CLAREC: How we came together
CLAREC has become an important space for Latin American students as well as students working on Latin American issues at the Faculty of Education of Cambridge University. The group was born out of a mixture of friendship, support network and academic conversations from a growing number of Latin American students at the faculty. Different smaller groups from the same cohort, nationalities and similar research interests started to come together in what finally converged as the broader CLAREC group.
One of the key issues that brought us together was the need for a space to share our research perspectives as well as our academic experiences in the Global North in a way that considers the background from where these perspectives were coming from; that is, the cultural, political, historical and personal experiences that influence our research and our position at Cambridge. This space evolved from an informal network into an organized group with an academic focus for not only our own development as researchers, but also for the institutional benefit of expanding the boundaries of knowledge and perspectives at the Faculty in an attempt to embody and push forward discourses of decolonisation and decentering knowledge.
CLAREC has been in the making for at least a couple of years. During the 2017/2018 academic year some of the Latin Americans at the faculty set up a small group to support each other in all things academic or personal, in the form of a friendship network. The group incorporated the Latin American students coming into the Faculty the following years and eventually evolved to be the Latinas group, Latin American women at the Faculty.
“When I started my PhD in Cambridge I was thrilled about the wonderful opportunity that I had ahead of me. The faculty was incredibly resourced and its members were very welcoming. But still, I often felt out of place due to the cultural and language differences. It seemed to me that everyone else knew how to participate in the dynamics of the coursework and how to comply with the expectations, and I was not in the same place. I decided to ask other Latin American women in my class if they would like to go out together sometime so that we could talk in our own language about our experiences of being at Cambridge. Those meetings became regular and I found there a space for friendship, mutual understanding and academic peer-support. We could discuss our academic -and personal- journeys within a context of shared knowledge of our backgrounds and the challenges they bring to the doctoral processes. I started to feel much comfortable with the programme and to fully enjoy the experience of being a Cambridge graduate student. In the following years, this group continued growing with new ‘Latinas’ joining graduate programmes at the Faculty. In the coming years further cohorts of students with Latin American presence came to the faculty, and discussions about the Latin American research experience at Cambridge were occurring in other groups too. We decided to start working together on a common agenda to embrace Latin American research at the Faculty of Education.” Javiera Marfán
“It was a great relief to meet other people that come from Latin America at the Faculty of Education. I remember that, at the start of my postgrad studies in Cambridge, speaking in another language and being careful to provide enough context for others to understand my points of view required considerable effort from me. I felt lucky to find a group of friends that were going through a similar experience. We supported and accompanied each other in every step of our PhD paths, taking place away from our homes and in such an inspiring and challenging university as the University of Cambridge. Later on, I discovered the value of talking about research in education with other Latinos at the faculty. Few of the other Latino academic groups in the university include education as one of their main topics of discussion. So, this group has allowed us to advance our research with support from fellow researchers that have an understanding of the Latino context. CLAREC has also opened a valuable space to bring visibility to Latino research and researchers. It has definitely encouraged me to reflect about my own identity as a Latino researcher. I hope CLAREC helps to promote a wider inclusion of work produced in Latinoamerican contexts in the collective construction of knowledge in the education field.” Ana Laura Trigo
During October 2019, the Chilean group at the Faculty started having conversations around the social revolt happening in Chile and looking for ways of acting from Cambridge. We wrote a letter for the Faculty to inform it of the situation and participated in solidarity protests at the city centre. The Chilean social movement received wide support from academics and students from the Faculty, particularly, from other Latin Americans, that deeply relate to what was happening in Chile considering similar scenarios of inequalities occurring in their own home countries. The group became bigger because this letter opened the door for the incorporation of more students in the conversations regarding Latin America and Latin American representation within the Faculty. It soon became evident that Latin American voices within the Faculty of Education had something relevant to add to academic conversations.
“Having a group of Latin Americans at the Faculty and organizing with them to support each other in our academic journey at Cambridge has been an essential part of my PhD. I feel immensely grateful for their friendship as well as for their academic support and I admire the research work with a social responsibility approach that all the members share. CLAREC is a space to share and develop ideas together with people that have a first-hand perspective on the issues I am working on. We are a diverse group of people, coming from different disciplines and contexts, and this also enriched the conversations and posit interesting debates. This allows us to reflect on and challenge monolithic ideas of what Latin America is and, at the same time, try to find a common ground for complex conversations on how our work can respect local knowledge and experiences but also be part of the globally connected world.” Consuelo Béjares
“Even though I consider myself privileged and extremely lucky for being a student at the University of Cambridge, there are still challenges and difficulties that I have to deal with on a daily basis. Aspects like language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, academic uncertainties, and general latino nostalgia have been constant and sometimes hard to cope with. For me CLAREC has entailed a way of dealing with all those issues. Especially considering that, as we know, education is not only the access to certain knowledge or its practice, but also a process that includes conditions, contexts, and emotional and affective elements. CLAREC has helped me to build a sense of belonging that had made my path as a researcher more bearable and manageable. From a collective perspective I think that it is important to make visible those types of struggles that students from abroad may experience during their learning process and also use their own frameworks of reference, cultural perspectives or idiosyncratic mindsets. I think CLAREC is doing a great job putting those elements in an academic context but also within a friendly community perspective.” Sebastián Ansaldo
Later on, during November 2019, the Latinas group decide to join a call for a political performance that started in Chile and spread on through Latin America and worldwide, supporting gender equality and denunciating violence against women. This brought together women at the Faculty and at the broader university.
“I remember that in the ‘Team en Español’, later ‘The Latinas group’, talked about all the identities we had in common. We were “women”,”Latinas”,”foreigners”… I think we shared the discomfort of going from being one within a majority in our countries of origin, to being part of a minority and sometimes invisible group. But it is well said that unity is strength because this group of Latinas empowered us. A very powerful moment was undoubtedly when we joined to perform “A rapist in your path”. The event was organized by members of ‘The Latinas group’ but many people came to the event. Latinxs, and latin-allies, from the Faculty of Education and beyond. We all joined our voices in a busy area of Cambridge. On the one hand we protested and joined in sisterhood. On the other hand we made visible a sometimes invisible group in the University of Cambridge: the Latinxs”. Ana Rubio-Jimenez
“When I started writing my literature review, I notice how different it was for me to write about the research findings of Anglo-American authors from the ones of Latinamerican authors. While I thought about the first group of authors as the ground of my research, I was considering Larinamerican research as additional examples, but not as a contribution on their own. I felt puzzled by that sensation, and I shared it with my “Latinas” friends. We discussed how even Latin Americans seem to discredit research made in their countries as they are introduced in the Anglo-American academic world. We also agreed on how expanded is the mistake of confusing America with the United States and also discussed the lack of a Lationamerican perspective on research in the Faculty of Education… we even notice that America was not even in the map of the REAL Centre! Soon, our group of friends became a group of research colleagues with a strong bond: being Latinos. We are convinced that a Latinamerican perspective on research in education not only represents an opportunity to amplify, contrast and enrich the voices from the Anglo-American research world but also an opportunity for new perspectives and voices to think about an education for all.” Elisa de Padua
Overall, these events and conversations made clearer the need for organizing a group where we could share our ideas both academically and beyond, such as the intersection of our academic life and socio-political responsibility. Joining the group already at the Faculty, the new arriving cohort of Latin American students added concrete ideas about formalizing the group. We held the first formal meeting in February 2020 to organize the group and started planning our launch event for next May.
“My identity as a researcher, as a woman, as a person is made up of pieces of Latinoamérica. As a region we share a history of colonialism, dictatorship, exploitation as well as hopes, practices and joys to face our day to day. I cannot escape to these things while reflecting on my own history, but I sometimes struggle to give them a place where to put them synergistically. Hence, having felt the lack of a space that formally recognizes and tunes in with Latin America when I arrived in Cambridge in 2019 was a lever to set in motion the idea of a collective in the faculty. In CLAREC, we talked about seeing this collective as both academic and social. In my opinion, there is probably no other way in which we can imagine educational research. Like the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said, inspired by Colombian fishermen, ‘somos sentipensantes’: we cannot (or should not) take out our feeling from our thinking.” Rocío Fernández
The organization of our first public event was unfortunately interrupted due to Covid, but we still kept in contact with each other during the first lockdown, focused on supporting each other’s wellbeing and discussing adaptations to our doctoral processes in the face of the pandemic.
Starting the new academic year 2020/2021 we resumed the work of the group and in November 2020, we held our launch event, with fantastic support from attendees. We have been organizing an open agenda of events to share our work, advance Latin American perspectives in Cambridge and join the conversation about knowledge production in higher education institutions.
“I first came across the Latinas as a force to be reckoned with when I saw a video of them performing the feminist anthem ‘A rapist on your path’ in front of Senate house. With so little coverage of Latin America literature or politics in the Education Faculty it was fantastic to find a group of like-minded people who wanted to challenge that. Subsequently being welcomed into the CLAREC group as a white, British researcher was testament to me of how the collective care about not only Latin American research but also supporting their fellow students, regardless of their background. It is a space for all who care about making a difference in countries throughout the continent.” Julia Hayes
“The Cambridge Faculty of Education is super impressive. I’ll never forget when I first arrived as an MPhil student in 2016 and was left boca abierta by all of the important work that so many of my professors were involved in – leading policy discussions for the World Bank and UNESCO, and implementing action research projects to improve teaching in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions of the Global South. But despite all of my awe, I could not help but notice that I still struggled to find ties between the Faculty and Latin America, a region that I had called home for the past four years. I arrived to Cambridge after working as a teacher and teacher trainer in the Dominican Republic, hoping to continue to expand my knowledge of educational development in the Hispanophone Caribbean and beyond. Unfortunately, however, I found that there was little space for, let alone mention of, educational research from the region. As someone who has had to actively learn the Spanish language (my mother is Puerto Rican but never taught me and my siblings growing up), I understand and appreciate how linguistic barriers can transform into cultural walls that hinder or dissuade “others” outside the region of Latin America and the Caribbean to enter; and I understand how Latin American natives may be hesitant (or simply unable) to share their research and knowledge beyond a community that speaks their mother tongue. While these linguistic dynamics are something that we are still grappling with at CLAREC, I am proud of and excited for my Latinx familia and our Latinx allies. For the first time (to my knowledge), there is a space at the Faculty of Education that centres their voices… our voices… las voces de americalatina.” Sophia D’Angelo
“The idea of the collective fascinates me for two reasons. Firstly, thinking from the inside out, it contributes to the democratization of the knowledge that we access and develop here in Cambridge, allowing it to be accessed and transformed by others who are not in the Faculty of Education. For instance, I see great value in the open events that bring together academics from Cambridge, and scholars from our home regions. Secondly, thinking from the outside in, I believe that CLAREC makes the knowledge and demands of Latin America more visible and present in this global education reference centre. Through seminars, suggested bibliographic references and debates promoted within the faculty, I believe that we contribute by challenging the traditional models of higher education that restrict, reduce and reproduce the monocultures and hegemonic academic knowledge of the Global South. Such motivations are closely related to what I explore in my academic research, which aims to examine the possibilities of higher education that go beyond what is produced within the university walls, to become more engaged with the most critical issues of society. Alexandre Trindade
We are very excited for the space we are building and the future of our collective, hoping that we can maintain a permanent and open space for academic discussions, networking and support for the current members and the next cohorts of Latin Americans and researchers interested in Latin America at the Faculty of Education. We are putting our best effort towards the aim of making visible the region’s knowledge production, joining the current debates linked to education research from a Latin American perspective and moving towards the diversification and decolonisation of academia.
The post below was originally published at the Faculty of Education webpage.
Just a few months after its official formation, Cambridge’s new Latin American Research in Education Collective (CLAREC) is attracting widespread interest and engagement – and not just from within Cambridge. Through a thriving programme of talks, research seminars and a reading group, the collective aims to increase the visibility of Latin American knowledge and perspectives in education research – one of many academic fields which has too often focused more heavily on European and North American knowledge systems. CLAREC also began life as a friendship group, however, and in keeping with those roots, its ambitions are built around a philosophy of openness, engagement and mutual support. Here, three of its members explain how it began, why the collective matters, and the difference they hope it will make.
The origins of CLAREC are a social group which formed back in 2017/18
Javiera: When we started as PhD students we found – both at the Faculty and in Cambridge in general – a very welcoming and supportive environment, but it was easy to feel out of place because of the language and cultural differences. I often felt that everyone else knew how to participate in things like lectures in a way that I didn’t. The dynamics were different and I often worried about whether what I was saying – or the way I was saying it – was acceptable in an English-speaking setting.
Ana: Many of us Latin American students who come to Cambridge aren’t used to speaking English so regularly, even though we all read it quite often. At the start of my postgraduate studies, I was very careful during academic discussions to provide enough context so that colleagues would understand my point of view, but it took considerable effort to get that right. It was a great relief to meet other people from Latin America who were going through a similar experience.
Javiera: As Latin American students we started asking each other for different forms of moral and practical support and began to become close friends. The whole thing really started as a space for friendship, mutual understanding and peer-support.
There was a sort of realisation that we could enrich wider research because of the different knowledge and perspectives we can contribute.Ana
The research dimension grew over time, as we started to realise that our shared identity as Latin American students also applied to our work
Javiera: The Faculty does a lot of research on the Global South, but it often focuses on other parts of the world. Latin America felt quite under-represented at times.
Ana: Partly in response to this, we started to find that we were all representing Latin American experiences and points of view more and more in our research groups. There was a sort of realisation that we could enrich wider research because of the different knowledge and perspectives we can contribute. It has been really valuable to have a group of Latin American friends and, as the time passed and we got to know each other, we began to notice that this support group could also help us to advance and enrich our research.
Alexandre: My own work is partly about how universities contribute to ‘human flourishing’ but joining the group and discussing with other members allowed me to reflect what terms like that mean in a Latin American context, where there has always been a real struggle for social justice. Meeting and discussing that with other Latin American researchers really helped me to get those ideas across more clearly; it gave me the confidence and the ability to draw and express links between my own experiences and the theory that I was assessing in my work.
Inspired by various social justice movements, we came to see what we were doing as a responsibility
Javiera: During 2019 and 2020, many of us became involved with various causes and movements: marches against gender violence, calls for action on climate change, or protests in solidarity with the social revolt in Chile or with Black Lives Matter. I think that the experience of encountering each other, once more, in those spaces, showed us that we have not only our research in common, but that we all are trying to have a positive impact on wider society through our research. We have a responsibility to add our voices to academic conversations not just on behalf of the participants in our research projects, but for the populations they represent, whose voices are often heard less.
Alexandre: I think the sense of responsibility varies for all of us. For me, I came to this having had a previous career in telecommunications in marketing and I feel very strongly that what I am doing now has the potential to achieve more significant contributions to society. What we all share is a belief that education is a means for transforming things for the better, and that by collaborating and sharing ideas we can challenge and improve established ways of thinking.
Javiera: We organised a formal meeting in February 2020, which led to the definition of our group as a collective. Our launch event finally happened in November last year – later than planned because of COVID, but with fantastic support, and we have been running a programme of events ever since.
Part of CLAREC’s aim is to make Latin American knowledge production more visible in education research
Ana: Few of the other Latin American groups at Cambridge include education in their main topics of discussion, so CLAREC is an important space through which we can build awareness of research, and researchers, from the region. It has definitely encouraged me to reflect on my identity as a researcher and I hope that it will help to promote a wider inclusion of work produced in Latin American contexts in the field of education.
Javiera: Within the Faculty, the leadership team, the academics, our supervisors – everyone has been very supportive. It’s important to say that we are not here to complain about our own experiences. But in academia in general, the fact is that authors writing in English are quoted more widely and Latin American researchers are incentivised to publish in English. We have this impression that, when research comes from European or US contexts it is more easily accepted as ‘shared knowledge’; whereas Latin American research is often characterised as ‘a case’ that is interesting only to the extent that it is aligned with those models. There is definitely a need to make the contributions of Latin American research more visible.
I have been actively encouraged to learn about the context in which I am researching, but I didn’t necessarily have a space in which to discuss it and test my ideas. CLAREC has given me that.Alexandre
It is also about creating a space for the Latin American context in research, so that it is heard, rather than overlooked
Ana: As someone from Mexico who is studying how to support the participation of autistic students in primary education in the UK, I obviously had to become familiar with British education to be able to conduct my research. However, at the same time, I have found that I can contribute based on my experiences of earlier research projects in Mexico. This includes on in which an amazing system for coding classroom dialogue was produced. Similarly, I have a friend who has experience of an inclusion project in Mexico and is showing how this could be useful in other parts of the world, once adjusted to a different context and culture. I think that one thing we show through CLAREC, by giving research from Latin America a platform, is what it adds to wider scholarship.
Javiera: It can be much more simple than trying to just ‘break the dominance’ of US or European theoretical approaches. To give you one small example: I was conducting research on a part of Santiago; you could refer to it as a neighbourhood but the term we use for it is población, and that doesn’t translate perfectly into any English term, it has its own meaning. As it happened, I mentioned this to another member of CLAREC who was also researching in a población, and we realised that instead of translating it and losing the meaning and context, we should just use the Chilean term. So now you have two researchers using that term, and hopefully others will read that work and understand its usage, with the intended meaning, in the literature. Thus, it is about rescuing the perspectives, meanings and data coming from Latin American contexts, as well as highlighting the theoretical contributions that can arise from there.
Alexandre: I spent the first year of my PhD working in Cambridge, learning more about my research topic and reviewing the literature, which was necessary, but the content was mainly Eurocentric. Now that I am carrying out the empirical study in Brazil, observing how universities get involved with the communities in that context, the gaps in the literature become clearer. All along, I have been actively encouraged to learn about the context in which I am researching, but I didn’t necessarily have a space in which to discuss it and test my ideas. CLAREC has given me that.
We want the collective to be as inclusive as possible
Ana: We have had people from other universities getting involved in some of our sessions – not only from elsewhere in the UK, but also countries like Denmark and Finland. We have also been contacted by a group in the University Library that is working on decolonising the curriculum; they have offered their support in providing materials for our discussions.
Javiera: CLAREC has British researchers working in Latin America, Latin American researchers working in Europe and Latin American researchers working in the region. It’s an open collective. The more perspectives we can bring together, the more we all benefit from it.
Ana: Quite a few of us work on dialogic interactions and trying to create spaces where people with different views can engage productively. We bring that thinking to the collective. We don’t assume that one voice is better than the other, or has more value that the other; we believe that there is an advantage in bringing different voices together to discuss things – even issues that are sensitive.
The more perspectives we can bring together, the more we all benefit from it.Javiera
CLAREC is a work in progress, but one that we hope will have a lasting impact
Javiera: We are really still just getting started. It’s gone from being a social exercise to a more academic exercise, although there is still a strong social aspect. We are constantly reflecting on how we could introduce other research themes.
Ana: We now have people joining us who are just beginning their PhD and we really want to try to involve alumni from the Faculty as well. Our hope is that this will grow into a lasting network of researchers in education involving Latin American contexts. We started as a group of friends in the Faculty, but now we are branching out further than we imagined because of the wider interest the collective has got.
Alexandre: There are three main strands to what we are currently doing – the research seminars, events with guest speakers, and a reading group. None of these things is radical, but each is just providing that important space for discussing issues and exchanging ideas. Hopefully, that space will be a legacy that we can pass on to future Latin American students at the Faculty, so that they can build on it and add to it, in whatever way they feel they should.
Read about CLAREC’s events, reading groups and the work of its researchers at: https://clarec.org/.