Category Archives: Recent Research

Radio and politics in the Peruvian Altiplano

Posted by Ximena Málaga Sabogal, PhD student in Anthropology at NYU

Radio Onda Azul - XMS

I am used to being asked what anthropology is and what, as an anthropologist, do I “actually” do. I usually have a different set of answers depending on my interlocutors. But something that I always have to deal with is the “classical” definition of anthropology, the one that implies studying “a traditional way of life”. Although that definition can be a good starting point for a conversation, I try to bring it to and interest in social changes as soon as I can. If not, how to explain that analyzing the ways in which radio affects – or comes from – everyday life is also anthropology? When studying media as social and cultural repertories, anthropologists have a lot of competition in the field. I am constantly mistaken for a journalist working on a piece, which changes the interactions with my interlocutors.

What has this interest on radio to do with my search for Aymara and Quechua identity definitions and its connections with the international indigenous movement? In Puno the answer is: a lot. Radio has been present in Altiplano’s peasants’ life for a long time. In part due to the low electrification of the region, radio has been – and in some districts of Puno still is – the most popular communication device. The first radio to begin operations in Puno was Onda Azul, back in the 1950s. This is not only the first radio, it is also a very special one. It comes from an early initiative of Puno’s Catholic Church and answers to the developmental model of educación popular. In a time when Puno had one of the highest levels of illiteracy, Onda Azul worked hand in hand with the Peruvian government to develop a program of escuelas radiofónicas. Radios were given in different communities in the Aymara and Quechua sectors of Puno and every day the people would come together to listen to classes and solve exercises with the help of a facilitator. At the end of the school year, the Ministry of Education would organize exams for the people involved in the radio classes, and hand out official diplomas to the ones who passed everything.

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Mujeres Fronterizas: Putting the Focus on Women of Dajabón, Dominican Republic

By: Amanda Alcantara, MA Candidate at CLACS

When I decided to do research on women in the Dominican-Haitian border, I sought to focus on identity, especifically racial identity. Nothing would prepare me for what I learned, what I saw, the diversity and similarity in the stories of the 25+ women whom I interviewed mostly from Dajabón, Dominican Republic but also from Ouanaminthe, Haiti. The topic of my research was changed by these narratives.

Gloria Anzaldúa writes about borderlands as a place of violence, pain, and una “herida abierta”. She wrote of the border as parallel to her own body as a woman: her body is a place of violence and pain too. The Dominican-Haitian border divided by el Río Masacre—a name that signifies a deep wound still fresh in the elder’s minds—is no different than this. The women of this particular border have their own stories too, their own stories of the type of violence that is very specific to women, and their own stories of resilience.


The border entrance from Dajabón to Ouanaminthe.

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“Hunting Men”: Migration, Racial Discrimination, and Military Conscription in the Río de la Plata

Posted by Keyanah Freeland, PhD Student Department of History


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As I noted in my last entry, the Biblioteca Nacional de Uruguay houses a collection of Afro-Uruguayan periodicals spanning the mid-nineteenth century well into the twentieth. For the past few weeks, I have been conducting research there, parsing through the periodicals of the late nineteenth century in order to track the social, cultural, political, and intellectual exchanges between Afro-Uruguayans and their Afro-Argentine counterparts living in Buenos Aires. While the periodicals continue to confirm my aforementioned insights around the relationship between the making of diaspora and intellectual production, they also have revealed new developments around the contentious relationship between the Uruguayan state, the Afro-Uruguayan communities living in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and the rationale behind the significant numbers of Afro-Uruguayans emigrating across the Río de la Plata at the turn of the twentieth century.

In June and July of 1889, the Afro-Uruguayan periodical, El Periódico, published extensive accounts of the Centro Uruguayo’s various celebrations of Uruguay’s national independence, written and sent back to Montevideo by their own correspondents in Buenos Aires. Founded in 1884, the Centro Uruguayo functioned as a mutual aid society for Afro-Uruguayans who had immigrated to Buenos Aires. Despite the relatively short institutional history of this mutual aid society, the 1889 coverage of the center suggests a strong political and social presence in Buenos Aires. According to El Periódico’s published reports, the center’s festivities not only attracted Afro-Uruguayans and Afro-Argentines alike, but in a brilliant act of political theatre —or perhaps protest— members of the center even visited the current President of the Uruguayan Republic, General Máximo Tajes, as he visited Buenos Aires.

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Time Goes by So Slowly

Posted by Katie Schlechter – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU


A man from Honduras helps prep nopales for the kitchen at La Casa del Migrante Saltillo. (Photo: Katie Schlechter)

At this point in my research/reporting trip, I’ve visited five different migrant shelters in four different states. I’ve spent time in shelters just a few hours drive from the US-Mexico border and I’ve been in casas 45 minutes from Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. One thing I’ve found at every single shelter is boredom, and the occasional wave of desperation that comes with being stuck in one place for a long period of time.

The boredom hits different people for different reasons. In the Casa del Migrante in Saltillo, for example, migrants are not allowed to leave the shelter during the day except for work. This is for security reasons, as the northern region of the country is full of Zeta operatives and scammers who specialize in tricking migrants into letting them be their “guide.” The rule is supposed to limit the daily traffic of people in and out of the casa.

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Material Remains of a Modern Project

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU

A conversation that lingered in the background during most of my fieldwork period in La Chorrera was a traditional dance that was going to take place in one of the malocas located in the nearby communities. The particular characteristic of this event was that it was going to be a “pisada” dance (literally, a “step-over” dance). Uitoto communities celebrate this kind of dance as a way to inaugurate a new maloca (a religious and communal place of gathering). A maloca’s inauguration is always linked to the passing down of the tradition of building and taking care of this kind of construction. In this case, however, the “pisada” dance was planned for a new maloca built by an old abuelo that, instead of passing down the tradition to one of his heirs, decided to start all over with his own quest for knowledge and leadership. The reactions to this unorthodox proposal had varied tones, but amidst all the different critiques or expressions of support, a very important fact stood out to me about the requirements and implications of building a maloca: it is a heavy load for the leader in charge. And, contrary to the common place, that load is linked in a more meaningful way to practical rather than spiritual responsibilities. To be more clear, the religious practices depended in this case on the social ability and the economic capacity of the “maloquero” to actually bring together the community around the construction project and the constant maintenance duties that having a maloca entails.

The practice of building malocas and houses is very similar when it comes to this constant need of maintenance. They both are made of the same materials: wood for the structure (and walls in the case of the houses) and puy leaves (Lepidocaryum tenue) for the roof. This means that, every five or six years, the roof needs to be changed entirely, because leaves start to fall or they break, leading to rainwater leaks. The structure needs to be renovated too in case it rots. Malocas and houses are inevitably built and rebuilt once and again, which means that they are not thought as long-lasting places for generations to come (like it might happen in the case of Western structures such as museums or other places of social interaction). In spite of the great significance of malocas as centers of cultural, political and religious activities, material structure is fleeting and it is not thought in terms of temporal permanence.


traditional house (front) and small size maloca (back)




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In Buenos Aires, Neoliberalism Is Performing Again


The stencil on top depicts Jorge Rafael Videla, the head of the first military junta that overthrew Isabel Martínez de Perón in 1976 and initiated the neoliberalization of the country; Carlos Saúl Menem, elected president from 1989 to 1999, widely associated to neoliberal reforms; and current president Mauricio Macri, with the universal recycling symbol, as if they were -and they are!- part of the same  process. “Ni una menos” (“Not one less”) is a movement that combats violence against women.
by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg
PhD Candidate at the Spanish and Portuguese Department

July 21st 2016

I’ve been in Buenos Aires for two weeks now. I’m surprised at how much things seem to have changed since my last visit, about a year ago. Many small shops that I knew have closed: after recently elected President Macri devalued the local currency by over 60%, they can’t afford to pay the rent or the dramatically increased electricity and heating bills. For instance Aleksandr, a Russian immigrant taylor I used to take clothes I usually buy for peanuts at the Salvation Army in New York for alterations and repairs, has been priced out of his small work space in downtown Buenos Aires and I’m told he’s now moved deep into the Conurbano Bonaerense, the Capital’s sprawling, densely populated outskirts. Although neoliberalism never left -even with the Kirchners, who so ardently spoke against it- it now seems tremendously reinvigorated. To my dismay, a few days ago, the Secretary of Communications, Oscar Aguad, in a nonchalant way, invoked the infamous trickle-down economics to explain the need for further austerity measures in the energy sector.

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“Let’s Go Back in Time, Ladies and Gentlemen!”

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU


Douglas DC-3

It was a rainy Friday morning in San José del Guaviare when I boarded the old Douglas DC-3 that would take me to La Chorrera, in the Colombian Amazon region. The DC-3 is an American made cargo airplane, famous for its role during the Second World War. A member of the aircrew inaugurated our flight with the words “let’s go back in time, ladies and gentlemen!”, in a gesture of complicity with nervous passengers like me. He was clearly referring to the old aircraft we were in, but, looking at them in retrospective, his words also spoke about the nature of my fieldwork in La Chorrera.

As a first year doctoral student at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, my research interests include state violence, official discourses and counter-discourses of memory in the context of endemic violence and war, as well as community based practices of memorialization and resilience. This Summer, I will be doing fieldwork in Colombia, with the intention of exploring the tensions between local and national discourses and projects of memorialization. Reflecting on collective memory goes beyond the historical reconstruction of violent events. It is, indeed, revisiting the past, but it is also understanding how that past is defined by its social functions in the present. In that sense, the old airplane was taking me in a journey to the past but also to a quest to understand the meaning of said past for the present inhabitants of La Chorrera.

I’m interested in the site known as Casa Arana, the center of the rubber boom expansion that took place between the 1900s and the 1930s in the Amazon. As a place where a genocide was coordinated and carried out —approximately 40,000 Uitoto, Bora and Andoque natives were enslaved and murdered there—, this construction has a particular history and, after the genocide ended, it has played many unexpected social roles. After the rubber boom, the place was used as an orphanage run by Capuchin monks, as the regional headquarters for the National Bank for Agrarian Development [Caja Agraria], and as a High School by the Salesian monks. Today is a public school run by the indigenous local population, known as House of Knowledge [Casa del Conocimiento]. Continue reading