"When people understand the relations between countries to be one of war, then when they come to power, that's what they want. But what if you start thinking about the impact of that war and start looking at the local scale, and you put people at the center?"

If Alejandra Roncallo took a traditional approach to international relations, she might focus on the wars between countries, the leaders that start and end those wars or the markets that drive economies. But those approaches ignore the stories that most interest Roncallo -- the perspectives of indigenous peoples, women and children.

To bring those stories to light, and to highlight the very human implications of globalization, Roncallo draws on her training in history, anthropology and geography to cross the traditional boundaries between disciplines and geographic scale.

For instance, while studying the effects of transnational mining corporations operating in Bolivia, she lived with an indigenous Quechua community affected by mining, examined changes in national law that allowed mining to transition from family-dominated business to a nationalized industry to an international enterprise, and documented the changes in World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies that promoted the global exploitation of natural resources.

Roncallo points out a very practical benefit of focusing on the human side. "When people understand the relations between countries to be one of war, then when they come to power, that's what they want," she says. "But what if you start thinking about the impact of that war and start looking at the local scale, and you put people at the center?"

She takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the international political economy of the Americas in her book, The Politics of Space in the Americas: The New Pax Americana.

Ethics, humanity and tolerance are at the center of Roncallo's research and her classroom. As such, she fosters both thinking and feeling in her students, using video to help students empathize with different times and cultures. A two-minute clip on the treatment of women in the 1940s or a comparison of mainstream versus alternative press interviews with leaders of the new left can engage students' hearts and inspire them to use their minds to read and think more deeply.

Posted Sept. 27, 2011

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