Academic and Cultural Extractivism?





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Contributed date

August 8, 2019 - 6:27am

Critical Commentary

On the morning of September 16th, 2017, I interviewed the activist Juan Carlos Trujillo at his home. He is brother of four youths who disappeared between 2008 and 2010 and a member of the Brigada Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas (National Brigade in Search of the Dissapeared), a network of family collectives dedicated to the citizen-led search for clandestine graves in more than 15 Mexican states. That holiday morning (it was Mexico’s Independence Day), Vivette, my thesis advisor, lent me her car to travel to the interview's location in Tepotzotlán, a town in the State of Mexico 43 kilometers northwest of downtown Mexico City. Javier, a driver to whom Vivette introduced me, accompanied me that morning. Uncertain about the route, we got lost several times on nearby dirt roads until we found the Juan Carlos’ home.  It was in a residential complex with low houses on the town's outskirts, near an industrial park. I remember feeling out of place there. I remember feeling that our presence attracted attention: We arrived in a new black car, a Volkswagen, a “chauffer” at the wheel dressed in a formal shirt and, next to him, a visibly foreign "researcher" (Spanish although resident in Mexico for years, middle class and "güera", as they usually call me at my neighbourhood market in Mexico City. I remember feeling scared, and that made me feel ashamed. Fear and shame. I got out of the car with a huge professional audio recorder, a $150 Zoom just acquired via Amazon. I worried my presence might seem pretentious and invasive, especially with that recorder in my hand. I got out of the car anyway. I knocked on the door. It didn't have a lock, just a piece of cardboard covering the hole in the handle. I was invited in. Javier, the driver, waited for me outside.

I talked to Juan Carlos for an hour or so. He yawned. I felt he had answered my questions hundreds of times before I asked him. And almost at the end of the interview, his questions arrived:

 “¿Y ustedes, desde la academia, qué hacen además de extraer información a las familias para sus trabajos? ¿cómo tú y gente como tú han decidido acompañarnos? ¿nos escuchan o nos han dejado solos?”. 

[And all of you, in Academia, what do you do other than extract information from the families for your work?  How are you going to accompany us? Will you listen to us and just leave?

 I managed to babble a few words.I tried to answer, but I wasn't prepared for that question.

His question made me ask myself: In what ways do our academic practices, especially those derived from "field work" of this nature, become extractivist? How can we account for the ways in which our practices unfold in classist, racist and colonialist frameworks? 



Juan Carlos Trujillo, Personal Interview, Tepotzotlán, Estado de México.

October 16th, 2017 




Tepotzotlán, Estado de México

Cite as

María Torres, "Academic and Cultural Extractivism?", contributed by María Torres Martínez, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 August 2019, accessed 23 July 2024.