Carolina Cepeda shares her experience as an international student in the School of Politics

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As a third-year PhD student in Political Science at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, I had the opportunity last semester to join the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham as a visiting postgraduate research student. My research focus is on resistances against neoliberalism and their local and global links in Latin America, something really close to the work of many members of the centre. I have been studying the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and international politics and through that process the work of Adam Morton. As a result, I decided to contact him and we made an appointment to meet at the International Studies Association annual convention in Montreal, 2011.

I met Adam and Andreas Bieler at the convention and they told me about CSSGJ’s program of visiting research students, which matched with the requirement in my degree program of completing a stage of research abroad. I completed all the procedures to stay at the University of Nottingham and finally arrived there in January of 2012 in order to stay for five months as a visiting research student under the supervision of Adam and Andreas, with complete access to discussion groups, research seminars, speaker series, and facilities such as the library, data-bases and office space.

My main objective was to work on my theoretical framework taking into account the contributions by Antonio Gramsci and Karl Polanyi and the work they have inspired in International Relations and International Political Economy with regard to counter-movements and counter-hegemony. I read new literature, I discussed with both my supervisors and my peers within the graduate school, and I attended different conferences, seminars, and workshops. In these spaces I learned a lot. As a result, not only is my theoretical background stronger but also my broad knowledge of capitalist and anti-capitalist processes around the world.

During my research process at Nottingham I produced two new pieces of work. First, I presented my research proposal at a CSSGJ seminar to an audience of professors, students, and other academics. In that forum, the questions helped me to think about how my research could contribute both to the production of knowledge and also to political activities linked to the movements of resistance that I am studying.

My second research development was the presentation of a paper ‘Outside the Market and without the State: the Piquetero Movement and the Alter-Globalisation Movement in Latin America’, at the Annual Conference of the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS), in Sheffield. In general terms my paper highlighted that there are some factions of the Piquetero movement creating alternatives to the current hegemonic order in their own space without trying to achieve political power or being co-opted by hegemonic forces in so doing. I argued that the movement’s experiences link it with a broader process constituted in the alter-globalisation movement because of its goal of challenging and transforming neoliberalism and representative democracy through autonomist strategies, such as workshops of production and assemblies of discussion. However, I made it clear that the implementation of these strategies has not been easy due to the responses from the state (co-optation and coercion) and traditional political parties (clientelism) shaping a complex relationship between the movement and hegemonic actors.

This conference paper was my first approach to one of the case studies of my doctoral thesis and presenting it to a new audience was really helpful. I received a lot of questions and criticisms about the relationship of the movement with the current Argentinean government, which is supposed not to be neoliberal. Those comments gave me new ideas to question some and reinforce other aspects of my arguments, about how these kinds of movements are not only challenging neoliberalism but also capitalism as a broader system. Besides that, I made contact with people who helped me to establish links with activists in Argentina close to the Piquetero movement in order to facilitate my future field research.

So, I received important feedback about the empirical side of my dissertation at the same time that I was figuring out how to create and organise a theoretical framework useful to analysing the alter-globalisation movement as a process of actors challenging the current hegemonic politico-economic order. Within CSSGJ, I was also a frequent participant in a further important space of critical thought: the Marxism Reading Group. In that forum, I could engage in reading past and present texts that have shaped understandings of and challenges to capitalism, including Nikolai Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy and José Carlos Mariategui’s Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality. The reading group also included the participation of Prof. Gerardo Otero (Simon Fraser University) as the Centre for Advanced Studies Highfield Fellow at the University of Nottingham, which further underlines the international mix of scholars at Nottingham.

Finally, I would like to say that my stay at the university was a great academic experience but also a personal one. Some of the people I met in the above academic spaces are now really good friends of mine because we share interests and visions of the world that made life easier for me in England for the six months away from home, friends, and family. They became an important group of people and part of my life. I sincerely hope I can see them again and stay in touch for as long as we can to continue growing as politically active and committed persons and social science researchers.

Carolina Cepeda is a Political Science PhD candidate at the Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá-Colombia. Her research is focused on social movements against neoliberalism in Latin America and recent social demonstrations around the world.

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