A dialogue outside the classroom: First International Studies conference for and by BA students in The Hague
On Saturday, the 6th April 2019, the BASIS Latin American Committee, in collaboration with the Programme Board of International Studies and the Faculty of Humanities, organized the first conference for and by BAIS students in the Campus The Hague.
Discussion addressed the socio-environmental challenges that the world is facing, with a particular focus on the region of Latin America. The result: a textured and multilayered conversation that brought together voices of caution, as well as voices of hope.
Already on-board with the 2018-2019 board members of the Latin American Commitee, Siina Matihaldi and I decided to lead the organization of this conference. Lecturer Maria Gabriela Palacio also decided to join us by reaching out through her network academics possibly interested in our conference. Siina, Maria Gabriela and I opted to do a transatlantic Skype videocall during the winter holidays in which we developed a preliminary plan for the conference. In March 2019 the members of our committee (Siina, Olivia Milani, Katharina Busch, Emma Oosterink, Coline Rio and myself) met with different organizations all over the Netherlands, had various conversations over coffee with prospective speakers, and tried to arrange everything in order to have a wide range of participants: students, academics, activists and professionals attending our conference. Finally on Saturday, 6th April 2019 the long awaited one-day conference on environmental issues took place in Wijnhaven.
A place to dialogue
As the title of this blog post suggests, the principal aim of our conference was to create a space for fruitful dialogue. And I mean dialogue in many different ways. First of all, we had the opportunity to facilitate a dialogue between three different Dutch academic centers that study the region of Latin America: Leiden University (as overly represented by academic staff of International Studies), University of Amsterdam (in particular with the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation, CEDLA), and Erasmus University Rotterdam (with the participation of researchers affiliated at the International Institute of Social Studies, ISS). Furthermore, we — as BAIS students— wanted to host a nuanced dialogue with different international organizations, research institutes and civil society. That is why among the fair and module participants we had organizations like WWF, UNICEF Student Team the Hague, LUGO, Fairtrade Coca, Conscious Kitchen, Stichting Che Amigo, as well as the presence of the Ecuadorian activist, Letty Fajardo. It was our aim to create a focal point and facilitate dialogue between academics, activists, international organizations and even entrepreneurs. Among the attendees we were also able to see how people with different area interests, besides the Latin American region, interacted and compared the environmental issues identified in Latin America with those affecting other regions. Lastly, we aimed to facilitate a dialogue across disciplines, which is why we encouraged the participation of speakers with varied background: economics, anthropology, law, business or political science. With this, I believe we succeeded in creating a space for fruitful dialogue in which the relevance of the contributions did not depend on academic career, but rather the content.
As the name captures, the conference aimed to understand the role of society and the economy in relation to environmental issues. We had a focus on the Latin American region, but the theoretical framework offered by our presenters triggered a reflection that transcended the area of focus and questioned global processes of capitalist expansion, environmental degradation, resistance or governance.
We kicked-off the day with a keynote by Dr. Lorenzo Pellegrini entitled: “Community-based environmental monitoring in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon.” It discussed the slow struggle for environmental justice as reaction to the silent violence and corporate impunity, associated to extractive industries. As a case study, we discussed the Texaco-Chevron extractive activities in Ecuador during the 70s and 80s, and the consequences this brought to the environment and to the community. This keynote lecture and the following discussion showed how academic research and activism can go hand in hand for scholarly activism.
During the lunch break, attendees could discuss with the different organizations present at the fair about their projects, their motives and their prospects, and the way in which people could get involved.
After the lunch break, attendees could join parallel modules. In one of the eight modules, activist and lawyer Letty Fajardo provided an in-depth legal account of the Texaco-Chevron case won in Ecuador and lost in the Hague (Permanent Court of Arbitration). Another module was given by Janneke Nijmeijer. Her experience in Perú and Colombia with coca plantations and their surrounding communities encouraged her to create a foundation that focuses on the necessity to reduce violence in the coca and cocaine production process. She shared some insights on how to approach these problems, also acknowledging the complexity of such situations. Meanwhile, Alberto Alonso Fradejas introduced a multi-dynamic framework for the analysis of socio-environmental conflicts, which focused on the underlying political motives behind ecological conflicts. Other topics discussed included: "Chinese capital and the question of development in Latin America and the Caribbean" by Ruben Gonzalez-Vicente; "Water management and sustainability" by Bert Palsma; "Youth in action against environmental issues in touristy Cartagena, Colombia" by Ivy de Bruijn of Che Amigos; "Latin America’s Global Voice" by Flor Gonzalez Correa; and "The struggle for indigenous land, identity and environment in the Brazilian Amazon" by Seger Kersbergen. Altogether, module presenters took the discussion outside the classroom, where the real learning begins. This was the case, because the discussions focused on activism and how we as students can make a change in the communities, acknowledging the relevant role students and citizens have.
We closed the event with the keynote given by Dr. Fabio de Castro, titled: “Struggles over the Latin America Commons: Between Hegemony and Transformation.” Here, Dr. de Castro introduced his theoretical framework for the study of the commons, which refers to shared experiences and resources that go beyond public and private institutions and that allow people to share some values. Dr. de Castro divided the commons into three categories: cultural, political and natural commons; though he focused his keynote on the latter category. He reminded us of the importance of transdisciplinarity, bringing together theory, practice and political movements.
Altogether, we learned about multiple perspectives and relevant debates that emerge mostly from the ‘real world’ and are taken to the classroom: in debates, protests and with organizations that discuss environmental issues.
Is there more?
This event was our deliberate effort to have an honest discussion as humans, thinking outside the labels of economists, historians, activists, students, teachers, or what have you. We wanted to see critical thinking in practice, and to understand that no matter what your background is, at the end of the day most of us just to make this world a better place… Otherwise, why would you be part of International Studies? That is why, we, as students, acknowledge that there is a need to take the discussions from the lectures and tutorials, out of the official academic circles, so we can engage with these issues from different perspectives. We are concerned about the direct relevance of what we are learning for our society at large and for the planet. In my own experience, these discussions (not only this event, but in all the academic and non-academic dialogues I have had in the Hague) have allowed me to rethink many aspects of myself, my identity, where I come from and where I am going. I believe, this is what International Studies is about.