I compose this post from a cold morning in downtown Buenos Aires, where I have been conducting a pilot study for my PhD project about the cultural political economy of higher education in the Mercosur region.
Broadly speaking, Mercosur (www.mercosur.int) is a South American regional organisation created in 1991, during the global boom of regional trade blocs in the early 1990s. Today, Mercosur has six member countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – and a volatile political history (such as the current heated debate over Venezuela’s democratic status to take over the region’s Pro-Tempore Presidency from July to December 2016).
Thanks to a Santander Travel Grant, I was able to run a preliminary study to explore the impact of Mercosur in four of its member countries, in order of visit: Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina (where I currently am), and Paraguay. Since June 2016 I have been diving into the world of Mercosur Educativo (www.edu.mercosur.int/es-ES/) – the sector which proposes and coordinates higher education projects among the member countries. However, as my research slowly uncovers, education organisms across South American countries are getting involved in different capacities with the Mercosur Educativo.
Doing field work has been an interesting experience from its conception. I have come to learn the impact of exploring the field in person, and getting insights that do not appear in the literature. So far, I have been meeting people willing to share their honest insights about the regional process. Some have had 18 years of experience, some no more than two. Some are sceptical about the regional project, some are ‘believers’. Either position has resulted in thought-provoking accounts of their experience and critical analysis.
Without a doubt there are a lot of (new) questions and ideas arising during these days, as with any researcher going into field work. Prior to travelling, a good friend of mine advised that “Field work is a work in progress…always evolving”. I can see now what it means. As the study advances, I feel more and more confident in explaining my project, choosing the participants, and improving the interview questions.
I am looking forward to return to Bristol to critically analyse the data and make sense of this adventure theoretically. And, of course, return to my bed!
Editor’s note: Aliandra Barlete is a doctoral candidate in the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures, University of Bristol. Her research explores the changing relationship between higher education and Mercosur. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org