Rebecca M. Torres
Faculty Research Associate — Ph.D., University of California at Davis
Associate Professor, Department of Geography and the Environment
My experiences as both a development practitioner and an academic have provided me with the opportunity to work with diverse topics related to rural/community development and poverty reduction in Latin America and the U.S. South. Specifically, I am interested in migration and rural restructuring; agricultural change; and the intersection between tourism, poverty and development.
My research trajectory has focused on rural/community development and poverty reduction, with special emphases on migration, agricultural transformation and tourism in the context of globalization. Given the gendered nature and uneven effects of these processes, I have an emerging interest in feminist geography, gender, and children’s geographies. Through my work I have sought to advance theoretically informed understandings of neoliberalism, rural restructuring and transnationalism as lived experience on the ground by migrants and their families. Methodologically, my work has employed both quantitative and qualitative mixed methods, and I have sought to contribute new approaches involving narrative inquiry and participatory methods – the latter particularly with respect to activist/engaged research. My research, by its very nature, crosses disciplines and academic/praxis boundaries. This has provided the opportunity for significant collaboration with diverse scholars, development practitioners and activists. Below are key objectives and selected outcomes for my three overarching research foci.
I. Latino Transnational Migration, Rural Restructuring and Development
Through theoretically grounded transnational multi-sited ethnography (including mixed methods) of new geographies of Latino transnational migration I have sought: 1) To understand the distinct place-specific ways in which transnational migration emerges as a consequence, response, or adaptation to neoliberal policies and practices at multiple scales; 2) To discern the everyday ways in which different embodied individuals (i.e. distinguished by gender, ethnicity, class, age, etc.) experience, negotiate, resist, enact and adapt to neoliberalism and migration; and 3) To examine critically current migration and development discourse and policy while illustrating the importance of integrating the specificities and differences of place, scale, gender and race/ethnicity in envisaging future alternatives. Extensive fieldwork for this project has been carried out in Veracruz and Michoacán, Mexico as well as in the U.S. rural South. This research was supported by an NSF Early CAREER Award (Award #0547725 and #1005927), a UT Harrington Faculty Fellowship, and a Z. Smith Reynolds grant, among others. Selected publications include:
Torres, R. and L. Carte (forthcoming) “Community participatory appraisal in migration research: connecting neoliberalism, rural restructuring and mobility,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Torres, R. and M. Wicks-Asbun (2013) “Undocumented Students’ Narratives of Liminal Citizenship: High Aspirations, Exclusion and ‘In-Between’ Identities,” Professional Geographer, Focus Special Issue on Diversity, Inclusion and Participation in Geography, published online January 8, 2013 (1-10), print version: forthcoming 2013
Popke, J. and R. Torres (2012) “Neoliberalization and transnational migration in the Totonacapán,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, published online February 29, 2012 (1-19), print version: January 2013, vol. 103 (1) 211-229
II. Development and Tourism
As the world’s largest and fastest growing industry, tourism is now routinely harnessed by developing country planners seeking to attract visitors from the “North” as a source of foreign exchange, investment, employment and economic growth. One attendant assumption of tourism development plans is that the economic benefits of tourism will trickle-down to stimulate other sectors of the local economy — notably agriculture. Empirical evidence suggests, however, that in many cases the expected linkages between tourism and agriculture fail to materialize. In fact, tourism development would appear often to harm local agriculture. Furthermore, one of the principal findings from my tourism and agriculture research in the Yucatan Peninsula was that mass tourism enclaves (i.e. Cancun) often serve as magnets for rural-to-urban migration of impoverished peasant farming populations in search of work, resulting in the expansion of urban slums on resort peripheries. Over the years this research has been supported by a Fulbright and NSF Awards (#9627457), among other university grants. Selected publications include:
Torres, R. and J. Momsen (eds) (2011) Tourism and Agriculture: New Geographies of Consumption, Production and Rural Restructuring, Series: Contemporary Geographies of Leisure, Tourism and Mobility, Routledge: London and New York [ISBN: 978-0-415-58429-6]
Torres, R. and J. Momsen (2005) “Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 95 (2) 314-335
Torres, R. (2003) “Linkages Between Tourism and Agriculture in Mexico,” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 30 (3) 546-566
III. Development and Agrarian Transformation
Development and agrarian transformation is the third theme threaded throughout much of my research, including those areas already described. Throughout my academic career I have remained engaged in various agricultural development initiatives to facilitate dialogue between diverse stakeholders. This work has included research examining the connections between neoliberal agrarian restructuring and new patterns of internal and international migration; the introduction of alternative crops in the tobacco-dependent U.S. south; and the implementation of Cuba’s free farmer markets – a critical early capitalist market reform. Sources of funding included the National Science Foundation (Award #0547725 and #1005927), The Golden LEAF Foundation and the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, among others. Selected publications include:
Torres, R. (2011) “Life Between the Two Milpas: Tourism, Agriculture and Migration in the Yucatan.” In Tourism and Agriculture: New Geographies of Consumption, Production and Rural Restructuring,” edited by Rebecca Torres and Janet Momsen, Routledge: New York and London, 47-71
Torres, R., V. Nelson, J. Momsen & D. Niemeier (2010) “Experiment or Transition? Revisiting Food Distribution in Cuban Agromercados from the “Special Period,” Journal of Latin American Geography, vol. 9 (1) 67-87
Hapke, H., R. Torres, J. Popke and D. Alderman (eds) (2002) “Remaking Tobacco Dependent Communities,” Special Issue, North Carolina Geographer, 2002, Vol. 10, 1-135
**To learn more about my current research see Latino Migrations Web Page: https://webspace.utexas.edu/rt7296/www/Latino_Migrations,_Rural_Transformations_%26_Development.html and UT Research Spotlight http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/geography/news/6648
Community Engagement/Activist Research
In collaboration with Greene County Public Schools and East Carolina University (ECU) faculty we received funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to implement a preliminary study of rural Latino families, and to support a university-community partnership to implement, “Los Puentes” (“Bridges”) dual language immersion and multicultural education program in a North Carolina rural school system. This program continues to expand and has been recognized with Global Communicators and Lighthouse awards.
In Austin I have participated in an activist research project, “Building Austin, Building Injustice.” This initiative was a collaboration between UT faculty and students from various departments and Worker’s Defense Project (WDP)/Proyecto de Defensa Laboral (PDL), a grass roots non-profit worker’s rights organization. The participatory activist study sought to better understand the conditions prevalent in Austin’s construction industry and promote fair labor practices, and resulted in corrective legislation. To disseminate results among the academic community we published:
Torres, R., R. Heyman, S. Muñoz, L. Apgar, E. Timm, C. Tzintzún, C. Hale, J. McKiernan Gonzalez, S. Speed and E. Tang (2012) “Building Austin, Building Justice: Immigrant Construction Workers, Precarious Labor Regimes and Social Citizenship,” Geoforum, published online December 4, 2012 (1-11), print version: March 2013, vol. 45, 145-155
WDP/PDL replicated the study at the state scale in Texas’ five largest and fastest growing cities, and is now organizing a nation-wide study. To learn more about their work and obtain research reports see: http://www.workersdefense.org
Fundamental to my teaching philosophy is the belief that the acquisition of critical thinking skills should be integral to all courses I teach. To achieve this objective I employ a variety of pedagogical approaches to create a highly participatory learning environment in my classroom. At the undergraduate level I teach courses on “Food, Farming and Global Hunger,” “Sustainable Development: Tourism, Poverty and Development,” and “Latina/o Migration Narratives.” At the graduate level I offer the courses “Gender and Migration” and “Research in Geography” (a research design and proposal preparation course).
UGS 302 - Latina/o Migration Narratives (Undergraduate)
This course explores the Latino migration experience through migrant stories, or narratives, as documented through testimonial literature, (auto)-biography, ethnography, novels, film, photography and art. We will examine both individual and collective representations of the lived experience of migrants, and situate them within broader current social, political, cultural and economic immigration debates.
Migration is among the most pressing and controversial issues of our time. Examining migration through stories, which are expressions of everyday life experiences by the actors themselves, places a human face on the highly contested issue that is prominent in the public arena. This approach enables students to understand how international, domestic and local policy and practice reshape the life experiences of migrants, and how they in turn respond, negotiate, resist and attempt to access opportunities.
GRG 396T/WGS 393/LAS 388 - Gender and Migration (Graduate)
After many decades of scholarship that virtually ignored gender, scholars increasingly have come to recognize the highly gendered nature of migration and its multiple outcomes. Gender analysis is critical to migration studies, not only because of the gendered nature of mobility and labor, but also because it is the key social construct upon which we organize our lives and society. Men and women experience, negotiate, reconstitute, enact and respond to migration in deeply different ways, even within the same family and community. Understanding these differences, across multiple scales in diverse places, is important to gauge the uneven impacts of migration. In this course we seek to: 1) discern the distinct forms in which men and women experience, negotiate, resist, enact and adapt to migration and current neoliberal practices often underlying (im)mobilities, as well as the sources of these differences; 2) comprehend how migration has unevenly reshaped various facets of life for immigrants and their families – such as material accumulation and consumption, desires, aspirations, division of labor, mobility, power relations, responsibilities, inclusion, exclusion and identity across gender, place and scale; 4) To examine, critically, current migration and development discourse and policy in light of the specificities and differences of place, scale, gender and race/ethnicity in envisaging future alternatives.
This course focuses on contemporary transformations in global gender and migration from an interdisciplinary social science perspective, but with a strong emphasis on the work of feminist geographers. In particular feminist geographies of migration pay close attention to dimensions such as the spatialities and social constructions of power; the politics of scale; gender divisions of mobility and labor; geographies of responsibility and care; critical theorizations of space and place; indentities; emotion and affect; situated knowledges, among others. We will approach topics through a variety of methods including critical readings of academic, ethnographic and more popular texts; seminar discussions (both instructor and student facilitated); in-class and student research paper presentations. To illustrate current trends and processes we will examine case studies from different parts of the globe, however the course will have a heavy Latin America/US migration orientation.
GRG 38143/LAS 388 - Mexican Migration Research Seminar (Graduate)
This course explores contemporary research on the “New Geography of Mexican Migration” to the US, with an emphasis on new origins and destinations, neoliberal restructuring and migration, rural transformation and migration, political and social citizenship, indigenous migration, migration and development,“the left behind,” the gendered nature of migration and the relationship between internal and international migration, among other topics. The seminar will take a “hands-on” approach, with students organizing and collaborating in 2-3 different interdisciplinary research teams. Over the course of the semester, each team of researchers will engage in a major writing project -- specifically to analyze and prepare a publishable quality academic manuscript based on original qualitative and quantitative data from one of 2-3 different field studies. These studies include: 1) Mexican migration from the Tierra Caliente region (Michoacán) to rural North Carolina; 2) Rural transformation & settlement in the US South; 3) Tourism-driven internal and new international migration in the Yucatan (Cancun & rural communities of Quintana Roo). Within this context, students will have the opportunity to explore a variety of theoretical perspectives potentially relevant to their projects including: global neoliberalization; transnationalism and transnational spaces; geographies of hope, fear and desire; feminist theory, citizenship, identity and subjectivity, actor/network theory, embodiment, subaltern studies and political ecology, as well as those identified by research teams. In addition, we will also explore relevant methodological issues and approaches in migration research including: research design, quantitative/qualitative synergies and tensions, empirical/theoretical divisions, migrant narratives and critical ethnography, cross-border collaborations, participatory appraisal, researcher positionality and field work dilemmas, among others.