XXXIII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association
University of Texas at Austin and Comunidad de Historia Mapuche
Rosalva Aida Hernández Castillo
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, CIESAS - Mexico
Many of us, from our different locations and disciplines,
have been thinking about precariousness and emergent
practices a good deal lately, focusing on three large and very
different realms: social and labor issues in Latin America;
the academic workplace and education; and modalities of
knowledge exchange (how our work and networks are
evolving). Precariousness is often associated with exclusions
of class, gender, race, age, and sexual identity and yet, in
these times of permanent crisis and emergency, we also see
some of the most exciting flowerings of emergent practices.
These are large questions that have a bearing on many forms of human and social expression. For example, the recent mobilization of millions of citizens in Brazil, the massive student manifestations of the past years in Chile or Puerto Rico, the growing environmental crisis and its effects on local communities across countries and regions, or the plight of 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are events that strike to the heart of how we think of democracy in a neoliberal hemispheric context. All of them also speak all at once on the three concepts that we would like to engage in the 2015 LASA Congress.
While the conditions of the academic workplace vary tremendously throughout the Americas, one of the huge shifts in higher education in the United States and many countries in Latin America has been to move away from the tenure system towards a system of contingent, contract labor. The recently released Delphi Project report, for example, confirms that approximately 70% of all instructors in U.S. colleges and universities are now contingent faculty. The squeeze on tenure line positions and their replacement by short-term contracts has made the job market very challenging for many of our young colleagues, who can now look forward to little more than poverty-level income with no benefits. Even more precarious is the status of students from Latin America, who increasingly find green card or citizenship requirements as the bar they must meet for consideration. Likewise, in Latin America the structural reforms and the flexibilization of labor have affected the working conditions in academia. According to reports from members of the Federación de Colegios del Personal Académico de la UNAM, in the higher education system in Mexico, approximately 70% of the teaching is now under the responsibility of professors in part-time positions and under temporary contracts. “Tenured positions” (plazas con definitividad) are being substituted by temporary positions under partial contracts, leaving the new generations of Latin American academicians without any labor security. In the midst of these critical realities, academic communities seem to be facing not only their own internal issues but also a pressing need to imagine and establish other modes of linking the university to public life and scholarship to social service.
As part of this process, we experience the precariousness of our conventional concepts of knowledge production and sharing--the book, the academic article, the conference— as well as the challenge to old understandings of intellectual practice that are suggested by new forms of expression, often finding their homes on the vast world we call the internet. The new media—as well as broader material, technological, and ecological changes—have suggested to us new and unexpected forms of exchange, opening up exciting possibilities for the future. Moreover, new technologies have become central to linguistic, cultural, social, political, and economic subjects as tools to challenge existing exclusions, exercise new horizons of knowledge, and forge creative forms of emergence, visibility, and empowerment.