Claudio E. Benzecry
To illustrate this last point, Dr. Menjivar chose a picture from the mobilization in Argentina in favor of the legalization of abortion, an experience that has become tidal all throughout Latin America, and made it to the conference itself, with numerous scholars wearing the pañuelos verdes that have been for almost a decade symbols of the fight for reproductive rights in the region. That image points to a felicitous coincidence with this missive and this newsletter, as the objective of this piece is to introduce a symposium of short but substantive contributions about sociology of/from Latin America, which includes the opinion piece “Feminism at a Crossroads: Key takeaways from Latin America.” As sketched on the previous letter, the intent is to present how certain key discussions on terms like social protest, state rights, and environmental justice, among others, are operationalized in Latin America to illuminate the historical specificities of countries in the peripheries as well as those taken-for-granted at the center.
To choose what would be the topics featured here, I used as reference the themes of the presidential panels from the 2021 and 2022 from the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), the largest association that deals with studies of the area, with members from all of the Americas. The presidential themes included presentations on agricultural technology, food security and development; the relationship between Latin America, the US and the Caribbean; new feminisms; the new right-wing mobilization; mobility and migration policy, as well as debates about extractivism and its role within regional development strategies.
We tend to ask if the subaltern can speak, but get a bit puzzled when theories by peripheral scholars don’t conform to the established geographical division of labor, to the pairing of what happens in the region with the topics we have used to make sense of it from to the center to refer to it, or when they lack a more “radical” take on the phenomena. The spirit of this symposium is one of opening up a conversation. There is sometimes an impetus to extend themes and theories of the US into new contexts, without reading much local scholarship, or when done, using them as “input” in what is not an intellectual dialogue but rather viewed as stepping stones to build away from that. We hope this small showcase of themes, theories, and scholars is just the beginning of a much more thorough South-North engagement in the future.
The articles that follow are written by Latin American scholars working in Latin America and in the US to discuss what are the main issues in their agenda, and how they make sense of them. The list includes in three of the cases collaborations between scholars working in both contexts, and who have done research in -by alphabetical order- Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico; as well as in the US. As the reader will notice there are plenty of references to scholarship produced in Latin America (there’s far more bibliography on Portuguese and Spanish than in your regular sociological contribution in the US), as well as to scholarship about Latin American in the US. The spirit of this intervention is not one of saving an uncontaminated standpoint, but rather of showing the actual frictions, disjunctures, aporias, displacements that happen when putting knowledge in motion.
In the first article, “Feminism at a Crossroads: Key takeaways from Latin America,” authors from Mexico, Argentina and the US, discuss three insights that can be learned from the reproductive justice movements and beyond in terms of social-justice-oriented versions of democracy; the metaphor of wave or tide to understand the temporality of the organization of the movement and its consolidation; and the horizontal/network like character of successful and effective participation. In the second article, “Plurinationality as an idea and a reality in 21st Century Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile,” Jorge Derpic discusses the centrality in ethnic identification and mobilization for citizenship rights, showing how plurinationality is a challenge to the processes of mestizaje, central to the modernizing and cultural constitution of the national state as we have come to think of it; the article also provides us with a nice entry to the debates on the neo-extractivist character of the development these plurinational states build themselves upon economically, and the ensuing contradictions at play. In the third article, “Cannibalizing the Northern Environmental Justice Perspective,” the authors weave through their own work on environmental justice and toxic uncertainty, to show the myopias that result in the non-reflexive import of US based theories to make sense of a case with different gender, political and ethnic dynamics. In the fourth article, “Debt, Greed, and Disasters: For a Plausible Study of Puerto Rico and its Systemic Risk,” Salvador Vidal-Ortiz places Puerto Rico in a unique in-between-space betwixt Latin America and the US, constituted by Caribbean coloniality, and as a fruitful locus to think about the intertwined character of debt, disaster and “modernization.” The contribution is also a call for peripheral and horizontal networks in the generation of knowledge production. The last article for this symposium, written by two different generations of scholars (Cook-Martín and Jensen) specialized in migration and mobility regimes in the Americas, is a powerful theoretical and methodological reflection about the myopias present in the US versions of how migration and access to status and rights happen, as well as in the irreflexive use of “Global South” as an antidote. This last contribution proposes some tools for epistemological vigilance to avoid said myopias.
The papers point to several potential avenues for US sociology to learn from what happens south of the border, the contributions by are both invitation to think together, to see how things are conceptualized differently, and at the most basic level, to know about current social and political developments in the region. At a theoretical level, the articles call our attention to the historically intertwined character of sociological scholarship, and public and policy interventions; explores the political arrangements resulting from racial and ethnic configurations other than the binary theorized and consequently exported from the US experience; proposes to upend the intellectual division of labor between North and South by showing how knowledge diffusion works at the local level on a hybrid and “cannibalized” way, instead of the direct export of frames from Western Europe and the US to understudied regions of the world; the production of lay expertise and activist networks on a continental level, emphasizing the movement from South to North (as in the example of the Marea Verde, ASA President Menjivar mentioned on her address); more generally, the articles serve to also destabilize our understanding of North and South, and of constructs such as the US and Latin America as fixed intellectual categories.
Lastly, the symposium has been a work of actual collaboration among scholars, including some involved in the political movements they analyze. Unlike other manifesto-like documents, reflecting on intellectual agendas or the movement of ideas and the power dynamics of it -like my first letter from the chair-, this symposium is the result of exchanges across the Americas, by scholars who have put their bodies and mind to collaborate in concrete ways, building off their own research and that of their colleagues, and writing across borders. The Theory section has answered the call from the presidential address to do South-North cross pollination. We can only hope this will be just one among many similar endeavors.
 I would like to specially thanks Simone Polillo, the past chair, for his guidance; Claire Decoteau -the treasurer-, for all her hard work behind the scene to make sure the section was running smoothly through the pandemic; and Luis Flores, who went beyond his duties as student council member to make sure the JTS conference and awards were thoroughly advertised.
 A more thorough account of the section activities will happen on the Fall issue of this newsletter.
 The list is of course incomplete, there are other ways or classifying/ arranging scholarship from/of Latin America. We also suffered some last-minute desertions because of the pandemic (an article on State, development and expertise written by Brazilian academics, for instance); scholars refusing the invitation because of other commitments, etc. One of the unfortunate realities of attempts to generate disciplinary change is that people interested in it are already participating in multiple spaces and initiatives oriented towards the same, and have a higher demand of their time in comparison to those interested in maintaining status quo. There is also a related infrastructural inertial impediment to this kind of writing, which counts very little for our CVS.