Superclase with Professor Mercedes Gonzalez de la Rocha

Event description:
LSE LACC Superclase with Prof Mercedes Gonzalez de la Rocha, CIESAS Occidente, 10 Nov 2016

Contributed by Pablo Navarrete and Mara Nogueira

mercedes-gonzalez-de-la-rocha-superclase-2-10-nov-2016In a specially arranged masterclass with PhD students working on Latin America, Professor Gonzalez de la Rocha (CIESAS Occidente) presented her most recent work offering critical empirical, conceptual and methodological insights from three shared papers. In ‘Empleo e intercambio social en Mexico’ (published in Perfiles Latinoamericanos 2016), Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha (with Martha Moreno and Inés Escobar) uses multifactorial analysis to explore the association between quality of work and levels of social exclusion. The study confirms her previous ethnographic findings showing that the precarious working conditions faced by poor households prevent them from accessing two essential resources – time and money. This reduces their ability to participate in reciprocity networks, thus depriving them of this essential survival strategy.

In ‘Indigenous Girls in Rural Mexico: A Success Story?:  Empleo e intercambio social en Mexico’ (published in Girlhood Studies 2016), Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha (with Prof. Agustin Escobar Latapi) uses qualitative quasi-experimental research techniques to evaluate the impact of PROGRESA-OPORTUNIDADES, a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme, on ‘success stories’ of young Mexican indigenous women. The results show that the CCT programme has been effective in increasing the indigenous group’s educational levels (in number of years of education), close the educational ethnic gap between non-indigenous (mestizos) and indigenous populations, and reverse the educational gender gap between young men and women within the indigenous group.

In ‘Accumulacion de desventajas y vulnerabilidad’, a chapter from her forthcoming book based on ethnographic research, Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha explains that a process of accumulation of multiple disadvantages among the poor affects their resilience capacity over time.  She argues that negative economic or natural shocks produce damages that accumulate to the scarcity of economic resources of poor households. For instance, in a context of scarcity of economic resources, shocks add: low education levels as they push children into work; weak health conditions as households are incapable to pay for medical treatment; and reduced cognitive capacity due to extensive periods of malnutrition. This makes poor households less capable of recovering from future shocks, creating a spiral of accumulative disadvantages.

After presenting her papers, Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha has briefly discussed a few methodological points that have guided her research. The floor was then open for members of the audience to ask questions and a fruitful debate ensued. The first question led to a discussion about income transfer programs and their applicability in different contexts. Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha discussed the difference between the two pioneer initiatives in Mexico and Brasil, emphasizing the absences of conditionality in the Brasilian case. After their successful results, both programs were vastly studied and the World Bank has indistinctively commissioned their replication, which in her opinion is always problematic.

The conversation then was switched towards the role of the Mexican state in the provision of support structures for poverty alleviation. She pointed out how the income transfers, although important for people’s autonomy, cannot replace certain services such as child care, education and health that should be provided by the State. This debate was followed by Dr Ryan Centner’s inquiry on methodology. How can we choose points of comparison to contrast distinct life trajectories? There was an interesting discussion about personal narratives and the role of memory in research. Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha talked about her own experience doing research over decades and the importance of building a qualitative base line of interviews, and then following the same group over time to analyse the impact of government interventions or economic shocks.

Next, the topic of informal work was brought to the table. Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha discussed how her own research has showed that formal and informal employment are interconnected through people’s livelihood strategies, but also more broadly through the production chain. Moreover, the context matters and the classic models should be challenged. Professor Sylvia Chant followed up with this debate, talking about her own experience with research on feminisation of poverty. The discussion then returned to methodology. A rich debate about how to do comparative work was initiated, with inputs from Prof. Gonzalez de la Rocha, Professor Chant and Dr Centner, based on their own experiences. The superclase came to an end with a thought provoking debate initiated by Prof. Chant: how can we end poverty and the processes of social isolation?

Pablo Navarrete and Mara Nogueira are Research Students in LSE Department of Human Geography and the Environment