PG Symposium: Research Trends in Latin American Studies

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On 26 April, CLACS organised a symposium for PhD students working in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool. The event was funded by the North West Doctoral Training Centre. The event built on previous symposia organised in Manchester and provided PhD students with the opportunity to present papers on their research in a friendly and constructive environment, and to get feedback from peers and staff.

Linda Avendano (HCRI) kicked off the symposium with a presentation on child soldiers and miners in Colombia. Linda discussed the current academic interpretation of ‘child soldiering’ and its implications in terms of human rights violations and policy interventions. She argued for a wider comprehension of the multiple roles performed by children in current conflicts and outlined a theoretical framework that can help address gaps in theorising and practice.

Carole Myers (SALC) discussed elective cosmetic rhinoplasty in contemporary Brazilian women, focusing on the appropriation of cultural influences and their significance in contemporary Brazilian society.

Luis Eduardo Pérez Murcia (SEED) shared the results of his ethnographic work among displaced people in Colombia. He explained the multiple ways in which they construct narratives of home that are crucially shaped by the experiences of conflict and Displacement.

Nicola Astudillo-Jones (SALC) gave the first of two presentations dealing with cinema. She showed how British spectators of Latin American films at Manchester’s Viva Festival perceive Latin America-ness in terms of imagined cosmopolitan communities.

Nicola Runciman (SALC) continued with the topic of cinema, but moved from reception to film analysis, examining the narrative, aesthetic and socio-political functions of the Chilean landscape as it emerges in two recent films: El año del tigre (Sebastián Lelio, 2011) and Matar a un hombre (Alejandro Fernández Almendras, 2014). Nicola demonstrated how these films engage with nationally specific concerns about the social order while also articulating a troubling dimension of the body’s relationship to the external world, a dimension which connects the particular and the universal.

After lunch, Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray (University of British Columbia) gave a keynote talk on Latin American literature and infrapolitics as part of the day, entitled “What’s the Use of Literature?  Machinery and Mechanism in the Latin American Canon”.

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The afternoon session was devoted to literature. María Montt Strabucchi (SALC) explored Colombian author Santiago Gamboa’s novel Los Impostores (2002) in dialogue with the work of Sara Ahmed, Homi Bhabha and Jean-Luc Nancy, in order to draw out the challenge of essentialist views as well as the understandings of community that the novel suggests.

Ailsa Peate (Liverpool) analysed Rogelio Guedea’s Detective Trilogy and demonstrated how the Mexican author presents an original interpretation of the genre, achieved in part by creating a distressing plot based on historical events, which draws our attention to the corruption currently at the heart of the Mexican political elite.

Finally, Rafael Argenton Freire (SALC) looked at Brazilian Romantic poet Gonçalves Dias (1823-1864). Rafael explored how Gonçalves Dias self-fashioned himself as a poet in relation to European models and as a poet writing within and against the ideology of a Romantic, post-independence Brazil. Moreover, he look at how and to what extent his role within the literary relations of production contributed to his literary success and public recognition as a poet.

Prof. Peter Wade closed the symposium with a talk on how to get published in Latin American Studies, which provided very useful tips.

In sum, it was a long but fulfilling day in which we all engaged in exciting and stimulating discussions and that demonstrated the excellent research being carried out by our PhD students.

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Jo Evans (UCL): ‘Childhood and Adolescence on Screen: Do We Need to Talk About Buñuel?’

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Here you can listen to the audio of the talk given by Dr Jo Evans (UCL) on childhood and adolescence in Luis Buñuel’s films as part of our Seminar Series.

Abstract: Childhood and adolescence have become an important focus of attention for film and film studies in recent years. Films like We Need to Talk About Kevin (Ramsey 2011), Gone Baby Gone (Affleck 2007), even Boyhood (Linklater, 2014), address the ethical complexity of our parental and/or social responsibility for children, and film scholars now pay serious attention to our relationship with the child on screen.
Major academic studies have emerged. Emma Wilson’s Cinema’s Missing Children(2003) and Sarah Wright’s The Child in Spanish Cinema (2013) provide the theoretical foundations for any serious analysis of the representation of children on screen, while Carolina Rocha’s special issue of Studies in Hispanic Cinemas(2011) on ‘Children in Hispanic Cinema’ testifies the importance of this topic for scholars Spanish-language film. Yet to date, with the exception of studies of Los olvidados, scholars have paid little attention to the representation of childhood in the work of the director who is arguably still the best-known Spanish-language auteur. With a view to addressing this perceived gap, this paper will examine the Spanish-Mexican director Luis Buñuel’s complex, provocative, ambivalent, blackly comic and, at times, frankly disturbing representation of the child on screen.

Katia Chornik: ‘Music and Human Rights Liaisons in Chile’

Here you can listen to the audio of the talk given by Dr Katia Chornik (Manchester) entitled ‘Music and Human Rights Liaisons: Interviewing Álvaro Corbalán, a Singer-Songwriter and Top Agent of Pinochet’s Secret Police’.

Here is an abstract of her talk:

In February 2010, Álvaro Corbalán was awarded a gaviota de plata (silver seagull) by the International Song Contest of Viña del Mar (Chile), the most important popular music competition in the Spanish-speaking world. This accolade was not, however, granted for his musical talents but “for having defeated Marxism terrorism in Chile”, as the inscription reads. Corbalán was in fact a top agent of the CNI, one of the secret services operating during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), and as such ran a clandestine torture centre known for its heavy manipulations of prisoners’ acoustic environment. Convicted of innumerable crimes, Corbalán serves a life sentence. Using my interview material and drawing on research in popular music and memory studies, I explore Corbalán’s elusive recollections of Pinochet’s prisons, and the ways in which he makes sense of his own detention through his musical compositions.

The talk was given on Wednesday 3 February as part of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Seminar Series.

Postgraduate workshop: Researching Latin American Cities

 

Here you can find some audios from our Postgraduate workshop: Researching Latin American Cities, organised by CLACS, in conjunction with Global Urban Research Centre  and with the support of cities@manchester. The event took place on 5 November 2015.

The workshop explored the challenges for Latin American cities, addressing the somewhat fragmented nature of existing literature by discussing and deploying different disciplinary approaches. The workshop was aimed at Masters and PhD students who are currently working on or who have concrete plans to work on Latin American cities.

More information about the event can be found here.

 

Lights Out in Bogotá

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James Scorer (james.scorer [at] manchester.ac.uk)

On a recent trip to Bogotá I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the Concierto Binacional Colombia-Venezuela, a joint concert performed by members of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá and of La Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan youth orchestra. Conducted by the famous Gustavo Dudamel, the performance was designed to deploy culture in a gesture of bi-national partisanship. In recent years relations between the two countries, often pragmatic at best, have been strained by disputes over the border activities of paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and over smuggling (Idler, 2015).

Holding such an event in the Colombian capital, former temporary home to the transnational liberator Simón Bolívar, now the figurehead of Venezuela and himself celebrated in musical form by Dudamel, seemed like an appropriate choice. Nevertheless, the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a cultural centre built in the far north of the city, was a far cry from the downtown Quinta de Bolívar, let alone the impoverished neighbourhoods of the south-western stretches of the city. Built as a joint venture between the state and the vastly wealthy Santo Domingo family, the Teatro Mayor cannot help but serve as a reminder of the vast wealth divide evident in the city.

Before the concert began we were regaled with a welcoming speech given by the director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, a long, wandering introduction that eventually resulted in a cry from the gods that echoed around the hall’s excellent acoustics: ‘¡música!’ The call split the audience between those who tut-tutted with a frown and those who stifled chortles or began to applaud the forthright expression of their own inner thoughts.

The orchestra opened and ended with Beethoven, the choice of the Choral Fantasy as the concluding piece, itself a musical fusion of different orchestral elements and a piece that sings of harmonious unification, a symbolic inclusion for a concert of cooperation. Dudamel’s own piece, however, the soundtrack he was commissioned to write for the film Libertador, a biopic of Bolívar, captured the spirit of the concert most eloquently with its romantic lyricism and sabre-rattling.

And yet the most dramatic moment of the night was when, mid-performance, the lights went out. Plunged into darkness, one couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a failure in state infrastructure, the beginnings of an incursion, or a blown fuse. Some suggested that it had been the spirit of Bolívar’s former general-turned-foe, Francisco de Paula Santander, returning from the grave to cast a shadow over the music that saluted his nemesis.

Others, however, speculated that it had been a reminder to one of concert’s sponsors, Gustavo Petro, the Mayor of Bogotá, of his immense unpopularity. Petro, former leader of the left-wing guerrilla movement M-19, has rankled some of the wealthier residents of Bogotá, not just because of his revolutionary past, but also because of his approach to reducing urban inequality, including, for example, his project to build social housing in some of the most affluent parts of Chapinero (Raskin, 2015).

Two nations united, then, but a city divided. The orchestra played on valiantly in the gloom.

References

Idler, Annette. (2015) ‘A Humanitarian and Diplomatic Crisis is Unfolding on the Colombia-Venezuela Border’ Online: https://theconversation.com/a-humanitarian-and-diplomatic-crisis-is-unfolding-on-the-colombia-venezuela-border-46994 [15 September 2015]

Raskin, Julia. (2015) ‘The Way Out is Through: Class Conflict in Bogota’. PopFront. Online: http://popfront.us/2015/01/the-way-out-is-through-class-conflict-in-bogota/ [accessed 31 August 2015].

Between the Medical and the Moral: Disability and Domination

Ignacio Aguiló (ignacio.aguilo [at] manchester.ac.uk)

In July 2013, the journal Nature announced that a group of scientists from Massachusetts University were in the process of developing a genetic therapy that could, in the medium term, erase Down syndrome. That the news was reproduced worldwide and celebrated as a great step in the definitive ‘correction’ of this condition is an indicator of the degree to which Down syndrome, and deficiencies in general, are still defined in public discourses as primary biological and natural phenomena in need of ‘eradication’, rather than as social constructions subject to diverse relationships of domination. In this post I aim to offer a political reading of disabilities, taking as a case study the different discourses constructed around Miguel Tomasín, drummer of Reynols (one of my favourite bands), who has Down syndrome.

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Compared to other historically subalternised identities, domination over individuals with disabilities still goes largely unnoticed and tends to be perceived as natural and common sense (Pothier and Devlin, 2006). While in Western countries the racist and hetero-sexist overtones of eugenic practices have been relatively extirpated from public discourses (or, at least, tamed down), this is not the case when it comes to disabilities.

The selective abortion of foetuses identified as disabled is a socially accepted procedure in many nations. The social consensus around this practice indicates that a disabled life is not worth living, which positions those who live with a disability as inferior.[1] In these discourses about disability, the importance of ideas such as dignity and compassion is central. The death of people with disabilities on the basis of humanitarian reasons usually generates empathy, as exemplified by the Latimer case. Robert Latimer, a Canadian farmer, decided to kill his disabled child in 1993, arguing compassionate motives. A poll by Ipsos MORI found that 73% of Canadians believed that he deserved a more lenient sentence and 41% felt that ‘mercy killing’ should be de-criminalised.

All of the above shows how the forms of exclusion and subordination imposed on disabled people are more effective than other apparatus for domination, like sexism and racism, since they continue to present disability as a personal tragedy and a natural fact. This also implies that all forms of disability are reduced to a single deviation in relation to the able body, also understood as a single, constant and fixed entity (Carlson, 2005). Michel Foucault (1989, 2003), among others, has extensively analysed the medicalisation of the social and the regulation of bodies according to productivity and ability as part of the establishment of modern biopolitical governmentality. Deborah Kaplan (2000) argues that, particularly in the case of disability, this medical model is intersected and supplemented by a ‘moral model’, articulated around notions such as charity and compassion. This implies that disabled people are not only presented as requiring regulation, rectification and eradication, but also as in need of sympathy and sensibility – all of which contributes to masking and naturalising domination by ‘normal’ society.

Now let us focus on the case of Tomasín and Reynols. Formed in 1993 in Buenos Aires, Reynols achieved cult following worldwide, releasing more than 60 records in Argentina, the UK, the USA, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.[2] They also toured extensively in all these countries. Reynols’ music, while highly unclassified, can be described as oriented to improvisation, droning and experimentalism. Reynols’ oeuvre is also influenced by the historical avant-garde: their first release, Gordura vegetal hidrogenada (Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat), consisted of a case (without a disc) and a booklet with the legend ‘This CD dematerialized fifteen seconds ago’. Other Reynols projects included a 10,000 farm chickens’ symphony, an album made with blank cassette tapes and a series of recordings of celebrities’ graves. They disbanded in 2004, the same year in which Argentinian director Néstor Frenkel released the documentary Buscando a ReynolsHere it is possible to listen to some of their music:

Reynols, Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers & Blackbean And Placenta Tape Club (1999) [Accessed 24 August 2015]

Due to Tomasín’s disability, Reynols attracted considerable attention from the Argentinian mainstream media. News reports were characterised by statements such as ‘Miguel Tomasín: A moving story’ and ‘A life’s example: In spite of his disability, Miguel is part of a group in which he can play the music he loves’.

From Buscando a Reynols, dir. by Néstor Frenkel (2004) [Accessed 24 August 2015]

The media’s coverage of Tomasín exemplifies the intersection of the medical paradigm, which marks the deviation (‘in spite of his disability’), with the moral model, which offers viewers a space for condescending perspectives which in turn reinforces their identification as ‘normal’.

Disability is an individual condition, which is entirely the individual’s responsibility, and hence Tomasín’s efforts to accommodate mainstream society should be celebrated. By presenting him as someone who courageously accepts his disability, the media transforms him into what Gerard Goggin and Christopher Newell (2005) denominate the ‘super-crip’. In the case of Reynols, headlines and expressions such as ‘Integration and rock and roll’ and ‘It is so nice to see a group doing this good deed’ suggest that the only reasons for ‘normal’ people to interact with disabled people are altruism and compassion, since the latter do not possess any intrinsic value as individuals.

What happens when it is Tomasín himself who speaks about his disability? The following intervention in Hablemos claro – one of Argentina’s most popular talk shows of the late 1990sis interesting, in the sense that it suggests the possibility of a critique of power dynamics by means of an epistemological inversion that actually identifies the normal body as the problem.


From Buscando a Reynols [Accessed 24 August 2015]

Tomasín challenges the narrative of the talk show, articulated around the moral model that infantilises people with Down syndrome by presenting them as ontologically kind and innocent. He inverts the terms of the discourse, by stressing that a disabled person, like anybody else, can have and express selfish feelings. He is very much aware that his chances of gaining employment, particularly during the recession that affected Argentina at the turn of the twenty-first century, were significantly lower than those of normal people. His egoism also expresses a critique of the normal body, a body that is better prepared – and disciplined – to produce according to the demands of a capitalist economy. What this epistemological inversion in Tomasín’s discourse reveals is the political dimension of the hegemonic discourse on disability, hence de-naturalising the power relations between normal and disabled people.

In this post I have carried out a brief analysis of Down syndrome from a political perspective that highlights how this condition is defined by power relationships and discourses. By examining how the figure of Tomasín has been described in the media, I have shown the primacy of the medical and moral models in the ways in which mainstream Argentinian media understands disability. As the reference to Tomasín’s intervention exemplifies, the possibility of a critique of the discrimination of disabled people requires likewise a critique of the epistemological foundations of this paradigm. Considering recent welfare cuts for the disabled by the Tory government, it is needless to say that the discussion is very relevant to the British context.

References

Carlson, Licia. 2005. Docile Bodies, Docile Minds: Foucauldian Reflections on Mental Retardation. In: S. Tremain. 2005. Foucault and the Government of Disability. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. pp. 133-52.

Goggin, Gerard, & Newell, Christopher. 2004. Fame and Disability: Christopher Reeve, Super Crips, and Infamous Celebrity. M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture, 7(5). pp. 1-5.

Kaplan, Deborah. 2000. The Definition of Disability: Perspective of the Disability Community. Journal of Health Care, Law and Policy, 3. pp. 352-64.

Foucault, Michel. 2003. “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Translated by David Macey. New York: Picador.

Foucault, Michel. 1989. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated by A.M. Sheridan. London: Routledge.

Frenkel, Néstor. 2004. Buscando a Reynols. Argentina/A.C.Cine.

Pothier, Dianne, & Devlin, Richard. 2006. Introduction: Toward a Critical Theory of Dis-Citizenship. In: Pothier & Richard. 2006. Critical Disability Theory: Essays in Philosophy, Politics, Policy, and Law. Vancouver: The University of British Columbia. pp. 1-24.

[1] Contrary to this, sex-selective abortion, a practice common in countries such as India and China, is often presented as controversial and backward by the Western media.

[2] For the complete discography of Reynols, please visit their webpage at Discogs: http://www.discogs.com/artist/53815-Reynols [Accessed 24 August 2015].