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«Lessons from Latin America By George S. Gotto, IV On April 15, 1998, Dr. Felix Moos moderated a videotaped panel discussion about the current status ...»

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Newsletter of the University of Kansas, Department of Anthropology

Volume 10, Number 1

Lessons from Latin America

By George S. Gotto, IV

On April 15, 1998, Dr. Felix Moos moderated a videotaped panel discussion about the current status as

well as future trends concerning the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kansas. The panel

included Department Chair Don Stull, Associate Professor John Hoopes, Associate Professor Jane Gibson, and Assistant Professor Bart Dean. This is the second in a video series that is being produced by Dr. Moos to document the history and development of anthropology at the University of Kansas. The discussion contains useful information about issues that are being confronted by practicing anthropologists in the classroom as well as in the field. In addition, it provides a useful backdrop for the discussion of a cultural anthropology field school in Costa Rica that was sponsored by the University of Kansas. This article will highlight some of the key issues that were discussed in the videotape and then illustrate how these same issues affected the summer field school.

The Panel Discussion:

In response to a question about the foci of the department, Dr. Stull cited, among other topics, the interest in Latin America that was shared by his fellow discussants. Dr. Stull pointed out that this was an area of expertise in which the department hoped to continue growing. The discussion following Dr. Stull's comments focused on the changing role of North American anthropologists in Latin America, collaborative research, and the dissemination of anthropological knowledge.

In terms of the changing role of North American anthropologists in Latin America, Dr. Moos asked about the influence that North American anthropologists currently had in that part of the world. It was agreed that one of the primary areas of influence for anthropologists at the University of Kansas is in the training of students from Latin America. Dr. Hoopes pointed to Jane Gibson’s work with Margarita Bolaños, his own work with Francisco Corales, and the arrival of Silvia González to the department. He went on to say, "I see all of this as part of an empowerment of those people who were traditionally the objects of our study. They are now becoming partners in the enterprise of the education of the world in the values of anthropology and bringing those skills back to their home countries." Dr. Gibson also pointed out that Latin American scholars were not only becoming our partners in education but also in research. She said, "…they are interested in working with us, which changes the role that we play in many of our studies in Latin America. Now even though I don’t think that change is very prevalent yet, I think it will become more prevalent, that we are going to be doing more collaborative work in the future than we have done in the past. And I mean by collaborative, more collaboration with those scholars who are from other countries."

According to Dr. Gibson, one of the reasons that Latin American anthropologists are interested in working with North American anthropologists is that we have access to an enormous body of literature and other resources that are relevant to their studies. Acknowledgement of this situation led to a discussion about the dissemination, or lack thereof, of anthropological knowledge. Dr. Dean pointed out "that there is a very pronounced hierarchy of knowledge." He went on to say that "it is a real problem, certainly for scholars from other parts of the world, when they have to look, to some extent, to the United States for resources and the printed materials. I think that we need to spend more time thinking about how to get some of those materials to them." Following up on Dr. Dean’s comment, Dr. Moos said, "America is maybe at the height of its cultural influence; music, dress, fashion, popular culture. But yet, for my generation I find that the world was our oyster, we could go practically any place. That is no longer the case. Today, many anthropologists from the United States are looked upon with some misgiving." Dr.

Gibson added that while these situations were problems, they provided a tremendous opportunity for North American anthropologists to make amends by both learning from and sharing with anthropologists from other countries. She said, "We have always said that we are collaborative; this is our chance to put our money where our mouth is."

The Field School:

During the summer of 1998, Dr. Gibson did "put her money where her mouth was": she taught a cultural anthropology field school in Costa Rica which was entitled "Practicing Anthropology: Participatory Field Methods in Costa Rica." While this was a valuable learning experience for the students who participated, it also provides an excellent example of how the issues that were discussed in the video panel are experienced in the field.

The field school was organized around two applied anthropology projects in which students who had an interest in Latin America could learn about and practice field-based research methods utilized by cultural anthro-pologists. With the assistance of Ph.D. students Margarita Bolaños and Karla Kral, Dr. Gibson took a group of seven students (six from KU and one from the University of Arkansas) to the Reventazon Watershed region near Turrialba, Costa Rica. The goals for the students who participated in the course were: 1) to learn about the history of Costa Rican development; 2) to learn about field-based research methods used by anthropologists; 3) to practice collaborative and participatory techniques; 4) to provide useful information to communities of the Reventazon Watershed; and 5) to improve second language facility.

The Reventazon Watershed is located in Cartago Province on the eastern edge of the Central Valley of Costa Rica. It is one of the most important watershed regions in Costa Rica but beginning in the 1950s, "modernization" of agriculture and expansion of the agricultural frontier resulted in soil erosion, deforestation of small forest remnants, and contamination of water supplies. For the past ten years, the Department of Anthropology at Sede del Atlantico, University of Costa Rica, has worked collaboratively with local communities to find alternative approaches to economic development. The location of the Reven-tazon Watershed and the collaborative work that had already been established by the Department of Anthropology at Sede del Atlantico offered an ideal location for an applied field school such as this one. Furthermore, as a former student and current faculty member of the Department of Anthropology at Sede del Atlantico, Margarita Bolaños was able to help Dr. Gibson make community contacts in two Reventazon Watershed communities, Guayabo de Turrialba and La Suiza.

Karla Kral, field school teaching assistant, took three students to Guayabo de Turrialba, where they conducted a census study requested by the Community Development Association. This project was important to the Community Development Association for two reasons. First, the last community census was in 1988 and the demographic information needed to be updated. Second, the information that was gathered through the census was potentially useful to the Development Association as it advocated for more resources from the federal government.

Dr. Gibson led the other four students to La Suiza, where they produced a video documentary about health care in the Cabecar indigenous peoples reserve. They worked with a medical team based in La Suiza that provided biomedical health care to the Cabecar. The video footage that they collected will be used by the health center to advocate for better health care resources for indigenous groups such as the Cabecar.

One impetus for the creation of this field school came from Margarita Bolaños’ dissertation research, for which Dr. Gibson is the committee chair. The dissertation analyzes the relationships between the North American anthropologists who conducted research in Central America between 1930 and 1970 and the development of Central American anthropology. In addition, Ms. Bolaños is investigating the way in which the work of North American anthropologists has shaped how Costa Rican anthropologists practice anthropology today. This past relationship between North American Anthropology and Central and South America influenced the outcome of the field school.

Initially, the field school was designed to consist of research teams made up of students from the U.S.

paired with students from the University of Costa Rica. These research teams would contribute to the local communities by conducting collaborative research with them. While Costa Rican scholars and administrators gave full support to the field school, only one student from the University of Costa Rica wanted to participate. According to Ms. Bolaños, who attempted to recruit Costa Rican students to the field school, the lack of participation was due, in part, to their perception of North American anthropology.

For example, it is common for many Costa Ricans to refer to North American anthropology as the "antropología de ocupación" (anthropology of occupation). This is due, to some degree, to their understanding of projects such as Project Camelot, which included the participation of North American anthro-pologists. Ms. Bolaños also points out that the resentment that is behind comments like this also come from the fact that useful anthropological information about Costa Rica is not available in Spanish and/or cannot be found in that country. Based on these perceptions, some students wrote sarcastic comments such as "Que ganga" (What a deal!) on the posters that were placed in the department of anthropology to advertise the field school and they chose not to participate.


Despite the lack of participation from the Costa Rican students, the summer field school was a success.

Seven North American students went to Costa Rica and participated in a collaborative census study in Guyabo de Turrialba, the results of which are contained in a final report that is being given to the community. They also produced a video documentary entitled "Salud y tradición en la comunidad Cabecar de Chirripó" which will be presented to the Costa Rican ministry of health to advocate for more and better health care resources. Both of these projects are examples of collaborative anthropological research, the results of which are shared among the local communities and the North American anthropologists. In addition, the field school involved the participation of Costa Rican scholars from the University of Costa Rica at Sede del Atlantico. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the field school sought to train North American students to understand their roles, relationships and responsibilities to communities and scholars abroad.

However, in juxtaposing these successes is the lack of participation on the part of the students from Costa Rica. Their position seems to confirm Dr. Moos' comment about the misgivings that many people now have about North American anthropologists. It is probably ill advised to simply reduce their lack of participation to the political issues that were discussed above. However, if these political issues played even a small role in their choice about participation in the field school, then it points out that this is an issue that both North American and Latin American anthropologists will likely confront. Perhaps it is not possible to completely eliminate issues such as this from anthropological research. However, it is important that anthropologists, particularly students of anthropology who may be heading into the field for the first time, acquaint themselves with these situations and prepare themselves to deal with them positively. As the members of the panel discussion suggested, perhaps one way to do this is to conduct research projects that consider both the needs of the participating communities as well as scholars from non-European countries. In so doing, anthro-pologists can begin to undertake Dr. Dean's suggestion and redistribute resources and printed materials more equitably.

Hurricane Mitch:

A nightmare at the end of the millennium

By Silvia González Carías

A major hurricane hitting Teguciagalpa, my family's hometown? No way! I convinced myself therof in spite of alarming news that Mitch, a catastrophic storm—after lingering for several days over the Bay Islands, a Honduran tourist resort on the Caribbean—could eventually move inside my country.

At the University of Kansas, friends were beginning to express their concern: "Have you heard from your family?" "Are they safe?" Finally, I called home. "Mitch is creating havoc in the North Coast," my brother told me. "Major cities like San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Puerto Cortes are already flooded. People are fleeing their homes and it seems that the storm has become unusually erratic. But don't worry," he added, "the mountains will stop him."

This is not the first time a little wind has passed through the Caribbean," a friend told me. Like him, Hondurans, with their particular sense of humor, were still making jokes about it.

We were all wrong. Mitch, the strongest hurricane to hit the Caribbean in years—perhaps in centuries, as some were speculating—was no little wind. It became an apocalyptic horror as it slowly moved on shore and started to wander from the north to the east, destroying cities and villages, highways, bridges, and forests, increasing the flood rate of all major rivers and causing mudslides while dangerously approaching Teguciagalpa. Mitch had become a monster.

By sunset on Friday, October the 30th, it was evident that the overly confident capital city would be hit by Mitch. Firemen, policemen, the Red Cross, and volunteers of all kinds started to evacuate people living near the rivers, encountering great resistance from those who did not believe that a hurricane could cause any damage in this part of the country. People were caught off guard as there was no previous experience in recent history of such a disaster.

The horrified Tegucigalpans saw the Choluteca River—which traverses the capital city—and its three affluents become one huge, thunderous mass of water and mud, rising to the fourth floor of buildings, carrying away everything it encountered. Those in its path began to flee for their lives, and many were unable to make it.

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