Summer Field Research 2012
UT Sociologists in the Field – Summer 2011
Marcos Perez in Buenos Aires, Argentina
I am spending five weeks doing fieldwork in Buenos Aires, Argentina researching the unemployed workers movement (also known as the piqueteros). This movement emerged in the late 1990s as a response to the record levels of unemployment and poverty which affected Argentinean society. By 2002, it had recruited thousands of members, developed an efficient repertoire of contention, and had achieved significant influence in public policies. However, after that year the movement entered a period of transformation and decline, which coincided with the strong recovery of the country’s economy.
I am interested in this movement because its trajectory might hold clues about important questions in sociology: how are social movements affected by the amelioration of their main grievances? Under which circumstances do individuals participate in a social organization? What factors lead people to join, and to leave? In general, sociologists have paid much more attention to the emergence of collective action than to its decline. I believe the study of the piqueteros can contribute to our understanding of this process.
Like many other Latin American cities, Buenos Aires is a fascinating place. It is full of instances of mobilization which seem to contradict established notions about collective action. I have interviewed activists, participated in meetings, and joined demonstrations. All the evidence gathered indicates that the transformations that took place in Argentinean society after 2002 have affected my object of study in very complex ways. While the movement experienced an overall decline, some organizations collapsed, others returned to previous forms of activism, and others managed to sustain their presence in the poorest neighborhoods of the city. This diversity is very intriguing, and I look forward to analyzing its causes.
Vivian Shaw in Hiroshima, Japan
Vivian’s fieldwork in Japan examines the politics of spatial representation at memorialized sites of war and peace. Her research focuses on Hiroshima as a city negotiating the locality of its traumatic atomic history within broader global and transnational politics. This case study compares Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Museum with other Japanese memorial sites, including the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park and Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Combining geographic and historical methodologies, Vivian’s research aims to understand trauma and memory as aesthetic environments connected to media, race, and popular-political cultures.
Dr. Ben Carrington is our “Longhorn in Leeds”. Ben is teaching a Maymester course on Cricket in Leeds.
Sport occupies a significant place within English society; from the centrality of cricket in helping to shape the British empire, to the importance of soccer (‘football’) in promoting the varied national identities within the UK, to the ways in which women and racial minorities have used sport to achieve social mobility and recognition, sport remains one of the most important ways to understand the changing nature of English society in the 21st century.
The course is located in Leeds, a diverse metropolis, known for its culture and sporting teams. Given this unique location, the Maymester enables students to explore the internal divisions around class and region that are central to understanding English identity, particularly the tensions between ‘the north’ and ‘the south,’ as well as discover the origins of American football and baseball. Program Activities sporting events and cultural venues.
Pamela Neumann in La Oroya, Peru
Pamela Neumann is currently conducting ethnographic research in La Oroya, Peru. Located high in the Andes, La Oroya has been a hub of metallurgical activity (refining of copper and lead, among others) since the 1920s. Over time, these activities produced high levels of contamination in the air, water, and soil of the region, as well as high lead levels in the blood of residents living near the complex. In the early 2000s, a consortium of local residents, national and international NGOs joined forces to demand that the current owner of the complex, Doe Run Peru, comply with the environmental standards set forth by the Peruvian government. Since 2009, Doe Run Peru has been temporarily closed, and its reactivation remains in doubt. Pamela´s research is focused on understanding how La Oroya´s longstanding identity as a “pueblo minero” (mining town), its history of pollution, and the company´s closure have affected the daily lives of its residents.
Caitlyn Collins in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Caitlyn is in Baden-Württemberg, Germany for the summer, interviewing women about their experiences as working mothers. She is interested in the degree to which women are supported in both their maternal and professional roles in different cultural and political contexts, and is hoping to better understand how women navigate their work and family decisions in Germany compared to women in the United States.
Katie Sobering in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Worker-recovered businesses, research and winter in Argentina
Much changed during my second month of fieldwork. At the beginning of July, the worker-recovered business where I worked, Hotel B.A.U.E.N., received some bad news. Argentina’s Supreme Court rejected their appeal to expropriate the property that they occupy, effectively ending the legal channel for expropriation. The other option for expropriation, an important goal of the worker cooperative, is to pursue a political alternative. The cooperative currently has a bill in committee at the national level. Thus, my role went from observing the day-to-day life in the hotel to watching the activation of a revitalized campaign for legal expropriation.
Overnight, the situation of palpable uncertainly returned to the hotel. I watched as other worker cooperatives, worker-recovered businesses and social organizations came together to discuss alternatives and plan for a festival and mobilization in front of Congress.
My first and second month of fieldwork were very different experiences and I feel very fortunate that I could be a participant observer during this time.
If you are interested in learning more about the workers’ campaign for expropriation, you can visit their campaign page a expropiaya.org.ar <http://expropiaya.org.ar> . It is currently in Spanish and hopefully will be available in English, Portuguese and other languages soon.
June 22, 2011
After completing my first year in the Sociology PHD program, I decided to spend 8 weeks in Argentina to continue research I started in 2008 at Hotel B.A.U.E.N., a worker-recovered business located in downtown Buenos Aires. In addition to learning more about the hotel, I am particularly interested in better understanding how the worker-owners are creating, leveraging and maintaining solidarity networks with other organizations.
Worker-recovered businesses (WRB) or, in Argentina, empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores, are businesses that have been occupied by their workers and reorganized as self-managed worker cooperatives. When owners abandon or close their businesses, workers are often the first creditors in the bankruptcy process, opening a window of opportunity for them to reclaim their jobs by appropriating what was left behind.
Despite the many challenges that WRBs face along the path to recovery, the number of WRBs active in Argentina continues to grow. In a recent survey, Andrés Ruggeri and his team at the University of Buenos Aires found that at the beginning of 2011, there were 205 WRBs functioning in the country, up from 161 in 2004.
I am very much enjoying the winter here in Buenos Aires – the days are brisk, the skies are bright and it’s an especially nice escape from the Texas heat. Much has changed since my last time in the hotel and while my fieldwork moves in fits and spurts, it is incredible to be back in the field, listening to the stories and experiences of these inspiring people who are working to build an economic alternative by living and teaching self-management.