Latin America and the Global
A Working Group Proposal for the Liu Institute for Global Issues

Proposed by Agustín Goenaga, Sara Komarnisky, Tal Nitsan, and Ana Vivaldi

May 3, 2012


This working group will investigate the relation between Latin America and broader, global forces. We will ask how large-scale processes have shaped and even constituted Latin America. And we will consider how Latin America in turn has influenced or inspired events elsewhere in the world.

We take Latin America as a case study of the often contested relations between center and periphery, Global North and Global South, and of the sometimes subterranean or overlooked ties that bind our interconnected world. We are also interested in the place of Area Studies in an Institute devoted to “Global Issues.”


Ever since the conquest, Latin America has been submerged in global processes. Migrations and epidemics, capital flows and market fluctuations, technology transfers and religious fervors, intellectual movements and media broadcasts have all permeated the region’s cultural, political, and social landscapes. Spanish conquistadors, American adventurers, British engineers, Chinese laborers, Mennonite farmers, and Canadian miners (among many others) have made their mark. Scientific discoveries, stock market panics, world wars, proxy conflicts, and global warming have contributed decisively to Latin American history.

But the region has been far from a passive recipient or victim. Andean silver funded Europe’s industrial revolution. Amazonian rubber led to the automobile era. Now Bolivian lithium powers our mobile phones. Cuban troops fought in Angola and the Congo. Chilean exiles relocated in Berlin, Copenhagen, and Toronto. Mexican laborers pick British Columbian fruit. Spanish is the lingua franca of South Florida and much of Southern California. Tacos and burritos, empanadas and arepas, are found worldwide in trendy restaurants, family diners or fast-food joints, alongside wine from Mendoza or beer from Toluca. Writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, or Roberto Bolaño, and musicians such as Santana, Shakira, or Ricky Martin have shaped global culture, high and low. And when Argentina defaults, Bolivia (re)nationalizes, or Venezuela’s president declaims in the United Nations, the world takes notice.

This working group explores the ebbs and flows that characterize the relationship between the region known as Latin America (itself a name dreamt up in Paris) and the rest of the world. It gives texture and detail to the study of global issues, investigating the imbrication of global and local, general and particular. It asks what Area Studies, with its focus on cultural specificity and its skepticism of both abstraction and ethnocentrism, can offer to the investigation and promotion of issues such as sustainability, security, and social justice.


* We will meet on a regular basis (every three or four weeks), from June 2012.
* We will read articles, book chapters, and books from a range of disciplines.
* Readings could include extracts from texts such as Arlene Dávila, Latinos Inc., James Dunkerley, Americana, Jean Franco, The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City, Andre Gunder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America, Walter Mignolo, The Idea of Latin America, Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power, Antonio Negri and Giuseppe Cocco, GlobAL, or George Yudice, The Expediency of Culture.
* We may watch films relevant to our interests, such as Gregory Nava’s El Norte or the Disney classic The Three Caballeros.
* We will also read work in progress by members of the group.
* Finally, in Spring 2013 we will invite a speaker to address us and the wider campus community about the topics that are the concern of the working group.


The activities of the working group will be advertised within and outside the Liu Institute, and will be open to faculty as well as graduate students. This proposal has already circulated among a small group of current Liu Scholars, who have enthusiastically endorsed it and plan to participate. This working group will bring together these young scholars to engage with a theme that is crucial to their own research. It will bring together people working on Latin America and also provide a point of self-reflection for everyone involved with the Liu.

Gabriela Aceves (History), Déborah Farias (Political Science), Agustín Goenaga (Political Science), Oralia Gómez-Ramírez (Anthropology), Dawn Hoogeveen (Geography), Sara Komarnisky (Anthropology), Tal Nitsan (Anthropology), Magdalena Ugarte (Community and Regional Planning), Manola Valle (Women’s Studies), Ana Vivaldi (Anthropology), Rafael Wainer (Anthropology)

Jon Beasley-Murray (French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies) has agreed to serve as faculty mentor and liaison.

Future developments:

We hope that in the future we will build upon the activities of the working group, to involve perhaps the wider Vancouver community and/or to coordinate a joint publication as a research output.

2 thoughts on “Proposal

  1. Hello,

    I am wondering if this working group is still running, and if so, is it possible for undergraduate students to join?

    Thank you,

    Hayley Gendron

  2. Great Initiative! I’m an Ecuadorian, living in New York, graduate Geography student and plan to visit Vancouver soon, would love to meet with your group soon. If any reading groups are scheduled for the next semester I would love to be informed and plan a visit.
    muchos saludos,


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