Academic journal article Diálogos Latinoamericanos

Where Are 'We' in Transnational US Latino/a Studies?

Academic journal article Diálogos Latinoamericanos

Where Are 'We' in Transnational US Latino/a Studies?

Article excerpt

The article considers various disciplinary, methodological, theoretical and ethical questions resulting from conducting transnational US Latino/a studies in practice. Drawing from research with a community of Latino prizefighters in Austin, Texas, it delineates academic discourses as spatially determined processes, demarcated by scholars' institutional settings and individual agency in multiple geographic environments. The discussion suggests that being an 'insider' or 'outsider' is not a rigid condition but necessarily malleable, contingent upon a range of factors that shape up broader knowledge formation processes in and out of academia. In lieu of a nation-based research paradigm, the article calls for contestations of shifting scholarly loci - spatial between-ness - for important strategic purposes. Such mobility may effectively allow adopting viewpoints that are not necessarily available for those who operate within fixed disciplinary, methodological and intra-group boundaries, while providing scholars with innovative new approaches to conduct Latino/a studies research from de facto transnational and interdisciplinary perspectives.

Keywords: Interdisciplinarity, knowledge formation, space, place, transnationalism, US Latino/a studies

Introduction

It has been popular of late, across disciplinary spectra, to conduct research and designate one's scholarly locus within transnational research paradigms (Fishkin, 2005; Halttunen, 2007; Gutierrez and Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2008; Ngai, 2005; and Portes, 2003). While debates about the definition of the term per se - its origins and application - abound, such a stance usually invokes approaches that question rigid national geographic boundaries (Fitzgerald, 2004; Briggs, MacCormic and Way, 2008; and Kerber, 2005). Area studies scholars, in particular, have begun appropriating transnational 'lenses' in efforts to demonstrate the complexity of seemingly fixed place-based cultural, historical, socioeconomic and political phenomena (Pease and Wiegman, 2002; Rowe, 2002; Spivak, 2003). Yet, even if many of us today take seriously the spatial dimension of knowledge formation processes; others stubbornly insist on reifying essential notions of national identity, mono-disciplinary research agendas and singular methodological frameworks (see the dialogue between Berube, 2003; Kaplan, 2005; and Wolfe, 2004).

Cultural geographers generally differentiate the abstract concept of 'space' as distinct from 'place.' According to Yi-Fu Tuan, for example, '"[s]pace" is more abstract than "place." What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value... When space feels thoroughly familiar, it has become place' (1977: 6 & 73). Doreen Massey (1994; 2005) emphasizes the ambiguity of place, likening it to such signifiers as a 'meeting place,' an 'intersection,' or a 'process'. Hers is a definition that links place with degrees of bodily movement, socioeconomic mobility, social formations and other relations of power. Tim Cresswell (2002), in turn, emphasizes the dynamic nature of place as continually performed and practiced within various everyday contexts:

Place is constituted through reiterative social practice - place is made and remade on a daily basis. Place provides a template for practice - an unstable stage for performance. Thinking of place as performed and practiced can help us think of place in radically open and non-essentialized ways where place is constantly struggled over and reimagined in practical ways.

But what broader ramifications might such spatial theorization have for transnational research in actual practice? Where do 'we' - as scholars - position ourselves within various spatial paradigms that extend beyond national borders? What, if any, corollaries do such approaches have for conducting research in various disciplinary environments?

My starting point for this inquiry is both scholarly and personal. …

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