Fresh Faculty of the Week: Manuela Picq
What influenced your decision to teach here at Amherst?
It was pure coincidence. I had a friend who’s from Shutesbury, who recommended that I apply for this job. I had never heard of Amherst College before, but the job description was about gender and ethnicity in Latin America, which is very much my area of interest, and it’s very rare to find this kind of job opening. It fit my current interests, so that’s why I applied.
What classes will you be teaching during this academic year?
This semester, I’m teaching “Global Politics of Gender” (POSC 39 and WAGS 02), which is more of an international relations focus from a gender lens. Next semester, I’m teaching “The Political Economy of Gender in Latin America” (WAGS 04), which is the basics of political economy but applied to Latin America. We’ll study development and economic indicators, how women are entering the market in Latin America, their political participation, etc.
How do you see your area of expertise and your classes fitting in with the curriculum and the academic culture here at Amherst?
I think for Women and Gender Studies, it’s good to bring in a Latin American perspective because there are no specialists of Latin America at all in the department. Area studies contribute a lot to how we think theoretically in that field. Latin America has a very strong tradition of women’s mobilization, especially politically.
For International Relations (IR), I am one of the few members in the [Political Science] department who is an expert of international relations; I’m actually trained as an IR person, not as a political scientist. And again, to bring the Latin American perspective, thinking international relations from the margins, is different. And to think about it from a gender perspective is doubling the margins, in a way.
Also, as a Loewenstein Fellow, I’m working on a book about indigenous women in Ecuador, how they relate to the state and how they’re challenging traditional concepts of sovereignty.
How would you rate your teaching experience at Amherst so far?
It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot from students, and it’s certainly been the most competent and hardworking group of students that I’ve met in my career by far. Students come to class super prepared; they engage, they’re very knowledgeable and they take classes because they want to, not because they’re forced to. But I’ve learned as much from other places as I have here; I’ve taught in very poor environments in Latin America, and you always learn something.
It’s been interesting because here it’s almost like teaching graduate seminars. You sometimes feel like you’re teaching at the master’s level. You have to be much more prepared as a professor; if you make a mistake students will actually catch it. Because students prepare so much for class, you’re much more careful with the material you give; you know that it will be worked on very carefully. So it’s a very interesting way to work.
And what I’ve liked the most in the teaching environment here are the small classes and the ability to develop relationships with the students. I’ve had very small classes of five to eight students, and that has allowed us to go much more in depth with the material and to engage personal experiences together with theory.
What do you think is the most exciting aspect of your work right now?
I’m super excited about the book I’m writing! I just came back from the library, where I found new books about indigeneity and political theory of sovereignty. I’m very excited about the possibility, at the practical level, of telling all the stories of indigenous women and their situation of exclusion that I’ve witnessed in Latin America and in the Andes in particular; and, I’m excited to create some theoretical contribution from that, to see how we can rethink sovereignty by looking at indigenous women. I think I’m working at the margins of my fields — international relations, comparative politics, a little bit of anthropology. I’m bridging fields that are not usually thought of together, and which are only recently being brought together, so it’s very exciting.