- Study Abroad
- Centro Autónomo
Participatory Research Programs with Mexican Social Movements
Sponsored by the Mexico Solidarity Network and
accredited by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana - Xochimilco
1. Follow the application procedure for our other study abroad opportunities as outlined here.
However, instead of the Approval of Participation form found on that page, please use the Approval form found here for Summer Research programs and here for Semester Research programs.
2. Submit a 3-5 page research proposal written in Spanish to msn [at] mexicosolidarity [dot] org.
3. Become familiar with the MSN's policies regarding academic integrity and Human Subject Review.
Mexican social movements are among the most important and dynamic in Latin America. Indigenous communities, workers, women, campesinos, students, colonos and urban dwellers are all part of a broad cross section of organized social actors that make up an increasingly consequential Mexican civil society. With the apparent failure of the neoliberal system, the ensuing world economic crisis, and a general mistrust of politics as usual, Mexican social movements are developing new methods of analysis and organization outside formal institutional politics. Autonomy and direct democracy are among the principal demands of these "new social movements."
The Mexico Solidarity Network's Action Research Program places students as volunteers with a living social movement. Students live and work with active members of the most important movements in Mexico. Students contribute their skills (English classes, computer classes, popular education workshops on various topics, etc. - though no direct involvement in the political activities of the social movements, which is prohibited by Mexican law) while learning directly from the social actors that are leading civil society in new cultural and political directions.
Social movement organizations in Chiapas, Mexico City, Tlaxcala and Ciudad Juarez host students. Students may choose from the following organizations that are currently participating in the program:
- Universidad de la Tierra, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. UniTierra is the rough equivalent of a technical college, offering three month courses for indigenous youth in electricity, carpentry, music, organic agriculture, sewing, cooking, computers, auto mechanics, etc. Between 80 and 130 indigenous youth attend UniTierra at any given time. UniTierra is located on the outskirts of San Cristobal on a densely forested hill side. Students live in dormitories on the grounds of UniTierra.
- Comunicación Campesina y Popular (COMCAMPO), San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. COMCAMPO organizes community radio stations in barrios around San Cristobal de las Casas. Currently COMCAMPO facilitates three community radio stations, with community members assuming full control over content and management of the stations. Students live with the Director of COMCAMPO in San Cristobal de las Casas.
- Consejo Nacional Urbano y Campesino (CNUC), Tlaxcala. CNUC has active committees in 23 rural Tlaxcalan communities dealing with the agricultural crisis, women's empowerment, health, etc. As a member of the Otra Campaña, CNUC is committed to autonomous organizing and direct democracy. Students live with campesino families who are active members of CNUC. (Note: Tlaxcala is famous for perhaps the best food in Mexico.) Students may work with CNUC on a number of projects, including:
- Asamblea Nacional de Braceros, Tlaxcala. The Asamblea is organized by CNUC and includes more than 6,000 former Braceros who harvested fruits and vegetables during the post-World War II Bracero Program. The US and Mexican governments deducted 10% of the Bracero paychecks for a retirement fund, but the money "disappeared." Now the former Braceros, senior members of their communities, are organizing to recoup their retirement funds and to address problems faced by the current generation of undocumented workers who are often their grandchildren. Students live with a member of the Asamblea or a member of CNUC.
- Unión Popular Apizaquense Democrático e Independiente (UPADI), Apizaco, Tlaxcala. UPADI is organized by CNUC and is composed of urban residents in Tlaxcala's second largest city, Apizaco. UPADI has about 3,000 members and organizes around property taxes, privatization of garbage collection, privatization of water resources, etc. Students live with a member of UPADI or a member of CNUC.
- Frente Popular Francisco Villa Independiente-UNOPI (FPFVI), Mexico City. The FPFVI, also known as "Los Panchos," is the largest independent community housing movement in Mexico, with more than 20 settlements in Mexico City and affiliates in Chiapas and Guanajuato. Each settlement involves a land occupation, followed by construction of houses and infrastructure by the members of the settlement. The FPFVI is a member of the Otra Campaña and is dedicated to anti-capitalist, independent and autonomous organization. Students live in one of the FPFVI's established settlements and work directly with the youth culture committee that directs much of the political and cultural education work for Los Panchos.
The Mexico Solidarity Network maintains a full time office and staff in Ciudad Juarez. We work with a number of organizations and issues, including:
- Alianza para el Desarrollo Alternativa (ALDEA), a barrio-based group on the south side of the city that develops alternatives to maquiladora employment.
- Families of victims of femicides.
- Immigration dynamics.
- Labor issues, with a focus on maquiladora workers.
The program is designed for self-motivated students who want to work with an active social movement while conducting original research for a senior, masters or doctoral thesis. Three program alternatives are available, depending on the student's Spanish level, experience with action research models, cross-cultural communication abilities and level of self-motivation.
Option 1 is appropriate for most undergraduate students. It is designed for students who:
- require additional intensive work developing verbal communication capacities in Spanish
- are largely unfamiliar with participatory, qualitative research methods
- require extensive work on academic issues pertaining to their field of study
Students spend the first week in San Cristobal de las Casas participating in an orientation on social movement dynamics, cross-cultural communication, and participatory research dynamics. Students spend weeks 2 thru 5 in Oventic, a Zapatista cultural center in the highlands of Chiapas, where they take intensive language classes and/or work on their research methodology or academic issues pertaining to their field of study. Weeks 6 thru 14 (weeks 6 thru 7 for summer programs), each student spends time living and working with the social movement of their choice. Each student is assigned an academic advisor for weekly meetings on academic matters, and a social movement advisor from the host organization for weekly meetings on logistics, orientation and cultural issues. Week 15 (week 8 for summer programs), students meet in Mexico City to share research results and experiences in a seminar-style forum.
Option 2 is appropriate for some advanced undergraduate students or graduate students. It is designed for students who:
- are less than fluent in Spanish and could benefit from two weeks of intensive language classes
- need additional work on participatory, qualitative research methods
- need additional work on academic issues pertaining to their field of study
Students spend the first week in San Cristobal de las Casas participating in an orientation on social movement dynamics, cross-cultural communication, and participatory research dynamics. Students spend weeks 2 thru 3 in Oventic, a Zapatista cultural center in the highlands of Chiapas, where they take intensive language classes and/or work on their research methodology or academic issues pertaining to their field of study. Weeks 4 thru 14 (weeks 4 thru 7 for summer programs), each student spends time living and working with the social movement of their choice. Each student is assigned an academic advisor for weekly meetings on academic matters, and a social movement advisor from the host organization for weekly meetings on logistics, orientation and cultural issues. Week 15 week 8 for summer programs), students meet in Mexico City to share research results and experiences in a seminar-style forum.
Option 3 is most appropriate for graduate students. It is designed for students who are:
- fluent or nearly fluent in Spanish
- highly self-motivated
- experienced in participatory, qualitative research
- familiar with the literature pertaining to their field of research
Students spend the first week in San Cristobal de las Casas participating in an orientation on social movement dynamics, cross-cultural communication, and participatory research dynamics. Weeks 2 thru 14 (weeks 2 thru 7 for summer programs), each student spends time living and working with the social movement of their choice. Each student is assigned an academic advisor for weekly meetings on academic matters, and a social movement advisor from the host organization for weekly meetings on logistics, orientation and cultural issues. Week 15 (week 8 for summer programs), students meet in Mexico City to share research results and experiences in a seminar-style forum.
Students may indicate a preference for a program alternative in advance, but the final decision on the most appropriate alternative will be made during the first week of orientation in consultation with academic advisors.
Regardless of the program alternative, all students must have at least one year of university level Spanish or its equivalent in independent study and be able to conduct at least intermediate level conversations in Spanish, or be a native Spanish speaker. Students must be at least 18 years old. The successful student will demonstrate strong inter-cultural communication and respect for the autonomy of the social movement with which they are placed.
The "Action Research Program with Mexican Social Movements" is accredited by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), one of Mexico's most prestigious public universities located in Mexico City. The UAM accredits the program as a "Diplomado." Diplomados are special, self-contained educational programs designed and promoted by the UAM, and approved by the University Rector and Director of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities.
The cost of the program is $9,000 for a Spring or Fall program of 15 weeks, and $4,800 for a Summer program of 8 weeks. The fees cover the following:
Spring and Fall program of 15 weeks:
Food and housing $2,500
Social movement advisor $1,500
Summer program of 8 weeks:
Food and housing $1,300
Social movement advisor $700
Professors and Advisors*:
- Dr. Thomas Hansen is the Director of the Mexico Solidarity Network Study Abroad Program. He holds a doctorate from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco in Rural Development and has 27 years of experience leading educational programs in Latin America.
- Dra. Maria Gloria Benavides Guevara holds a doctorate in Anthropology from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS) in Mexico City. She has been an active participant in Mexican social movements for the past 34 years.
*Social movement advisors are assigned to each student, dependent on their particular area of work and study.
Program schedule and bibliography:
Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo, 1996, México Profundo, University of Texas Press.
Freire, Paulo, (cualquier edición), Pedagogía de los Oprimidos.
Fals Borda, Orlando y Carlos Brandao, 1986, Investigación participativa,Montevideo, Instituto del Hombre, 1986.
Cano Flores, Milagros, 1997, "Investigación participativa: Inicios y desarrollos," Ciencia Administrativa, Nueva Época, Número uno, Xalapa, Ver., pp.86-91.
The remaining syllabus is tailored to the particular needs of each student. Academic advisors will make reading assignments each week, and students will write one to three page reflections on the assignments. Each student will submit a research progress report every two weeks.
For more information on the Participatory Research Program with Mexican Social Movements, contact the Mexico Solidarity Network at:
Tel: 773 583 7728
Email: MSN [at] MexicoSolidarity [dot] org