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Taking Risks: The Product of a 2010 IA Seminar

By Imagining America | August 18, 2014

By Julie Shayne, University of Washington Bothell

Image of Julie ShayneIn 2010 I attended my first Imagining America conference. I organized a seminar session titled “Feminism, Activism, and Activist Research in the Americas” designed to foster discussion about the tensions inherent in researching justice, resistance, and feminism in Latin America and the Caribbean. I was thrilled with the outcome of the seminar – all of the participants were sincerely interested in each other’s work; we all had parallel challenges in convincing our home disciplines that our research was scholarly despite our own activist motivations; we all wanted to support each other’s efforts. We had to leave our room after our allotted 90 minutes so the next session could begin. However, our conversation was anything but done so we migrated as a group to continue the lively exchange. Eventually, after our impromptu 90-minute seminar, participants had to move to our next commitments. Over the next 48 hours, I could not stop thinking about the session(s). I realized that one of the things that held our projects together, beyond being rooted in Latin America and the Caribbean, was risk taking. I also realized that the challenges and passion we all felt for our own projects was not unique to our relatively small group; we all have colleagues and friends who struggle to remain true to their activist convictions while also producing well-regarded scholarship.

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So, I emailed the seminar participants, told them I felt our seminar was the beginning of a book, and wanted to try and make it happen. Three of the participants decided to move forward with me on the project and I am pleased to say that almost four years later our seminar spawned a 350+ page anthology called Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas in SUNY’s “Praxis: Theory in Action” series.

Taking Risks is an interdisciplinary collection where we narrate stories of activism and activist scholarship. The essays are based on our textual analysis of interviews, oral histories, ethnography, video storytelling, and theater. We discuss many activist projects: the underground library movement in Cuba, theater exposing the femicide in Juárez, community radio in Venezuela, video archives in Colombia, exile feminists in Canada, memory activism in Argentina, sex worker activists in Brazil, rural feminists in Nicaragua, and domestic violence organizations for Latina immigrants in Texas. In addition to sharing the social movements centered in each chapter, I asked the contributors to speak to two themes: telling stories and taking risks.

The contributors – scholars/activists/artists – come from many disciplinary backgrounds, including theater, history, literature, sociology, feminist studies, and cultural studies. We are situated in the North (much of the time), writing about the South. Some of us are motivated by our connections to our homelands (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Cuba) or adopted homelands (Colombia, Canada) and others by a deep sense of solidarity with the struggles to which we have gained access. When I sent out the CFP for my proposed Imagining America seminar in June 2010, I never envisioned it would have culminated in this book; a book that I have come to call my “passion project.”

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Julie Shayne is a Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell and Affiliate Associate Professor of Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Washington Seattle. She is the author of They Used to Call Us Witches: Chilean Exiles, Culture, and Feminism and The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba. (jshayne@uw.edu)