Greetings from Uruguay! I have now been in Montevideo for over a month and am attempting to take stock of what is and is not working well as I reach the halfway point of my research in the field. In the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to carry out more in-depth interviews with important political and social actors in the campaign to annul the Expiry Law (mentioned in my previous blog post, below), including Marisa Ruiz, the former president of Amnesty International Uruguay, Oscar Urtazún from Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, several members of the national labor union PIT-CNT, a member of the Partido Comunista Uruguay active in the campaign, and academic experts Marcelo Viñar and Maren Ulriksen, all of whom were incredibly generous with their time and resources.
Perhaps my most fruitful conversation in the last two weeks was with Elbio Ferrario, the current director of MUME (Central Cultural Museo de la Memoria), which opened in 2007 and receives funding through the Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo. Unlike ESMA in Buenos Aires, MUME does not occupy a former detention and torture site. Also unlike ESMA, it is open to organized school groups of children younger than 16, so there are lots of very young children from the neighborhood at the site, engaged in art classes and workshops or playing on the extensive museum grounds. The neighborhood where MUME is located is extremely distant from downtown Montevideo and is both socially and economically marginalized – in fact, the museum has implemented a breakfast program for the local children who visit because they haven’t eaten at home. Ferrario told me, memorably, that the children with whom he discusses human rights often ask him why their human rights are being violated.
I will discuss my visit to the museum more on my blog, but Ferrario has motivated me to think about how memory and human rights discourses intersect with contemporary social problems like violence, insecurity, and economic marginalization on the periphery of Montevideo.
Some of the major challenges of my research include:
1) Focusing my project. I attribute part of this challenge to the fact that I’m simultaneously conducting a reporting assignment for the Journalism Department while I’m researching for CLACS – I am more comfortable using reporting techniques to approach my subjects because I’m not trained as an anthropologist/sociologist, but I’m not sure if this will yield the results I need for both projects.
2) Conducting better-targeted interviews. To optimize the time I have, I tend to ask people two sets of questions – one for the reporting assignment, one for CLACS, but this makes everything feel very diffuse. I now explain both projects to my subjects, but I think I need to start separating the people I want to talk to for one project from the other, and to narrow down the information I specifically need from each person.
3) Getting a broad sense of the variety of opinions on the Expiry Law. Professional survey results are published periodically online, but I need to conduct my own surveys, and still haven’t put together a set of questions that will be useful for BOTH of my projects. I still need to talk to the Ministry of Defense and members of the armed forces – I’m planning to do this at an event on Friday.
4) Balancing interview time and independent archival research. I still haven’t determined how critical archival research will ultimately be in this project – thus far, I’ve left it on the back burner, which may come back to haunt me.
Any feedback or advice would me much appreciated!
MA Candidate, CLACS