2014 Summer Research Grant Recipients

Alejandro Camargo

"Remaking the Countryside: Agrarian Politics in Post-Disaster Colombia"

In 2010, Colombia experienced what has been known as the “worst natural tragedy in its history.” Floods affected 93% of the national territory in one way or another, and caused serious damage to more than 600,000 households. Even though floods severely affected important urban areas in Colombia’s main cities, the countryside was more seriously devastated: thousands of families lost crops and farm animals, others were displaced and rendered landless, and many others lost their jobs as rural workers. This landscape of devastation not only became a space of despair, social suffering, and ruination, but it also configured a political terrain upon which a number of governmental powers converged to “remake” the countryside. Humanitarian aid arrived from many countries and international institutions to ameliorate the most urgent needs. But the reconstruction of agrarian landscapes was taken on only by the state. Since the Colombian state conceptualized the 2010 floods as a natural disaster associated with global climate change, the reconstruction of the countryside has been officially conceived of as a project of adaptation to climate change. Through ethnographic and archival research, the aim of my dissertation is to understand how the relationship between the state and peasants is mediated by the political and environmental forces of the 2010 catastrophe. My research seeks to discern and delineate the politics of the post-disaster agrarian reconstruction project as a techno-political process that seeks to mold rural environments, practices, and discourses in light of the idea of adaptation to global climate change.

Alejandro Camargo is a PhD candidate in Geography. He is broadly interested in the ways in which environmental transformations intersect with historical and contemporary processes of agrarian change. From this perspective, his research interests are in the ethnography of land-water dynamics, the political ecology of wetlands, rivers and floodplains, environmental disasters in agrarian areas, and the everyday transformations and interventions of the state in agrarian societies and landscapes.


Christopher Waters

"The Forts of Antigua: the Social Impacts of a Colonial Defense Network"

My research looks at a defense network from the eighteenth century designed to keep the French, Dutch and Spanish away from the massive profits derived from the sugar monoculture that was manifest across the Lesser Antilles.  Antigua is a 108 square mile island in the Eastern Caribbean Sea.  This former British colony had a long tumultuous history as an important cog in the industrialization of Britain by supplying the Empire with raw sugar, the first industrially produced, mass consumed commodity.  Due to the wealth being generated in these peripheries, each colonizing nation sought to disrupt and destroy the others access to sugar.  In practice, this meant that during the long years in which Britain, France, Spain and the Dutch were at war, these little islands became intensely fought battlegrounds in the attempt to become the hegemonic European power.  Every island underwent large scale fortifications in an attempt to dissuade an enemy from attacking, often with little success.  Islands were constantly changing hands through battle and treaty.  Despite the low success rates in preventing an invasion, in Antigua's case the fortifications represented, arguably, the largest public works project, commissioned and funded by the local civilian Assembly.  I want to archaeologically investigate the relationship and tension between the military needs of the island and the social requirements. I am using the PLACA Summer Research money to help me identify as many of the historically known fortification sites on the island.  While there are mentions of at least 54 forts in the documentary record, there are only known sites for 27 forts.  The initial phase of my research will be to visit as many of the known forts as I can to photographically and spatially record them.  From there I have constructed a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) model of likely areas in which the missing forts probably are.  Using this information, I hope to locate the remaining 27 fortifications that have been lost to history.  This data will form the preliminary dataset necessary for me to start my dissertation research.

Christopher Waters is a first year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology in the Maxwell School.  He received his MA from the University of Bristol in Maritime Archaeology and is BA from St Olaf College in History and Archaeology.  He has been involved in archaeology since High School conducting investigations in western Tanzania, Germany, England, California and Antigua.


Yan Liu

"New Chinese Immigrants in the Eastern Caribbean: Incorporation, Transnationalism, and the State"

During the past decade, China’s presence in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and other areas in the Global South has grown rapidly. China adopts a unique approach in many resource-rich developing countries which involves massive infrastructure projects funded by Chinese loans secured by natural resources such as oil and other raw materials. This model of Chinese state-influenced investment and aid coincides with a growing outflow of Chinese migrants into these countries. Over the past two decades, a new wave of Chinese entrepreneurial immigrants has flowed into the small islands of the Eastern Caribbean, along with an increasing presence of the Chinese state. While the region as a whole was the historical venue of a wave of indentured labor from China beginning in the post-emancipation nineteenth-century, these smaller islands were not significant players in this earlier migration. The new Chinese private immigrants, though comprising only a tiny fraction of the population, have significantly transformed the local private sector, especially retailing. While many local consumers welcome the cheaper products and flexible services Chinese merchants bring with them, local business owners, many of whom are themselves second- and third-generation immigrant entrepreneurs from other parts of the world, express strong concern over Chinese merchants' business activities. In a scenario reminiscent of recent Chinese entrepreneurial immigrants in Africa and some parts of Europe, the immigration flows coincide with the expansion of Chinese state development aid and state-owned-enterprise (SOE) investments and projects. However, the Caribbean and nearby Central America (sometimes lumped together as the CAC region), containing half of all the countries having diplomatic ties with Taiwan, is unique as one of the most important theaters for the diplomatic rivalry between China and Taiwan. Thus, China and Taiwan's tug-of-war inevitably shapes – though it does not singularly determine – the immigrants' experiences. This research project derives its rationale from three questions:
(a) What are the incentives and role of the Chinese state regarding aid and investment in the Eastern Caribbean, considering that this area has few resources China needs?
(b) What is the relationship between the inflow of private entrepreneurial Chinese immigrants into Eastern Caribbean countries and the diplomatic, development, and investment projects of the Chinese state?
(c) How do certain elements of the new wave of Chinese entrepreneurial immigrants fit and not fit into existing theoretical models of transnational migration, including the neoclassical model of migration, segmented labor market theory, and middleman minority thesis?

Preliminary studies have shown that the private Chinese entrepreneurial flows are unrelated to the extensive aid and development programs in this area; however, locals widely believe that the private Chinese migration and Chinese state projects are interlocking pieces of a global plan by the Chinese government. This perception has profound implications for new Chinese immigrants, China’s state-backed projects, and the local community. Additionally, preliminary data from early field trips suggest that the new wave of Chinese immigrants differs in many respects from most well-studied contemporary and historical international migration flows from developing countries to developed countries, as well as between developing countries. Specifically, the recent Chinese immigrants in the Eastern Caribbean come with a certain degree of financial and human capital, seek positions in “baihuo” business involving distribution of Chinese goods, a newly created niche market, and, so far, do not show significant signs of assimilation. This research project will continue to collect data through prolonged field work in up to four island states in the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean, with regard to experiences and conditions of the new Chinese migration. This investigation will involve entrepreneurial migrants who own and operate businesses, their employees, consumers, competitors or local business community, local regulators, Chinese (or Taiwanese) diplomatic missions, and Chinese state-owned-enterprise (SOEs) staff in aid and development projects. Through interviews and participant observation, this proposed study will examine the profile of the recent Chinese immigrants, the motivations or reasons for migration, modes of incorporation into the local society or the wider “transnational” community, the relationship between private migrant citizens and Chinese diplomatic missions and state-funded projects, and local communities’ reactions towards the newcomers from China.​

Yan Liu is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, Maxwell School. His academic interests are primarily in international migration and globalization. He has been conducting research on recent Chinese migrants in the Global South, particularly the Caribbean, for the past few years. He also currently works as a graduate assistant for the Executive Education Programs at Maxwell School. Yan Liu received his BA degree in sociology and economics from Peking University in Beijing, China. He got his MA degree in sociology from Tsinghua University in Beijing.