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Geography Knows No Boundaries

Ben Gerlofs

The MaGrann Field Research Award enabled me to undertake preliminary fieldwork in Mexico City during July of 2013, and has thus made an invaluable contribution to my developing doctoral research. My project concerns the use of ‘rights talk’ by contemporary urban social movements, specifically those involved in the development and promotion of The Mexico City Charter for the Right to the City.

As I intend this project to entail a large ethnographic component, this preliminary field visit was essential for establishing contacts, identifying local resources (such as museum collections and archives), and assessing the feasibility of my long-term research agenda.

With the aid of the MaGrann Award, I was able to spend ten days in Mexico City, one week of which was largely devoted to intensive and immersive training in Spanish. During this time, I stayed with a local family, developed my knowledge of Spanish and practical speaking ability, and learned a great deal about the neighborhood in which this family resides (Condesa). Following this week of coursework, I was able to explore the city, view museum collections, and make contact with potential research participants and collaborators at the Habitat International Coalition-Latin America and other organizations. During this time, I stayed near the Zona Rosa, a popular shopping, dining, and entertainment district. My hotel (on one of the city’s largest and most famous thoroughfares, Paseo de la Reforma) afforded me easy walking access to the city’s largest park (Bosque de Chipultepec, which contains several museums, including the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology) and fantastic views of the city (see attached photograph), in addition to many significant national monuments. Collectively, these experiences afforded me a much-needed sense of place without which further development of my project would have been quite difficult. I intend to spend six to nine months doing extended ethnographic fieldwork in Mexico City in 2014-2015, and will be developing proposals for external funding and as a formal part of my degree requirements in the coming months. The knowledge and experience I gained as a result of my 2013 field visit will help me to hone my research questions and direct my reading of the wide literature on Mexican political, economic, and social life.

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