Re-Visioning Latin American Studies

Article Abstract

This article explains why—contrary to predications of influential scholars and foundation representatives in the 1990s—Latin American studies (LAS) entered the new century vibrant and growing rapidly. We posit five realms of critique and innovation from within which, in interaction with traditional strengths of area studies, account for this vibrancy. Because these critiques challenge many inherited premises of LAS, they have faced considerable resistance; the resulting dialogue has made our field more inclusive and stronger. Anthropologists contributed amply to this transformation, which has a parallel within the discipline itself.

Editorial Overview

In their jointly authored essay, “Re-visioning Latin American Studies,” which appears in the May 2011 edition of Cultural Anthropology, Sonia Alvarez, Arturio Arias, and Charles Hale offer an insider’s account of the transformation of Area Studies since the 1990s and a manifesto for future scholarship. They argue that the end of the Cold War dramatically altered North/South relations. For scholars of Latin American Studies, this new landscape of power redefined both the object of study and the manner of studying it. The territorial boundaries that defined an older generation of Area Studies were challenged by the growing awareness of the transmigration of labor, capital, and culture. At the same time, the dynamic between northern scholars and their southern subjects came under increasing scrutiny. The result has been a de-centering of the field of Latin American Studies, a process that the authors endorse and seek to advance.

For Alvarez, Arias, and Hale, the metaphor of de-centering signals “the effort to move our thinking beyond Western and Eurocentric conceptualizations, and to seek new ways of framing the issues of cultural production and political agency.” To this end, they outline five theoretical shifts that have come to represent the future direction of the field. 1) The inclusion of scholarly practitioners beyond the United States and Europe. 2) The promotion of a robust diversity that goes beyond the platitudes of multiculturalism. 3) The re-conceptualization of Latino/a and Latin American identity in an era of transmigration. 4) A genuinely interdisciplinary method. 5) The incorporations of alternative knowledge producers working outside the university.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays on Latin American studies, including Marisol de la Cadena's “Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections Beyond “Politics”” (2010), Michael J. Montoya's “Bioethnic Conscription: Genes, Race, and Mexicana/o Ethnicity in Diabetes Research” (2007), Charles R. Hale's “Activist Research v. Cultural Critique: Indigenous Land Rights and the Contradictions of Politically Engaged Anthropology” (2006), and Arlene Dávila's “Latinizing Culture: Art, Museums, and the Politics of U.S. Multicultural Encompassment” (1999).

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