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Charles R. Hale, Director SRH 1.310, 2300 Red River Street D0800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512.471.5551

Faculty-Led Research Initiatives

LLILAS Faculty-Led Research Initiatives are projects carried out by interdisciplinary clusters of LLILAS-affiliated faculty focused on a specific topic of common interest. The initiatives must be coordinated by at least one (preferably two) LLILAS-affiliated faculty members, and we strongly encourage them to cross at least one significant disciplinary boundary.

These initiatives will meet, over the medium term, five distinct criteria, broadly interpreted:

  • Scholarly excellence
  • Research and learning opportunities for students
  • Collaboration with Latin America–based colleagues
  • Social impact beyond the academy
  • Financial sustainability

For more information, please contact Paloma Díaz, Scholarly Programs Director and Faculty Liaison.


Current Initiatives

Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Initiative
Faculty Coordinator: TBA

Gaining a comprehensive and accurate understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental degradation requires narrowing communication gaps that have historically existed between environmentally and socially inclined fields of study. This is particularly imperative in a time when human impacts on thenatural environment are not only locally and "scientifically" relevant, but are also widely accepted as being of global and socioeconomic significance. We propose to study the correlation of multi-decade land and marine resource use patterns on coral reef systems in northeastern Puerto Rico. However, our research approach explicitly recognizes the overwhelming influence of not only climate but also socioeconomic dynamics on these terrestrial and marine systems. Furthermore, this study intends to analyze human adaptations to changes in the abundance and quality of natural resources in the form of resource governance, private enterprise, and community participation.


Past Initiatives

Environmental Suffering, Toxic Uncertainty, and Collective Inaction in Latin America
Faculty Coordinator: Javier Auyero, Professor, Department of Sociology

This project will use ethnography, archival research, oral history, and photography to describe the life-threatening effects of environmental contamination in three highly polluted marginalized communities in the Americas (Abra Pampa, in Argentina; Esmeraldas, in Ecuador; and La Oroya, in Peru) and to explain the sometimes puzzling and contradictory meanings their poor residents ascribe to it. The main questions this project will address are the following: How do poor people make sense of and cope with toxic danger? When and why do they fail to understand and to act on what is objectively a clear and present danger? How and why are (mis)perceptions shared within a community? In answering these questions, the project will contribute to the resolution of the two-decades-long effort among scholars to understand the intermingling between risk frames and collective (in)action. LLILAS graduate students and UT faculty will work on collecting and analyzing the findings.

The Bones of Democracy: Constructing Inclusive, Effective, and Sustainable Democracies in Latin America
Faculty Coordinators: Daniel Brinks, Associate Professor, and Zachary Elkins, Associate Professor, Department of Government

Since the 1970s, Latin America has moved from the depths of dictatorship to stable democratic government. In spite of the advances, however, Latin American democracy seems, at times, a shallow and fragile thing, threatened by violence, instability, and weak institutional underpinnings. It is often unclear whether the newly inclusive and expansive constitutional structures of the region are the strong bones of a robust new democratic reality or the bare bones of a democracy that fails to meet its promises. This project aims to explore, from a variety of perspectives, exactly this question: What do the constitutional and other legal structures in the region contribute to democracy, at the regime level, and to citizenship, at the individual level? Do the new constitutions provide a strong foundation for stable, more inclusive democracies, or are they simply window dressing? Are new constitutions in places like Bolivia and Ecuador hiding the same old bones under a new skin, or do they promise to structure a truly different kind of democracy? How much does all this institutional reshaping matter, anyway, in a region that continues to be marked by high levels of economic inequality and violence? This initiative will bring together external scholars and select UT faculty and students for a workshop and paper series on Latin American Constitutionalism, with a particular focus on its consequences for citizens.

Civil Society–Based Corporate Accountability
Faculty Coordinator: Michael Conroy, Adjunct Visiting Professor, LBJ School, and Co-director of Colibri Consulting

This initiative seeks to consolidate LLILAS as the leading U.S. institution analyzing Latin American corporate accountability and social and environmental responsibility. We would like to promote further research, teaching, and/or academic events focused on the changing relationships between civil society, the private sector, and governments in Latin America. During this past year, we organized three events that discussed the role of civil society to enforce international standards for the social and environmental practices of private corporations: (a) a lecture at UT, (b) a workshop in São Paulo, Brazil, and (c) a panel at the 2010 LASA Congress. UT faculty and graduate students in collaboration with Latin American researchers are also preparing a comprehensive survey of research programs, scholars, NGOs, and others of interest who are engaged in initiatives around issues of corporate accountability in Latin America.

Gender Violence
Faculty Coordinators: Gloria González-López, Associate Professor, Depatrment of Sociology, and Héctor Domínguez-Ruvalcaba, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

The Gender Violence Initiative at LLILAS is a binational effort between our institution and CIESAS (Mexico), with the objective to explore and offer theoretical and methodological tools to all the people (students, activists, and professors) committed to developing our understanding of increasingly complex expressions of sexual and gender violence in contemporary Latin American society. We are motivated to explore the different avenues through which our critical thinking has the potential to become an effective tool to intervene at the level of collective action to eliminate all forms of sexual and gender violence. For us, it is urgent to reconsider the theories, methodologies, and ethical dilemmas involved in these conversations, and we want to explore ways in which the women and men involved in these dialogues can produce knowledge including but not limited to models of activism and public policy that may help us in these collective efforts.

Network of Observatories on Racism in the Americas
Faculty Coordinators: Charlie Hale, Professor, Department of Anthropology, and Juliet Hooker, Associate Professor, Department of Government

Throughout the Americas, we are witnessing an increase in acts of racism. One prominent response to the need to understand and document, as well as to actively contest, this problem has been the formation of Observatories. These are organizations, of diverse affiliation and internal structure, which have in common a three-part mandate: to carry out activities of research and documentation on racism; to formulate strategies for contestation of racism; and to train young scholar-activists to lead both efforts in the future. This project seeks to create a Network that will link Observatories (and similar organizations) recruiting members from six Latin American countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Chile, and Mexico), as well as the U.S. The three principal areas of work in this first phase are: (1) formulation and implementation of a comparative research project; (2) capacity-building activities among Observatory members; and (3) a yearly encuentro to share research results and information, and to formulate future plans. The deliverables of this project will be the Network itself, the research results, an archive of key sources on racism and antiracist strategies, and the teaching materials used in the capacity-building workshops.  The project will generate funding for student interns to work with the various observatories.

Social Consequences of the U.S. Policy of Massive Deportations
Faculty Coordinator: Néstor Rodríguez, Professor, Department of Sociology

The U.S. government undertook a policy of massive deportations with the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996. Formal deportations increased dramatically, from about 50,000 in 1995 to 393,000 in 2009, especially after the formation of the Department of Homeland Security bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which acts as a national deportation police. Mexicans constitute more than two-thirds of the deported migrants, and Central Americans follow in second place. LLILAS faculty associates and students will organize and implement a pilot study in 2011 of the social consequences of deportations for migrants, their families, and communities in Mexico and Central America. The project will operate with the collaboration of Mexican and Central American researchers and students.

Indigenous Women and Legal Regimes in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States

Faculty Coordinator: Shannon Speed, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

This initiative brings together researchers from UT and CIESAS Mexico working with indigenous peoples in the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala. We will meet in Austin to establish a shared framework for a research project on the political subjectivity of indigenous women in the three countries, as well as migrants between them, as they are constructed in a variety of legal contexts. The current juncture is one of political change, economic crisis, and escalating violence in these countries. While the moment is in some senses “post” neoliberal, the ways in which indigenous women are currently being interpolated by the state and are acting to shape their own futures continue to be shaped by the dynamics of the neoliberal multicultural period, even as new dynamics also come into play. These changing contexts provide a unique opportunity to explore the challenges and possibilities brought about by neoliberal reforms, the mobilization of indigenous culture and identity in organized legal struggles, and finally, the impact of these on state subject making and indigenous agency. Following the meeting in Austin, the team will develop a funding proposal for submission to the NSF or other appropriate funding agencies.

Participatory Mapping and the Struggle for Land and Resources

Faculty Coordinator: Bjørn Sletto, Assistant Professor, Community and Regional Planning, School of Architecture

This initiative explores the struggles for land and resource rights among indigenous, Afro-descendant peoples and other marginalized peoples in Latin America. In particular, research will focus on the confluence of new pressures on tenure and land rights and new, emerging representational strategies, tools, and methods. Community-based, participatory mapping has become an important tool for indigenous, Afro-descendant and other marginalized people in their struggles to secure their land and resource rights. However, these practices, tools, and methods need to be reconceptualized in light of emerging threats. To initiate this conversation and to develop strategies with implications for practice and theory, UT faculty and graduate students in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of U.S. and Latin American researchers conducted an exhaustive literature review and held a two-day planning workshop on participatory mapping, climate change, and forest rights, on November 19–20, 2010. The workshop included a public event attended by 70 UT students and faculty members. The group is also planning an international conference on this topic, to be held in Latin America during the summer of 2011. The conference will facilitate discussion and sharing of insights and visions for the role of participatory mapping for foundations, practitioners, and Afro-descendant and indigenous communities who are involved in issues of climate change, land rights, and forest reform. In subsequent phases, this initiative will seek funding to support future research and engagement by UT students and scholars in the area of Participatory Mapping and the Struggle for Land and Resources, building on networks and connections developed with Latin American scholars and practitioners during these initial phases. The goal is to make LLILAS and UT Austin the leading center for critical examination of theory and practice in this field.

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