A Conversation with Gabriela Martínez

Gabriela Martínez speaking at the CSWS 40th Anniversary Celebration / photo by Jack Liu.

Gabriela Martínez speaking at the CSWS 40th Anniversary Celebration / photo by Jack Liu.

Media, Democracy, and the Construction of Collective Memory

Reprinted from 2014 CSWS Annual Review (published October 2014)

CSWS last interviewed Gabriela Martínez for the Annual Review in summer 2012, when she was the incoming associate director of CSWS. Now entering her third and final year as associate director, Martínez talks about her research, documentary filmmaking, and teaching; her tenure at CSWS; and her upcoming year as a resident scholar at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics.

Q: You’ve been the CSWS associate director for two years. What has your role been, and what will it be in the coming year as you fulfill your appointment as resident scholar at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics?

2013-Agents-of-Change-DVD-cover_WEBGM: My main administrative role was overseeing the administrative process for internal research grants for faculty and staff, for the Jane Grant Dissertation Fellowship for PhD students, and for general research grants for other graduate students. Gearing up for the CSWS 40th Anniversary Celebration, I coproduced and directed the documentary Agents of Change: A Legacy of Feminist Research, Teaching, and Activism at UO and oversaw the research for its production. I also conducted most of the interviews, along with Sonia De La Cruz, the coproducer. In addition, Jamie Lay assisted me initially.

I have also headed up the Women of Color Project for two years, for which I was one of the founding members. During those two years we’ve focused on issues of tenure and promotion, and on strengthening our research and academic writing for publications. We have sponsored tenure and promotion and writing workshops for group members.

Another thing I did was to serve as a sounding board for conversations that came up on a regular basis, such as for the organization of the 40th anniversary celebration, which was a huge task that involved everybody at CSWS. But also for issues that always come up, that are not part of either the director’s job or my job, but which we have to deal with because CSWS is an important research center, to which many in the campus community come for support.

My continuation as associate director is a little bit unusual. However, I was asked to stay one more year to help with the transition of directors. I have some institutional memory that may ease the transition, given that I was a board member for several years before becoming associate director. I will continue doing the things that I have been doing as associate director. I don’t see any major shift in terms of my overall role in working for CSWS.

Q. CSWS has a new director, Michael Hames-García. How do you see yourself collaborating with his goals as director of CSWS? How do you see CSWS changing under Michael’s directorship?

GM: I haven’t worked with Michael before, but we have a collegial relationship from participating together on other groups or boards, such as the Center for Latino/ Latina and Latin American Studies. I have no doubt that we will work well together. We have similar interests in terms of our research and our political views about the world and society. We also share a vision of making the center and the university more engaged internationally, in terms of women’s and gender issues.

I think Michael is going to build on what CSWS has already been doing, and he will add, perhaps, new research areas or ways of attracting new research. One area that he may want to strengthen in the center could be the study of race and class in conjunction or relationship with gender and women’s issues. Based on preliminary conversations with him, I think that he’s going to push more in terms of these intersectionalities for CSWS’s research agenda and for the grants that CSWS gives out. Also, the vision of promoting more international research is another area where I see him adding to what we already do.

Q: Have you enjoyed your time working with outgoing director Carol Stabile? Has the associate directorship been fruitful for you in particular ways?

GM: Absolutely. It’s been a real treat to work with Carol. I learned a great deal from her as a colleague, as a researcher, and also as a director in terms of administration. She’s been an outstanding director. I learned from the way she managed the center, and from how she relates to the staff and to the wider campus community. My two years at CSWS have provided me with a good sense of what a research center is and should be, and how to run one.

Q: Do you see yourself, past your one remaining year as associate director, in an administrative role as part of your professional future?

GM: I have contemplated the idea, and I think that it’s a possibility. But I have to consider how much I love teaching and doing my research and creative work, and how much the administrative work takes—it zaps your time. Currently, in addition to being associate director at CSWS, I am serving as director of the School of Journalism and Communication’s Professional Journalism Master’s Program, something I took on this academic year. I like doing some administrative work, but I also know that I still need to keep learning.

Q: Does your appointment as resident scholar free you from other UO duties, such as teaching duties in SOJC?

GM: Yes. Next academic year I’m teaching two classes in the fall. Basically the mix of my administrative roles and the Wayne Morse Center fellowship are freeing me from teaching the rest of the year. In the fall I will be connected to the Wayne Morse Center and prepping for my research. After I finish teaching in the fall, I will focus the rest of the year on my research and writing, while in residence at the Wayne Morse Center. In addition, I will be planning a symposium for a day at the Wayne Morse Center around the theme of Media and Democracy, which is the center’s theme for the year.

Q: Your particular project for which you were given this residency—“Media, Democracy and the Construction of Collective Memory”— focuses on “how media shape collective memories, and what it means to ‘construct’ collective/historical memory through media.” You plan to examine how media production can address human rights violations, promote social change and strengthen democratic process. Is this research going to result in a written project?

GM: I’m planning to write a book on the political economy of memory, and what I will be working on at the Wayne Morse Center is a part of this book. I am hoping to, at least, develop a couple of chapters, if not more, during my residency there.

Q: As a documentary filmmaker and a teacher, does this research project take you away from your documentary work?

Martinez_bookcoverGM: No, not at all. My research and creativity depend on each other. I like to say that my research and creative work are in constant dialogue, and that one doesn’t exclude the other. I do a great deal of research for my documentary work, and my documentary work informs my research as well. I know that many people think that I only make documentaries, but actually, I do a great deal of research, and I also write and publish in more traditional formats. I published a book on political economy of telecommunications titled Latin American Telecommunications: Telefónica’s Conquest (Lexington Books, 2008). I have several other publications such as journal articles, and book chapters.

Most recently, I have done research and written a full report for a global project known as the Media Map Project; this research served as the blueprint for including research and reports about several other countries around the world. The research for the Media Map Project was to report on the status of media development in the developing world, and the relationship of local media development with domestic and foreign NGOs and bilateral and multilateral international agreements. I gave a CSWS Noon Talk this year based on part of that research—the role of NGOs in the developing world, and how a great deal of media development has been focusing on women, trying to create programming for women, or involving women to create content.

The book I’m going to be working on, and the chapters I’m going to be developing at the Wayne Morse Center, are in large part based on the research and creative work I have been doing in the past three or four years working in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.

Q: Would you elaborate on what you were doing in these three locations?

Oaxaca_DVD_coverGM: In Oaxaca, Mexico, I produced the documentary Women, Media, and Rebellion in Oaxaca (available on the CSWS website). It tells the story of a media takeover that changed the nature of politics, and how we understand media, social movements, and in particular the role of women in both media and social movements. Following a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca, Mexico, in August 2006, about a thousand women or more marched to the installations of COR-TV, taking over the stations to voice their political, social, economic, and cultural concerns while also calling for the resignation of the state’s governor. Those involved in the events speak for themselves. Issues of justice, globalization, women’s rights, and human rights violations converge at the core of a social uprising, in which media becomes an important site for the struggle.

During the production of this documentary and afterwards I have been conducting research in Oaxaca on topics related to women, media, social movements, and the development of collective memory related to what is now a contemporary historical moment that took place almost a decade ago in 2006.

DVD_Guatemala_MartinezIn Guatemala, I produced the documentary Keep Your Eyes On Guatemala (RT 54 min.), which tells the story of Guatemala’s National Police Historical Archive (Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional—AHPN) intertwined with narratives of past human rights abuses and the dramatic effects they had on specific individuals and the nation as a whole. This documentary highlights present-day efforts to preserve collective memories and bring justice and reconciliation to the country. Similarly to the case of Oaxaca, I have been conducting research on this subject during the production of the documentary and also afterwards.

In Peru, I’ve been looking at the use of journalistic photography from the wartime (1980-2000) and probing how journalistic photography travels over time between its original informational purpose to become evidence in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and ultimately items of collective memory permanently displayed as museum photographic pieces. I haven’t yet done a documentary about this, but I’m thinking of doing so at some point in the future. Then, I would have a trilogy covering these three different, but at the same time similar, countries that have experienced in contemporary times serious social and political struggles and now are grappling with issues of historical or collective memories.

Q: You described your book about Telefónica as being about the “political economy” of telecommunications. You use that term again in talking about the research you will be working on at the Wayne Morse Center—the “political economy of memory.” Could you explain that term?

GM: Political economy studies the relationship between institutions or social structures with political and economic issues that affect these institutions or social structures. It studies how they are built and how they may (or may not) influence society. For example, my work on Telefónica, a Spanish global telecom, is based on political economy. I looked at the historical development, geographical expansion, and economic reach of this global company while analyzing the way neoliberal policies have allowed such global reach in the past thirty years.

The influence of neoliberal policies around the world has affected tremendously most developing countries, which were forced to liberalize their previously nationalized telecom systems and put them out in the global marketplace. That’s how Telefónica became the prime buyer of most of the telecom sector across Latin America and in several other world regions.

Q: What does it mean to you to be selected as a resident scholar at the Wayne Morse Center?

GM: This is an important center for the study of law and politics. By way of selecting themes, it goes beyond law and politics, promoting the intersection of interdisciplinary work and reaching to various other fields. For somebody like me who works in journalism and documentary-making, working with scholars from other fields and at a place dealing with law and politics is of great interest. The Wayne Morse Center is well recognized on our campus and across the country; this fact can only add positive things to my career. I’m very thankful and honored to be included among such fine colleagues and predecessors who have held this residency. ■

—Alice Evans, CSWS research dissemination specialist and CSWS Annual Review editor, interviewed Gabriela Martínez in June 2014.