary Dialogue

November 26, 2018

Greenleaf Symposium Fosters Interdisciplinary Dialogue


Focused on “Rural Transformation in Latin America’s Changing Climate,” the 2018 annual edition of the Latin American and Iberian Institute’s Richard E. Greenleaf Interdisciplinary Symposium on Latin America was successful, sparking debate and interest among an audience of over 75 faculty, students, and practitioners. The symposium brought to UNM leading and junior scholars from across the United States and Latin America, each presenting research along four themes: water governance, agroecology and agrarian change, narco and other drug economies, and security threats. The symposium was unique in its efforts to spark interdisciplinary discussion across intellectual fields and geographical spaces.

“I especially appreciated the generous time allotted for discussion following the keynote talks, which encouraged deep and fruitful conversations,” said William Stanley, director of the Latin American and Iberian Institute, who noted that this year’s symposium stood out for a more engaging and dynamic agenda, including varied formats of sessions, expansive time for question and answer sessions, and facilitated discussions.

Over the course of three days, participants addressed questions of how the rural sector in Latin America is changing in response to climate change and other drivers, including mining and other resource extraction, market integration, narco trafficking, as well as the local organizing and social movements that shape and negotiate these responses. The symposium focused particularly on smallholder, indigenous, and other rural people, which remain amongst the most vulnerable throughout Latin America. A key finding of the symposium was that climate change is just one of many tensions and stresses, which one conference participant described as “a tsunami of changes,” with which rural people must cope. An ambition of the conference was to develop interdisciplinary approaches to understand when and how academics and development practitioners can support rural people throughout Latin America meet their goals.

Symposium format and topics evolved under the guidance of the faculty steering committee, including Benjamin Warner and Chris Duvall of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Jami Nuñez of the Department of Political Science and Marygold Walsh-Dilley of the Honors College. Several UNM undergraduate and graduate students served as rapporteurs to help synthesize the research presentations and resultant discussions.

Benjamin Warner noted “The symposium was designed to allow attendees to step outside of their disciplines to challenge and broaden existing approaches to understanding rural development and change. In doing so, I think we have developed the foundation of a truly interdisciplinary approach that incorporates components from anthropology, sociology, political science, and geography… Part of what makes UNM unique and particularly effective is its commitment to support contributions from Latin America. This was evident in this year’s Greenleaf symposium.” 

The Steering Committee plans to develop a special issue of a regional or interdisciplinary journal to publish the insights of the symposium. “The presentations and discussions from the symposium where incredibly rich and synergistic,” wrote Marygold Walsh-Dilley. “It was fascinating how the research from across Latin America spoke to each other. I think we can make a strong theoretical, empirical, and cross-disciplinary contribution by bringing together papers from the presenters into a single collection. We especially hope to publish in an accessible format, including open-access and in Spanish, so that we can reach scholars, development practitioners, and policymakers in Latin America as well as a North American audience.”

The symposium is made possible each year thanks to a generous endowment from Dr. Richard E. Greenleaf (1930-2011), noted Latin American historian and dear colleague. In 2018, it was further supported by the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Department of Political Science, Honors College, National Security Studies Program, Office of the Provost, and the Phi Beta Kappa New Mexico Chapter.