Cultures, Land and Politics in Oaxaca

Cultures, Land and Politics in Oaxaca
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Dates, Deadlines, and Costs
TermApp DeadlineStart DateEnd DateCost
SummerFebruary 25early Juneearly AugustBudget
Program Information
  • GPA
  • 2.5
  • Language of Instruction
  • English, Spanish
  • Foreign Language Requirement
  • First-year Spanish
  • Class Eligibility
  • Graduate, Junior, Senior, Sophomore
  • Program Open To
  • UA and Non-UA Students
  • Credit Type
  • UA Direct Credit
  • Level of Study
  • Graduate, Undergraduate
  • Housing Options
  • Homestay
  • Program Type
  • UA Faculty-led
Program Overview

This research-based eight week  program offers students the opportunity to conduct research in social or environmental science while further offering each student the ability to design and conduct their own research project under the supervision of knowledgeable and experienced local researchers. Earn 9-12 units (grad/undergrad respectively) over one summer.


Summer 2019 Tentative Dates: 6/5-8/3

This research-based eight week program offers students the opportunity to conduct research in social or environmental science while further offering each student the ability to design and conduct their own research project under the supervision of knowledgeable and experienced local researchers.

This preparation entails in-depth learning about the diverse environments of Southern Mexico, as well as about the rich and heterogeneous cultures of Oaxaca’s distinct regions. The preparatory substantive coursework stresses the historical and contemporary dimensions of the relationship between the peoples of Oaxaca, the land and resources and a global political economy.

The first six weeks will consist of lectures, group work, field trips, and village stays. A typical class day includes lectures and discussions in class meetings from 11:30 am to approximately 2:00 pm. Local and statewide field trips, ranging in length from an afternoon to four days, are also scheduled. Students will learn about the history of Mexico and the state of Oaxaca, and will focus on the cultural and environmental diversity of the state. Special emphasis will be given to problems of development in the region – cultural, social, political, economic, and environmental – with particular attention given to the efforts of local peoples to address these problems.

These classes will consist of lectures by the faculty member and visits by local guest speakers from different non-governmental organizations working in Oaxaca. We will take full advantage of the small class size, so there will be ample room for discussions. We will reinforce the issues discussed in class through field visits and village stays. As such, even though a typical day will involve class meetings, students will also travel to various sites in the state to meet with different people and organizations. Weekends will of course be free, and there is variety of entertainment options available. For more information, consult the preliminary syllabus.

The research portion will commence with a training course in qualitative field research methods. This course will include a review of common methods such as interviews and surveys, as well as an introduction to collaborative research techniques. Emphasis will be placed on the ethical and cultural issues entailed in conducting research in and with relatively marginalized communities. Lastly, students will learn techniques for presenting research to diverse audiences through a variety of media.

The program is supplemented by an intensive language class with local teachers, tailored to the student’s Spanish proficiency. While this class is optional, it is highly encouraged for all participants. Students will be assigned a level according to their language skills. These classes will meet in the morning from Monday-Friday for 2 hours every day for the first 6 weeks of the program, to give the students ample background and time to brush up on their language skills. There will be some interruption in the schedule for the full day field visits. Upon return to Tucson, the students will have the opportunity to test out of the equivalent of the language classes they have taken in Oaxaca.

Courses offered in Oaxaca (undergraduate students take a maximum of 12 units total/graduate students take 9 units total):

GEOG 455/555 (3,6, or 9 credits)- Advanced Regional Study

GEOG 362 (3 credits)- Environmental Development

GEOG 370 (3 credits)- Geographies on International Development

SPAN 299 (3 credits - Optional)- Independent Study

If you are an LAS Major or LAS Minor, you can earn up to 9 LAS elective credits for this program!



The final grade for the undergraduate students will be based on a weekly reaction papers, a video journal, in class assignments and the final research paper.  Graduate students will supplement these requirements with more extensive readings and a more advanced research paper. 


The local Faculty Director is Oliver Froehling; he is also the director of the program's educational partner in Oaxaca, SURCO (Servicios Universiarios y Redes de Conocimientos en Oaxaca AC). He is an accomplished scholar/activist with extensive experience in the politics and development of Oaxaca and contacts to a large number of grassroots organizations that will be part of the program.  The Spanish classes will be given by local experienced language teachers.


The program is based in the City of Oaxaca, in the southeastern part of Mexico. Oaxaca's city center with its outdoor cafes and its historic buildings offer a glimpse of Mexico's colonial past, while the new settlements spreading up the hillsides and the ongoing protests in the Zocalo, the main plaza, point to some of the more problematic issues facing this area.

The program also includes several field trips into the countryside. The state of Oaxaca is in itself a world of many worlds. The state's ecosystems range from deserts and high mountain cloud forests to tropical rainforests and coastal regions, yielding the greatest geographical range and biodiversity in Mexico.

Oaxaca’s human geography is equally diverse. Sixteen indigenous groups, each with its own distinct language, culture and tradition, comprise two thirds of the state's population. The indigenous communities base themselves in their communal life and provide a different perspective on life experience in the contemporary world. These communities are on the forefront of political change in Mexico and are transforming the political landscape with their demands for autonomy and respect for their culture.


Field Visits and Village Stays

During the field visits students will have the chance to appreciate the many facets of the state and will have a chance to directly observe the issues discussed in class. Some example site visits from previous years include:

- Archaeological sites Monte Alban and Mitla: A short way out of the city, these ruins offer a glimpse of the splendor of prehispanic civilization.

- Ecotourism project in Capulálpam de Méndez: Located in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, and offers a view of the rapidly changing mountain ecology, ranging from cloud forests at about 10,000 ft altitude to humid tropical forests, all within a days walk. It is also an example of a community that took over a state owned logging company and is now trying to use their forests in a different way.

- Ecological restoration Project in San Pablo Etla: Less an hour from the city,  degraded  communal lands are being restored with a number of effective, low cost techniques. The site has become a demonstration project to show other communities the possibility and effectiveness of different techniques in reversing environmental degradation.

- Teotitlán del Valle: Visit with a women's weaving cooperative to get a glimpse of daily life in this Zapotec village

-Coffee growing village of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla: Tucked into the cloud forests of the northern mountain range, this Chinantec community is a center for subsistence agriculture and organic coffee production. We will be meeting with local authorities and coffee farmers to understand the challenges and rewards of living in community.

-Coastal trip (4 days): Starting at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and following along the coastline of Oaxaca, this trip will examine a number of different issues: Food production, the challenges of wind power development, third gender , community radio, ecotourism, among others.

For the last 2 weeks of the course, students will carry out an independent research project that they designed with the instructor during the first part of the course. There is small support available to cover some of the expenses. In the past, these projects have included: ecotourism development on the coast, the impact of coffee rust on village life, the social structure of squatter settlements, women's participation in local governance, LGBT spaces in the city, the significance of maize in village cuisine, the organization of resistance to strip mining, bilingual education, among many others. For the majority of students, this is a very rewarding experience that lets them explore a different place through hands-on research.


Students will be housed by middle class families in the city of Oaxaca, enabling them to experience firsthand the lifestyles and cultures of local residents.

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