Exploring Neoliberalism and Urban Space Through Study Abroad in Buenos Aires

Last summer, recent geography Ph.D. graduate Mónica Farías and graduate student Elizabeth Shoffner accompanied a group of undergraduate students on a Study Abroad visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Titled "Political Landscapes of Buenos Aires," the program was intended to help students "understand cities as evolving, complex and contested landscapes shaped by––and with the power to shape–neoliberal measures and policies." Student participants had the opportunity to take classes, attend talks, engage with various organizations, and "walk the city based on 'thematic tours' ...  [that] "include sites of memory, such as former clandestine centers during the 1976-1983 dictatorship; spaces of conspicuous consumption characteristic of the 1990s like shopping malls and the newest neighborhood in the city, Puerto Madero; recuperated factories run by their workers; and gentrified former working class neighborhoods...."

Farías was "mesmerized with learning how the students were seeing and reading the city as we walked through it. The things they paid attention to, the way they sorted out obstacles (metaphorically speaking), the things that fascinated them and the ones that troubled them. We talked a lot about these 'different' ways of walking the city and I feel I have learned a lot from seeing and moving with them."

Shoffner adds, "I was impressed by the solidarity among students as they worked together to help each other. I'm not sure if this is always the case on a study abroad, but our students were incredibly self-aware, respectful and reflective." Farías, too, shares that "what stood out the most was how necessary it was for everyone to stay together, to support each other, to share good but also bad moments."

To demonstrate their understanding of key concepts and reflect on the experience, students were asked to write reflection letters, complete an independent project, record personal reflections and contribute to a program blog. Shoffner notes that these assignments were structured "in ways that stressed the embodied experience of moving through and participating in urban space in Argentina, asking students to be producers (rather than receivers) of knowledge about the city." Students found confidence in their "legitimate contribution to the learning community of the study abroad, to the university, and, most importantly, for themselves." The blog assignment proved particularly meaningful for geography major Adan Vivar, whose post, titled "Markets of Buenos Aires," is included below.

Looking back, Shoffner says co-leading this program "was hugely important for me in terms of my pedagogical practice ... Teaching ethnographic methods in a systematic, grounded way just before embarking on a year of dissertation research encouraged me to guide my own practice of observation with similar structures to those I designed for our students--a great reminder that we are always becoming researchers." Farías is also feeling the impacts of this study abroad program on future teaching practice: "Getting ready for class, organizing activities and moving through the city with the students and with Eli as my partner in this adventure has given me the opportunity to approach my ‘object of study’ from a different angle, to identify different problems/situations, and to think deeply about what of all I want to communicate and how I want to do it." 

An incredible experience for all involved, we look forward to summer 2019 when Farías and Shoffner will again offer students the chance to join "Political Landscapes of Buenos Aires: Neoliberalism and the Struggle for Alternatives." Click here to learn more about the upcoming program!

Markets of Buenos Aires, by Adan Vivar

The public market found along Centenario Park is wonderful and very beautiful because of the variety of products and items being sold. More importantly, the individuals who are selling the products are friendly and welcoming. La Feria de Centenario is more than just a market, it is a space where individuals regardless of their social backgrounds can come together and create a market by and for everyone. While I walked through the market I notice a variety of products from clothing, jewelry, everyday tools, and all sorts of other products. The items themselves were not very expensive and were not products with the intent of being sold to tourist, just ordinary everyday individuals. Those individuals within the market are ordinary citizens, just like the sellers, looking to buy some products. These spaces offer an alternative path for economic growth by allowing ordinary individuals an opportunity to sell their products, which some are handmade. A food stand selling choripans stood out to me because the individuals running the stand were ordinary people trying to make a living. This is seen in certain parts of the market were ordinary people lay a blanket on the floor and start selling. I really enjoyed the market because it offers an opportunity to learn how spaces around a park are created with the intent of creating community involvement for the benefit of all. For everyday people who are making a living and for everyday people to buy and consume, a self-sufficient market for and by everyone to enjoy.

Feria de Artesanos de Plaza Francia found within Recoleta shares similar characteristics as the market found in Parke Centenario. The difference is that the intent of the market seemed to be more for tourist, rather than everyday people within the city. Walking along the market you would notice that the prices of similar products found at market Centenario have gone up in price. You will also notice more tourist walking around the market. The structure of the park itself is very open and very well maintained allowing for multiple stands to be set up. The market is integrated within the park rather than being out in the outskirts of the park. This is quite different than the market in Parke Centenario where the market itself is outside of the park along the fences. But regardless of the location of the market, I really appreciated the same idea and goal of creating a space where citizens are giving the opportunity to sell self-made products. While the targeted audience is different, the city of Buenos Aires is doing a great job at creating spaces and opportunity for economic growth of its citizens in markets found throughout the city.