Inequality & Human Rights: Graduate Fieldwork Grants
As part of the Inequality & Human Rights project, the Rapoport Center has awarded grants to graduate students to support their fieldwork on related themes. Here are our 2016–2019 recipients.
Alex Diamond — PhD Candidate, Sociology
Project Title — Human Rights and the Local Experience of the Colombian Peace Process
Research on peace processes has cast different kinds of rights discourses as playing a prominent yet controversial role in peace processes, recognized for their ability to protect vulnerable populations but also criticized for privileging those who have the power to define them, particularly in relation to private property. The peace process in Briceño, a village of 9,000 in northern Antioquia, Colombia, is a strategic site for evaluating the kinds of rights that are granted within peace processes and their effects on local communities. Before the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Briceño was isolated from the formal state; its economy was based on coca cultivation and the FARC often served as the sovereign authority. During three months of preliminary fieldwork from May to August 2018, I found that Briceño’s transition to formal state control involved multiple and sometimes clashing human rights discourses and practices. The peace accords granted the right to unprecedented social investment in the region, including infrastructural development and a coca substitution program to help peasants transition to legal crops. However, these programs have been implemented unevenly and within a framework that emphasizes private property rights to the disadvantage of landless peasants who have seen the disappearance of traditional land tenure arrangements. Combined with the elimination of the coca economy, this has only exacerbated local inequalities. At the same time, local rights to territorial control have come into question, most notably with the potential incursion of Continental Gold, a Canadian company which has long owned the right to mine gold in the area but was previously prohibited from entering by the FARC. Most in the community fear the mine would destroy local livelihoods and the environment but doubt they will be able to stop it. My summer fieldwork will explore the kinds of rights that are emphasized within Colombia’s peace process. Through accompanying local leaders and development programs, I will seek to understand how these rights are negotiated and enacted within the local community and with external actors. Finally, I will interrogate how these rights affect structures of inequality and local experiences as a result of the peace process.
Sarah Eleazar — PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Project Title — Water and Politics of Deprivation and Resource Capture in Punjab
I will conduct my research in two neighboring villages, Chah Kalalanwala and Kot Assadullah, over the summer months to understand modalities of threats and vulnerability around access to water. Around 20 years ago, the aquifer supplying water to these villages was discovered to be heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants including heavy metals, fluoride, and arsenic. This led to bone deformities and other physical ailments in hundreds of children. Furthermore, since Christians are traditionally connected to stigmatizing labor, the impact of this pollution was experienced differently by residents of the Christian basti (colony) that straddles the two villages. I will conduct semi-structured interviews of families living in the two villages and specifically in the Christian bastito to see how the state response to crisis intersects with the concerns and practices of local communities. Participant observation in local churches, tea stalls, and other public spaces will allow me to closely examine relationships between the political subject and social life as they play out in the Christian basti and its Muslim neighbors. Since most of the water for household use is managed by women, I will conduct participant observation and unstructured interviews to see how they navigate through water technologies in order to feed and sustain their families. Following the pollution crisis, the residents of these villages, mostly subsistence farmers, could not use their land for agricultural purposes; in order to survive, they took up jobs in the same industries that had deprived them of their economic mainstay. In this context, human rights discourse provides an important lens to examine the relationship between income inequality and access to safe drinking water from. The government’s response to the crisis served to deepen a sense of precarity, a condition which continues to fester and reinforce existing systemic inequalities.
Iasmin Goes Aragao Santana — PhD Candidate, Government
Project Title — Why Do Governments Tie Their Hands? Natural Resources, Public Budgets, and Voter Demands
In 1854, Texas established the Special School Fund to provide the state with a public school system, using money from the lease of land and royalties from oil and gas extraction. This was the first sovereign wealth fund in history. Since then, Mongolia, Norway, Timor-Leste, and many others have created about 150 similar measures constraining how—and how much—revenue from non-renewable natural resources is saved or spent. This is surprising not only because Texas, Mongolia, Norway, and Timor-Leste have little in common, but also because there is limited evidence that these measures actually work. Despite their professed intention to save for future generations, increase public spending on neglected issue areas, decrease the dependence on natural resources, or stabilize the economy in times of need, they often lack transparency, increase revenue volatility, set unrealistic benchmarks, and fail to accomplish their goals. If tying hands has uncertain policy outcomes, why do so many governments do it? To explore this question, I will interview World Bank and IMF consultants in Washington DC, where they advise a number of resource-rich countries on how to set fiscal targets. It is important to understand what incumbents do with their money (and why they do what they do) because some allocation decisions are inefficient, leading to a waste in public resources, suboptimal social outcomes, and chronically underfunded issue areas. Tying hands has important implications for the transparency and accountability of the extractive sector in addition to the long-term impact of natural resource wealth on public budgets and social welfare.
Katie K. Rogers — PhD Candidate, Sociology
Project Title — Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Race, Class, and Gender Inequality in the U.S. Legal Cannabis Industry
This study investigates work inequality in the emerging multibillion-dollar U.S. legal cannabis industry. Many studies of drug markets focus on prohibition and criminalization, but less is known about the reverse process, posing the question: How do race, class, and gender impact the culture and stratification of a previously criminalized industry as it emerges into the legal economy? This project foregrounds the experiences of women in the industry, a neglected topic in drug market research. Specifically, it examines the popular claim that cannabis will yield unique opportunities for women in the paid-labor market. This multi-method study uses content analysis, in-depth interviews, and field research in dispensaries throughout San Francisco, California, to investigate women’s pathways, motivations, experiences, and interactions in cannabis spaces, as well as how cannabis is marketed to women. Findings will contribute to conversations on the scope and solutions of human rights agendas by examining cannabis legalization as a case of access to economic opportunity, a cornerstone of human rights. The U.S. war on drugs inflicted on onslaught of human rights atrocities on differently racialized communities (particularly Black, Native, and Latinx persons), leaving people deported, homeless, struggling to pay fines and fees, and fighting to wrest their children back from state protective agencies. Furthermore, survey data suggest women of color, men of color, and white women are underrepresented in the legal cannabis industry compared with their participation in the workforce. Such disparities will likely have long-term effects as the industry is projected to yield billions of dollars in revenue and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Recommendations will be tailored toward advocating for equitable race and gender representation in legal cannabis and the paid-labor market at large.
Shannon Malone Gonzalez — PhD Candidate, Sociology
Project Title — In Her Place: Policing Black Women Across Social Class
In my research, I examine how economic inequality influences black women’s interactions with police and resources for coping with police violence. I center black women’s experiences to understand how their social position within converging systems of inequality shapes police surveillance and violence. My dissertation project is a mixed-methodological study that uses surveys, observations, and interviews. This summer, I am conducting 10–15 interviews additional interviews and ethnographic observations of community events in my second field site, Austin, TX.
Riad Azar — PhD Candidate, Sociology
Project Title — Boomtown Poison: Political Culture Under the Shadow of Lead Poisoning in West Texas
How do people think and feel about environmental inequality? How are these thoughts and feelings shaped by a shared understanding of the right to a clean environment? How do political orientations shape (and are shaped by) the ways in which people think and feel about contamination of the environment in which they live? Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork in a highly contaminated community located in rural west Texas, this project seeks to answer these questions by examining the ways in which the local residents of Boomtown, TX (Pseudonyms are used for confidentiality) think, feel, and act on (or fail to act on) the pollution of their water. An oil boomtown of the early 20th century, the population of Boomtown has steadily declined over one hundred years from a height of 40,000 residents in 1916 to the current population of 2,000. Save for a small boom in the 1970s, the crumbling infrastructure, lack of jobs, and contaminated water containing twenty-eight times the federal limit of lead are consequences of socioeconomic transformations characteristic of rural America. The United Nations, in resolution 64/292 passed on July 28th, 2010, enshrined the right to clean drinking water as fundamental to the realization of human rights more broadly. My proposed research ethnographically documents a contaminated community and seeks to show how contamination shapes local and national political cultures, reinforces economic inequality, structures the recognition of poverty, and reproduces itself through schemas of credit and blame. In order to solve these human rights challenges, it is vitally important to understand the production and reproduction of political culture in the intersections between environmental contamination and economic inequality.
Alex Diamond — PhD Candidate, Sociology
Project Title — What does Post-Insurgent Reincorporation Look Like? Social Inclusion, Governmentality, and Rural Development in Colombia’s Peace Laboratory
The 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) put an end to a half-century insurgency while also beginning the national reincorporation of territories like Briceño that were previously under FARC control. In Briceño, as in many other areas, the guerrillas had acted as the de facto state, keeping order, maintaining roads, organizing the local coca-based economy, and even protecting the environment from the entrance of multinational mining companies eager to exploit its gold. The state’s assumption of governance functions is part of a process that also includes the definition of its obligations to Briceño’s campesinos and indeed their very citizenship. The peace accords included provisions for rural development and coca substitution programs designed to transform rural economies and invest in development in rural Colombia that has long been lacking. What space have these programs opened for the construction of different ideas of citizenship rights and social and economic inclusion for rural populations that have been historically marginalized? On the other hand, how and to what extent does the process of reincorporation also involve a project of political subordination, particularly around issues of territorial rights like gold mining? Through studying the implementation of the peace accords, as well as local struggles over the potential incursion of multinational gold mining companies, I will try to understand processes of citizenship construction and political domination in real time. This research will offer a case study of how marginal regions are incorporated within states, the often-hidden work done by programs like the peace accords, and how local actors can operate within these periods of transition to put forward different conceptions of citizenship, social rights, and economic justice.
Eddie C.H. Hsu — PhD Candidate, Ethnomusicology
Project Title — Becoming National Cultural Property: Preservation of Aboriginal Paiwan Flutes and Cultural Rights in Contemporary Taiwan
My project primarily deals with the structures of inequality in cultural rights by analyzing the national preservation and transmission project of two-pipe nose flutes (lalingedan) and mouth-blown flutes (pakulalu) of the Aboriginal Paiwan group in Taiwan. During this summer, I will conduct my fieldwork in southern Taiwan to interrogate the various repertoires those Aboriginal musicians play in different settings, which, in contrast to the government-funded “cultural performances” that feature authentic Aboriginal arts, may involve various elements and stylistic practices that are “hidden” within this national preservation and transmission project. Analyzing these repertoires will also allow me to explore the ways in which Aboriginal musicians enact their rights to artistic production and participation in relation to the constraint of national preservation and transmission project. I expect this ethnographic contribution to highlight the role of music in mediating tensions between the state’s practices/ideologies of cultural heritage and individual rights to artistic production and participation in Taiwan today, and shed new light on the preservation of intangible culture heritage and many indigenous revival movements across the world.
Alexandra Lamiña — PhD Candidate, Latin American Studies
Project Title — Feminist indigenous geo-ethnography for understanding the urban indigenous migration in the Ecuadorian Amazon region
In the Ecuadorian Amazonia, indigenous urban migration is a poorly understood phenomenon. Using an innovative and pioneer feminist indigenous geo-ethnography approach, this project aims to explain how Indigenous peoples face global urbanization by pulling apart westernized and mainstream perspectives. Fieldwork will first take place in Puyo during Summer 2018. This project will creatively combine critical geo-ethnography, indigenous mapping, and participatory research for co-learning and co-producing knowledge about the indigenous quotidian mobilities in cities. This approach will help to inform how indigenous peoples face severe factors that affect their human rights in urban settings. For example, socioeconomic inequality, racial and cultural discrimination, gender violence, and economic exclusion that impact the everyday indigenous livelihoods. The current invisibility of indigenous migration in urbanization has severe political and policy-related implications due to its complexity and ambivalent role in the politics of indigeneity, identity, and representation. Human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people requires that indigenous people be actively involved in developing and defining measures of urban sustainability. Better understanding indigenous’ mobilities and their spatialities are crucial because by their migratory experience and epistemology can advance “Right to the City” discussions and enable politics that are invisible in dominant regimes and excluded from hegemonic knowledge.
Nathalia Sandoval Rosa — PhD Candidate, Government
Project Title — Law or not law? Regulating ethnic rights under the extractive boom in Latin America
Why have Latin American indigenous peoples advocated compliance with their right to be consulted before authorizing or launching extractive projects on their land –but rejected the national codification of that right? Drawing from a comparison between groups in Colombia and Bolivia, I study the mechanisms that explain why states and extractive companies have advocated for a standardized regulation of the right to prior consultation and the right to free, prior, and informed consent in the region, while several indigenous organizations have rejected it. This summer I will start collecting original data in Colombia through semi-structured interviews, and content analysis of archival materials. My research contributes to explain the circumstances under which the regulation of indigenous rights risks to reproduce the unequal distribution of power that marginalize indigenous peoples in the decisions about the use of their land. Thus, rather than focusing on the emancipatory or limited nature of human rights, the project understands their potentiality as a variable that depends on the specific interactions between states, industries, and marginalized communities.
Kenza Yousfi — PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Project Title — Where is our phosphate? Walling of natural resources and distributive justice in the Western Sahara
The Saharan wall emerged from the Moroccan-Saharawi war in the Western Sahara. The conflict started by a national liberation movement that aims to grant a self-determination referendum for the local population—the Saharawis. The UN brokered a ceasefire agreement in 1991 for a war that lasted for sixteen years, whereby Morocco annexed the territory east of the wall, Saharawi military controlled the area east of the wall, in addition to managing the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. The current wall was built over eight years in different phases by the Moroccan army from 1980 to 1986. The first wall encircled an important space called the Useful Triangle; an area encompassing three elements: the phosphate mines of Bou Craa, the longest conveyor belt in the world, and the port of Laayoune. Since the 1986, the question of the phosphates in the Western Sahara has been linked to the wall as a defensive structure enabling Morocco to illegally exploit natural resources outside of its internationally recognized border. The Saharawi population under Moroccan control engages the relationship between the wall and the phosphates by trying to negotiate the terms of Morocco’s resource extraction. It calls for the Moroccan state to redistribute its phosphate financial returns to the Saharawis, instead of arguing for the illegality of the extraction. Yet, on the eastern side of the wall, the Saharawi military and camp-based NGOs negotiate with other states and companies buying Saharan phosphates from Morocco by utilizing the regulatory frame of international law. In both cases, the phosphates emerge as a resource in the making that is closely related to other projects of state power. In these claims, I ask 1) how walling has generated a larger infrastructure of the phosphate, and 2) how does the Saharawi population see the effect of walling (and the wall) in diminishing their rights to claim natural resources? By centering this question, my research will explore how the wall facilitates makings of natural resources and the use of various legal and modern governance practices to form populations’ particular governance demands and understandings of the phosphates.
Ana-Isabel Braconnier — PhD Candidate in Latin American Studies, Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies
Project Title — Where does the funding come from? An assessment of the indigenous strategic litigation in Guatemala
In Guatemala in 2014, poverty reached 60%, of which 52% was indigenous population according to the World Bank. This structural situation places the country on the list of beneficiaries for international cooperation to development. Several projects have been implemented within the judicial field to promote human rights, and address ethno-racial discrimination. Local indigenous organizations and litigants have carried out significant work, particularly throughout strategic litigation, and have contribute to open the scope of indigenous collective rights and material redistribution. However, currently, some key international agencies are withdrawing from the arena, leaving an open question about the future of indigenous strategic litigation. To what extent indigenous legal organizations still depend on international funding to carry out strategic litigation? Will this scenario have an effect on an eventual indigenous “Rights Revolution” in Guatemala? To address this question, I will explore Fundacion Rigoberta Menchu Tum and Asociacion de Abogados y Notarios Mayas’ legal work since the signature of the Peace Accords in 1996. From collecting public interest judicial cases regarding indigenous rights and conducting interviews with stakeholders, I will trace the funding sources and conditions, the legal agendas, and the projections behind each case. The results of this exploratory fieldwork research will contribute to better approach the relationship between legal activism, economic inequality and indigenous rights in a country such as Guatemala.
Vrinda Marwah — PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
Project Title — Reproducing the State: Women Community Health Workers in Delhi, India
In 2005, the Indian government began its flagship program the ‘National Health Mission’ to establish a de-centralized, community-owned health delivery system that would prioritize under-served regions and populations. Maternal and child health were spotlighted in this plan, and the bulk of the responsibility to improve outcomes fell to a cadre of women reproductive health workers created especially by the Mission. These women were called ASHAs i.e. Accredited Social Health Activists. They were to be ‘remunerated volunteers’, tasked with connecting other women from their communities to the public health system. ASHAs would track pregnant women; supply them with the health checks, medication and counseling they needed; and when it was time, ensure that they delivered in an institution instead of at home. Today, India has over 900,000 ASHAs. In a country that spends only 1.1% of its GDP on its ailing public health system and that has otherwise neglected its primary health care, the ASHA program presents a notable exception. Since the implementation of this program, for instance, both institutional deliveries and immunization rates have risen. As such, ASHAs make a critical contribution to ensuring the delivery of health services to the country’s poorest and most marginalized. As frontline workers for the state, ASHAs are recruited on ethnicized governmental categories of General, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. However, as reproductive health workers, ASHAs perform intimate bodily labor that requires them to reach out to women from caste backgrounds other than their own. Here, as a rationalized street-level bureaucrat, ASHAs must access and even regulate the private life-world where caste boundaries still hold sway. In these interactions, when and how does the role of the ASHA triumph over her caste, and vice-versa? By centering this question, my research will explore how caste boundaries matter for—and are managed by—working class women implementing India’s reproductive health policy.
Beth Prosnitz — PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
Project Title — Gendered In/equalities: Women’s Property Ownership in Post-conflict Nepal
Anti-discrimination laws are meant to ameliorate social inequalities. Yet, might these sorts of progressive laws also lead to negative social outcomes? In this study I will look at the effects of women’s property rights laws on women’s access to property ownership in Nepal. Women’s property rights have been politically important in Nepal since the 1990s. In the post-conflict environment, the Nepali government has taken measures to increase women’s access to property, including the exemption of women land owners from land taxes. Today, women in an estimated 19 percent of households in Nepal own land. However, barriers to women’s property ownership remain. I examine what might hinder women’s ability to own land, in spite of gender egalitarian inheritance laws. Moreover, I ask how caste might shape women’s access to property, and how legislation for gender justice might potentially re-inscribe caste power.
Adam Aziz — PhD Candidate in French Literature, Department of French and Italian
Project Title — Exploring the Intersection of Sexuality/Sexual Health and Economic Marginalization of LGBTQIA Tunisians in Post-Revolution Tunisia
Galvanized by the hopeful optimism occasioned by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, LGBTQIA Tunisians and their allies began to organize themselves into structured NGOs, deploying grassroots strategies to mobilize and develop programs towards improving the conditions of the often-marginalized LGBTQIA community in the country. New LGBTQIA and human rights organizations emerged exponentially in the capital, Tunis, between 2011-2015 to respond to growing calls for positivist change and furnish a safe space for queer Tunisians to mobilize. What initially began as disconnected streams of dissent rapidly converged into an interconnected series of movements that envisioned active civic participation and communitarian intervention as key strategies to heighten LGBTQIA visibility. My research project traces the socio-political mobilization of Tunisian LGBTQIA organizations, in particular Shams, exploring how they assiduously deploy galvanizing strategies of civic participation and communitarian intervention, via publicly available sex education programs, economic re-integration initiatives, and support groups, to focus on issues of sexual health, sexual violence, and economic empowerment. These grassroots programs ultimately narrate the LGBTQIA cause within a discourse on human rights, striving to show that LGBTQIA individuals are as much full-fledged citizens of Tunisia as the rest of Tunisian society, and thus cannot be willfully excluded from economic, socio-cultural, and political spheres of activity. These efforts exemplifying diversified methods of LGBTQIA grassroots activism, I argue, present the right to sexual health and economic egalitarianism as inalienable components of human rights and civil liberties.
Ruijie Peng — PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
Project Title — Labor and Power: Rural Women’s Changing Roles in Productive and Reproductive Work in China
I will conduct preliminary fieldwork for my dissertation in Aba Prefecture, the center of China’s Qiang population in Sichuan province. Located in southwest China, Sichuan is one of the largest sources for rural migrant labor in China. In the mid-2000s, the local government at the county level started to implement Socialist New Countryside Schemes aimed at accelerating economic development and addressing unequal access to social welfare in the villages. Especially after the major Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008, the local government invested heavily in rebuilding and reconfiguring villages to improve their aesthetics and position them for ethnic tourism. As a result, rural women started to take center stage in creating an infrastructure and small businesses catering to tourists. My field site offers unique opportunities to examine how minority rural women’s labor participation relates to the production and reproduction of inequality. Rural women in my case studies engage in daily decision-making of economic priorities (food production, vending, odd jobs in townships etc.), income allocation, care work and short and long-term mobility while constantly negotiating traditional gendered expectations and responsibilities. I propose to use ethnographic research methods to examine the strategies these rural minority women employ to address and overcome everyday forms of inequality, as well as the limits and possibilities neo-liberal development projects have for addressing urban-rural, gender and income inequality.
Nathalia Sandoval Rojas — PhD Candidate, Department of Government
Project Title — Do the Courts Actually Help the Poor? The Case of Argentina
Under what conditions do national courts’ decisions on social and economic rights affect inequality? Courts such as the Supreme Court of Argentina produce a large number of decisions enforcing social rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. While these decisions should in principle reduce inequality in access to the social goods protected by these human rights, so far there are few indications to that effect. What is more, some scholars have shown cases where the impact of courts’ decisions on inequality is negative. To explore this puzzle, this summer I will conduct preliminary fieldwork in Argentina. There, I will meet with judicial assistants, recurring litigant organizations, and scholars who study poverty. I also will visit the Supreme Court and INDEC (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos). I will explore the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of studying how Argentina incorporates the Supreme Court’s orders about egalitarian access to social goods and examine the policies’ outcomes. The research I will conduct this summer will be crucial to my dissertation proposal, and will shed light on the way human rights litigation impacts inequality in the access to social goods.
Ricardo Velasco — PhD Candidate in Latin American Studies, Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies
Project Title —Networks of Human Rights, Memory, Solidarity, and Inclusive Citizenship in Transitional Colombia
This project proposes a critical analysis of socio-cultural practices and processes of memory and human rights activism emerging in transitional Colombia, specially among cultural and artistic collective working in the Pacific coast region. It focuses on the tensions, antagonisms and political possibilities of the multiple narratives and representations of the violent past channeled through cultural and artistic practices. This analysis aims at understanding the type of interventions into the political field that these processes make possible, in articulation with the struggles for inclusion and equality among black communities and other ethnic groups across the Pacific coast region-territory. The study is particularly concerned with the political potential of art and the use of new communication technologies among human rights activists, cultural collectives and victims’ organizations for: 1) contesting or subverting official post-conflict and national reconciliation narratives; 2) denouncing historical institutional abandonment and socio-economic inequality; 3) building solidarity, social and environmental justice networks across other sectors of the citizenry; 4) rearticulating, mobilizing or making problematic the notions of territorial autonomy, cultural rights and citizenship in a post conflict nation; 5) producing knowledges and socio-cultural worlds “otherwise”, by creating organizational and socio-cultural processes that constitute alternatives to state-capitalist driven socioeconomic agendas.