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With support from the Tinker Foundation, the LAII provides field research grants for graduate students in any UNM department who conduct field work in Latin America. Current recipients are listed below; past recipients may be viewed by clicking on the previous year's tab. To see a more complete collection of recent field research photography, visit the LAII's 2014 Field Research Flickr Album.
Holly Brause, a PhD candidate in Anthropology, traveled to the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Zacatecas, as well as the nation's capital, Mexico City, from June 17 to July 17, 2014, to research the significance of norteña music south of the border. In doing so, she supports a view of norteña music as a transnational cultural practice that links diasporic communities. By focusing on this musical genre's social significance and assigned meanings on the Mexican side of the border, she highlights the role of both physical and symbolic borders as punctuations of those transnational linkages. Her ethnographic research included participant observation, observation of performers, as well as an investigation of the historical background, the local media and local archives. This research led Holly to conceptualize norteña music as a genre that, while maintaining some continuity in form as it crosses borders, takes on different social significance in its local manifestations on each side of the border.
Latin American Studies Master's student Jeremy Falson traveled to Mexico City and the state of Puebla, a center of Mexico's auto industry, during the summer of 2014, to research the growth of domestically-owned auto part producers in Mexico. Specifically, he sought to investigate the role of Mexican state and national policy in the fostering of development in this sector. In doing so, he identified the courting of foreign investment through multi-national firms as a central component of state-designed development programs. For this reason, he focused in on answering this question: does the increase of foreign investment in domestically owned firms benefit Mexicans themselves, or does it effectually diminish Mexico's market-share by decreasing domestic investment? To do this, Jeremy met with various industry and state actors, including the Chief of Staff of Economic Development for the State of Puebla and the Director General of Heavy Industry and High Technology of Mexico's auto industry. In addition, he visited Volkswagen's production plant in Puebla. Jeremy's research adds to an emerging body of scholarly literature on the effects of Mexico's market reforms on domestically owned industry.
As a PhD candidate in Anthropology, Grant Florian traveled to the western Brazilian state of Acre in the summer of 2014, to visit important community centers and ritual sites of the syncretic religion called Santo Daime. There, he investigated the historical background of Santo Daime, which was conceived early in the 20th century by an Afro-Brazilian rubber tapper against the societal backdrop of a collapse of the Brazilian rubber industry. Despite the religion's formation around unemployed and otherwise disenfranchised Brazilians living in the Amazon region, the scope and appeal of the syncretic beliefs and rituals began to broaden during the 80s to include middle and upper class urbanites. In order to gain a clearer understanding of why this religion and its alternative ways of living are attracting so many of Brazil's east-coast middle and upper class to make the westward pilgrimage to Céu do Mapiá, Grant spent time living in this communal society, and a neighborhood outside of Rio Bronco called Colonia 5000, conducting interviews with leaders, ritual participants and pilgrims from the east. There, he found that environmentalist concerns and an urban desire to reconnect with nature is a large factor in the influx of urban daimistas, housed within a larger societal critique and backlash against capitalist modernity. Ultimately, he found that practitioners of Santo Daime of diverse social classes are promoting "alternate modernities".
Rebeca Martínez Gómez, a PhD candidate in Linguistics, traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico during the summer of 2014 to conduct the first stages of her doctoral research on language variation and stereotypes in Mexican society, and how that affects the first impression we form of a person. There, she compiled a corpus of both facial images and voices across a variety of young Mexican speakers. Based on the sociolinguistic theory that the sounds of language and physical appearance can provide us with social information about the speaker, she then asked a different set of participants to categorize that data according to two popular stereotypes of modern youth society in Mexico: fresas (spoiled elite) and nacos (the lower class counterpart). Rebeca focuses particularly on unpacking the many features of the linguistic stereotype of fresas - e.g., rising intonation at the end of statements, making them sound like questions - and on how the use of these impacts the way a speaker is socially perceived in two conditions: when the speaker physically resembles the fresa stereotype vs. when the speaker physically resembles the naco stereotype. She seeks to reveal through further research how the interaction between language variation and physical appearance impacts our impression formation of others.
A Master's student pursuing a dual degree in Latin American Studies and Community & Regional Planning, Amanda Hooker traveled to Bucaramanga and the Santurban Páramo of Santander, Colombia during the summer of 2014 to continue research on the human and environmental costs of transnational mining. She studied the social and economic forces and national and regional discourses that have a stigmatizing effect on the residents of the protected highland ecosystem. Specifically, she investigated points in which state, civil society and transnational and private national capital are colliding, reinforcing, and collaborating and how the outcomes may present both obstacles and opportunities for the rural farmers and miners that make their livelihoods and homes in the páramo. To do so, she interviewed a range of actors, including activists, journalists, engineers, mining employees and small-scale farmers and miners in the region. Along the way, she investigated how the various actors contest definitions of sustainability in light of recent Canadian-sponsored Colombian legislation, which, reinforced by U.S. military aid, promotes large-scale extractive interests over public health and safety.
A Master's student in Latin American Studies, Sarah Leister traveled to Nicaragua during the summer of 2014 to research an epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Non-Traditional Causes (CKDnt) among sugar cane workers in the country's northwestern region. In the small city of Chichigalpa alone, 75% of deaths among men ages 35-55 were caused by CKDnt between 2002 and 2012. Biomedical research frames the causes of the disease as uncertain, pointing to prolonged dehydration and heat stress as the most probable causes, which likely interact with other factors such as environmental toxins and use of painkillers, among others. On the other hand, community members frame the disease with more certainty: it is caused by working in the sugarcane industry, pesticides, lack of access to water, and water contamination, and it leads to a very certain death. CKD patients and their families have mobilized to collectively demand greater efforts on the part of the local sugarcane company (Ingenio San Antonio) and the government to prevent CKD and to enhance treatment and other supportive measures for sick ex-workers and their families. While there, Sarah worked alongside La Isla Foundation's public health team and interviewed several individuals who worked in the sugarcane industry, individuals who had had family members with CKD, and a scientific researcher. This study has offered a distinct anthropological perspective on the topic, which thus far has mostly been analyzed within the fields of public health and biomedicine.
A graduate student in Archaeology, Beau Murphy traveled to the Apurimac region of Peru to investigate the acquisition of prestige goods from Amazonia by Inca imperial powers based in the Andean highlands of Cuzco. Although the mechanics of the Inca 'prestige economy' and its importance in political hierarchies have been investigated in several regions, the Amazon and the cloud forests of the eastern Andean slopes (the Ceja de selva) have eluded such attention. We know from historic documents and archaeological findings that these areas provided goods such as coca leaves, jaguar pelts and parrot feathers, however it is not known to what extent the Inca Empire conquered the peoples of the jungle slopes or how exactly they acquired these important resources. In order to conduct his preliminary research addressing this question, Beau spent time working with museum and archive collections to become acquainted with the sequences he will need to know in order to investigate Inca period archaeological sites in the Ceja de selva. This supported the assessment via field visitation of a potential area of doctoral study located in the Ceja of eastern Apurimac. Finally, Beau consulted with senior investigators and government authorities in order to discuss the possibility of initiating dissertation research in the area during the 2015 field season.
A PhD candidate in Archaeology, Corey Ragsdale traveled to Mexico City and southern Mexico during the summer of 2014 to investigate the interactions between various pre-contact populations in the region. The study focuses on the effects of cultural and political traits on the degree to which certain population may or may not have interacted with one another. He specifically looks at the Aztecs, Tarascans and Mayans of the post-classic period, groups that populated the central, western and southern regions of present day Mexico, respectively. Due to geographical distance and political interaction, many scholars have left the Maya out of this relationship in terms of understanding the biological trends of population interaction. Working with scholars at various universities, including the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, Corey's research enhances our understanding of Mayan trade and interaction with its western and northern neighbors. By comparing dental observations on skeletal samples with cultural/linguistic similarities based on archaeological and ethnohistoric data, Corey's research is the first to compare these multiple lines of data inter-regionally in pre-contact Mexico.
A PhD student in Evolutionary Anthropology, Matthew Schwartz traveled to the Bolivian Amazon Basin during the summer of 2014 where he spent the year working alongside the Tsimane Health and Life History Project. While there, he worked as the only American on an all-Bolivian roving medical team and traveled through over 20 Tsimane villages, located along the Maniqui River near the Amazonian market town of San Borja. After gaining a specialized understanding of Tsimane oral health issues and piloting his interview techniques among a diverse set of Tsimane people, he began his dissertation research in the Fall of 2014 by examining the relationship between female reproduction and sex-specific oral health outcomes such as periodontitis and caries. Researchers have established numerous links between reproductive status and impacts on oral health, including calcium leaching during breast feeding and dietary behaviors during pregnancy. The Tsimane people offer unique insight into reproduction and oral health because of their high reproductive rates, lack of contraception, major sex-based disparities in oral health and very little access to modern dentistry. As Matthew continues collecting samples and conducting analyses, he remains deeply involved in the Tsimane Health and Life History Project and dedicated to the health care needs of the Tsimane people.
A PhD Candidate in History, Lean Sweeney has focused her studies on the formations of political boundaries in the Guatemala, Belize and Mexico border regions throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century. During the summer of 2014 she traveled to Guatemala City in search of relevant legal, state and archival documentation specifically dealing with the role of the Maya in the formation of these borders. In doing so, she seeks to add to and enhance understandings of the Maya's political agency in negotiating the placement of their borders, particularly during the period from Independence (1821) up to and through the final state actions regarding border treaties between Mexico and Guatemala (1895). Based on scholarly debates on the topic and her own research findings, Lean aims to shift our understanding of resistance and marginalized power by revealing that the Maya utilized their position as geographically and legally marginalized people in order to ensure their self-governance and autonomy.