Facundo Rivarola Ghiglione
Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
I was awarded with the Travel Research Grant to conduct research about land disputes in rural Paraguay, my home country. Paraguay has one of the most unequal land distribution and ownership in the region. Recent studies have indicated that nearly 80% of the total land is owned by the 2% present of the total population. This has contributed to social inequality, rural poverty and socio-political instability. For many people in rural Paraguay, land has meant conflict, displacement and injustice. However, the "globalization of ideas," and the "colonization of knowledge" have attempted (often successfully) to constraint our understanding of "land struggle" by creating a dysfunction between land and nature, social and economics, the individual and the collective. Ultimately, this has often shifted and divided our attention to find a concrete and multidimensional understanding of the problem behind land that concern different groups of people equally. Hence, the main goal for this study was to deconstruct and understand the problematic of land from the perspective of the rural communities in Paraguay, made up of small farmers, "landless peasants"—Campesinos sin tierra—, and native indigenous groups which views and voices remain notoriously unrepresented in the academic literature and common epistemological theory. Reflecting upon my positionality as Paraguayan, a Global Studies and Sociology Major, I was personally and academically interested in the study and understanding of land that goes beyond the constraints of mainstream knowledge.
The research consisted in a series of field studies to local rural communities as well as intensive interviews with the community members. I was particularly interested to further my knowledge about rural people’s perspective on their everyday land struggle. I discovered that land has acquired a strong sense of social discontent, injustice and violence. Millions of small scale farmers are being displaced by big land owners, corporations and soy beans monoculture. Today, landless peasants ramble around the rural country side in search of land. Their resistance has consisted in occupying land from big land owners and corporations, but this has often resulted in violent military repression and even political persecution. On the other hand, the country’s forest area is increasingly disappearing by soy and cattle expansion. This has affected native indigenous communities who cannot longer live from the forest and whose land is not always under their own jurisdiction. However, after conducting field studies on the topic among different rural communities and social movements, I have come across an increasing tension and land disputes between “landless peasants” and Native Indigenous communities.
I am currently further analyzing this social phenomenon from a ground theory and stand-point analysis as part of my Global Studies Honor Senior Year Experience, which would have not been possible without this research grant. Moreover, this has been one of the most amazing, challenging yet rewarding undergraduate experience that I have had. Being able to conduct research at my home country and put what I have learned at St. Lawrence into practice in the field is a dream came true!