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When the Rivers Run Backwards: Field studies and statistical analyses of an indigenous social movement in northern Coclé province, Republic of Panama, in the face of a planned Panama Canal expansion

Nina Müller-Schwarze, Temporary Part-Time Lecturer (UW) and Senior Research Fellow (Southern Food and Beverage Museum)

The social movement Coordinadora Campesina Contra Los Embalses (CCCE) successfully stopped a planned Panama Canal expansion.  This presentation will describe the quantitative research in my dissertation, which depicts in a factor analysis this social movement at the height of the threat of flooded ancestral land.  This work shows how factor analysis is an excellent methodology for grounded research in sociocultural anthropology and addresses key theoretical ideas in sociocultural anthropology through quantitative methods.  Knowledge co-production through a collaborative probe in my previous Peace Corps host community informed teamwork and data collection over eight months in 55 communities in the Indio River watershed.  Quantitative research methods revealed aspects of the social movement that the vaguely defined mainstay of cultural anthropology’s methodology, “participant observation,” could not have.  The methodology of factor analysis further facilitated knowledge co-production regarding statistical results.

Grounded quantitative research led to grounded qualitative theory, which revealed this social movement as indigenous and Catholic, and showed the historical continuity of an indigenous political structure.  The state political structure exists in linear time and the indigenous political structure is flexible and exists in cyclical time.  My published book qualitatively supports the grounded theory and documents the connection and disjuncture between the two social structures over time with archival research, describes the indigenous women’s movement Frente Femenina associated with the CCCE, and addresses postmodern writing concerns about ethnographic authority in its use of cyclical time.  Additional statistical analyses about identification practices and definitions of the discursive field, “poverty,” are described in the dissertation and book.

The threat of flooding and deterritorialization is a theme throughout this work.  I will tell the story of a rural social movement and the context in which I produced this knowledge; Hurricane Katrina disrupted my career trajectory and I am returning in a new cycle to this work.


During the Spring 2020 academic quarter, the CSSS Seminar Series will be conducted online. Please contact Will Brown if you are interested in attending (brownw at uw dot edu).