Cultivating “el lugar de encuentro” at the Latin American Research Review

The University of Florida is hosting the LARR for the first time in the publication's history, bringing a new vision for the journal and prominence to the university

Cultivating “el lugar de encuentro” at the Latin American Research Review

May 30, 2022

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 edition of The Latinamericanist. Read the whole issue here, or scroll below.

Fifty-seven years after its founding, the Latin American Research Review (LARR) has come to the University of Florida for a five-year term, from January 2021 until December 2025. Headed by editor-in-chief and Center professor Carmen Martínez Novo, with an editorial staff including professor Heather Vrana (LAS/History) and student assistant Daniel Fernández Guevara (LAS/History), hosting the LARR at UF offers the opportunity for the Center to shape the field of Latin American Studies and benefit Center students and faculty alike.

A shared history

The LARR is one of the world’s leading journals in Latin American Studies. It is an interdisciplinary journal, focused on the social sciences and the humanities (anthropology, economics, history, literature and cultural studies, political science, and sociology) with an international audience of authors and readers. The journal receives approximately 350 submissions annually, accepting articles in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and publishes four open-access issues across the year.

The LARR’s original purpose derived from the rising importance of area studies in the United States post-World War II. The same historical moment transformed UF’s School of Inter-American Studies into the Title VI-funded Center for Latin American Studies, with the goal of cultivating specialized experts on individual regions of the world. Since mid-century geopolitics was the driving force of this movement, political science was an early emphasis for the LARR, as well as languages, culture, and history.

But the LARR has evolved over time, dependent on geopolitical contexts, trends in the field, and the subsequent perspectives of its editorial board, led by its editor-in-chief and “home” institution. With each new tenure and editorial board, there’s an opportunity to keep with tradition or respond to it, shaping not only the journal but the field it investigates.

“Un lugar de encuentro”

Managing the scope of a journal that covers so many disciplines, topics, and geographical areas can make it difficult to structure a cohesive final publication. For Dr. Martínez Novo’s team, the way forward was through reimagining the journal’s interdisciplinary legacy. Beginning in March 2022, each issue will be organized around themes that connect the disciplines. “In a way, we’re responding to the Latin American tradition that isn’t so worried about the boundaries of the disciplines,” Dr. Martínez Novo says. “But rather, we’re looking at the problems of an economic crisis or climate change, from an interdisciplinary perspective.”

The themes aren’t pre-determined, however – a key feature of this approach. “Publishing is about finding trends,” says editorial assistant and PhD student Daniel Fernández Guevara. “We want to look at all of these conversations and questions going on simultaneously in all of these fields, and put them in conversation with each other.”

This method can yield unexpected and exciting results. “In our next issue, one of the themes is about politics and decolonization in connection with the arts, which I didn’t expect,” Dr. Martínez Novo reveals. She previews some of the articles – one on Afro-Cuban art in the 1930s, another on muralism among Zapatistas of Mexico, another on the aesthetics of graphic artists under the socialist Allende government in Chile. “This is what I enjoy most about working on the LARR,” she shares. “I get to have a perspective on the whole field of Latin American Studies, and see what is new and coming up in the field.”

When Dr. Martínez Novo and Daniel talk about the LARR, each of them invokes the metaphor of “the table,” and what it means to exchange ideas with other scholars seated around it. “There is this sense we need a space for engagement between disciplines, where academics are sitting at a rather large table of people, with our ideas and our sources, and we chime in and try to figure out the world we’re living in, with all our points of view,” Daniel says. “The LARR is like that. In Spanish, we’d say it’s ‘un lugar de encuentro’ – a meeting place.”

Opening new spaces

Another new feature of the LARR under Dr. Martínez Novo’s tenure is the “Debates” section. Inspired by the Latin American tradition of the essay, the section seeks to include writing about Latin American societies that has deep theoretical or epistemological insight without relying exclusively on empirical data (a characteristic that often means rejection from most academic journals). “We want to encourage critical theoretical points of view and debates,” Dr. Martínez Novo explains. “In my view, there’s a place for both – we can keep the quantitative, empirical part of the journal, but also open different spaces.”

There are also new perspectives on the editorial team, a significant goal for Dr. Martínez Novo, who is the LARR’s first woman editor-in-chief. Since women are historically underrepresented in political science and economics, Dr. Martínez Novo recruited women editors (Abby Córdova and Jana Morgan for political science, and Rosa Luz Durán for economics) with the aim to bring non-orthodox perspectives to the conversation.

Then there’s Center affiliate Heather Vrana, the third UF representative on the editorial team, who specializes in the histories of disabilities in Latin America. “Heather’s almost building a new field, looking at how people with disabilities were integrated or not integrated in Central American societies,” Dr. Martínez Novo says. “It’s so exciting to see her developing that, and bringing new ideas to the LARR.”

Getting students involved

Because of the depth and scope of the LARR, each issue of the journal comes to life through exhaustive work by a team of both seen and unseen contributors. One instrumental role is the editorial assistant, a student position occupied by Daniel Fernández Guevara for the first of UF’s five years. Among other tasks, Daniel processes submissions, communicates with authors, and creates reports. He also works directly with the editor-in-chief, which offers invaluable insight into the world of publishing.

“My favorite part of the position has been reading submissions and being able to talk about submissions with Dr. Martínez Novo,” Daniel shares. “I’ve learned what it’s like to evaluate and find the potential in a submission, which in turn has helped my writing. It helps me think about the kinds of questions people are asking, and what questions I think students should be asking.”

With four more years left in the LARR’s term at UF, there will be four graduate students that follow Daniel as editorial assistant. “Anyone who comes into this position will gain a deeper understanding of academic publishing and how the process works,” agrees Dr. Martínez Novo. “I think it helps them lose fear of publishing, which is so important.”

Working at the LARR also has the potential to improve future career opportunities, thanks to the journal’s international network of scholars and development of practical skills in managing people and administrative tasks. For Daniel, wherever he goes next, he’s taking something even more intangible with him. “So many people voluntarily give their time and their expertise to make this journal, even though most of them don’t get any credit for doing it. They do it to keep this institution alive for the next generation,” he reflects. “So I hope that I can bring some of that spirit that the LARR has given me, and carry it somewhere else.”

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