The Need to Reach Broader Audiences: Scholars Working with Journalists and the Success of Beca Anfibia

Gabriela Polit

How can scholars tell appealing stories about the research we do? How can we
translate the language of our theoretical interpretations into a discourse that is easier to understand? The idea behind these questions is not to give up academia, but to challenge our scope of discussion and make ourselves available to a public that might be interested, if not persuaded by the things we study.

One of the challenges that many humanities and social science scholars face is how to communicate in a more effective way about the products of our research. In times of budget cuts and constant suspicions on the “usefulness” of what we do, it has become indispensable for us to learn how to talk about the importance of our work, and to do it in effective and simple terms.

We train our students to be successful academics, but we should also provide them with the means to become public intellectuals, engaged with the realities they study and qualified to share the findings of their research with larger groups in society.

Two years ago LLILAS invited Visiting Resource Professor Cristian Alarcón, a journalist and writer based in Buenos Aires, to conduct a writing workshop on campus. Over thirty students from different colleges attended, and in less than a week, nine of them came up with an abstract of a story they wanted to tell. In spring 2013, LLILAS offered a summer fellowship, the Beca Anfibia, to one of those students, Jorge Derpic (sociology). The story he wrote and produced with Alex Ayala (his “amphibian” partner and a journalist based in La Paz) was about the lynching in El Alto, one of the biggest and most violent cities in Bolivia. (See story here)

This fellowship owes its name to the place where the story was published. Revista Anfibia is one of the most important online publications in Latin America, with over 40,000 views monthly. What characterizes the stories published in Anfibia is that they are produced by a scholar and a journalist. Both contributors put in practice their expertise, working together, conducting research together, and writing together. The journalist paves the way to research in the field while the scholar helps the journalist make connections that he or she is not trained to make. The result is a well-written story—a crónica—rich in depth and yet told in uncomplicated language.

Not only did Jorge gain experience during his amphibious project, he also won two prestigious dissertation awards after the publication of his crónica. While we cannot claim that all his success is solely due to the Beca Anfibia, there is something about having your essay edited by a group of three highly prestigious journalists based in Argentina that sharpens your writing skills. 

This year we owe the possibility of granting a second Beca Anfibia to the generous support of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, the Department of Sociology, the Department of Anthropology, and Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Sociology Javier Auyero. We offered our second successful writing workshop in March 2014, conducted by Argentinian author Sebastián Hacher, and eleven students from four different colleges sent us their abstracts.  The spring 2014 fellowship was awarded to Daniel Perera, PhD student, Dept. of Anthropology . His crónica is about the violent legacy of a fratricidal war among neighbors of a small Guatemalan town.

Our goal is to make this a stable program. We want to have workshops that last more than one session and we want to invite journalists to write on relevant topics in Latin America. We want to foster this necessary dialogue and invite faculty to take an active part in it. Having journalists around is a good way to make them understand that academics do not live in ivory towers. At the same time, we need to incorporate their experience and expertise to better help our community be heard and read in the world outside the academy.

Gabriela Polit
Associate Professor
Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese




Picture courtesy of Mari Correa






DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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