Not in the fantastic library (pictured above), but nevertheless at the impressive main campus of the University of Coimbra (one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1290), the Association of Inter-American Studies convened its biennial conference, and I was happy to be one of the participants.
As usual with big conferences, there was a lot of to-and-fro, parallel panels and lost opportunities, but this year organisational hazards and last-minute no-shows aggravated my feeling that such huge events are actually not my cup of tea. It always feels a wee bit unproductive; yet, it was good to get in touch with some inter-American people again and re-charge my intellectual batteries after my stint as a secondary school teacher left something to be desired in that respect.
Having missed the last conference in California, I was pleasantly surprised that there were indeed many scholars and activists from Brazil, Mexico and other Latin American countries present. Unfortunately, some of the activists sometimes failed to reflect upon their valuable work in more generalised and thus universally applicable concepts. In some presentations I felt like listening to a description rather than an analysis; in a few others, though, it was just the other way around: The vocabulary of decoloniality and critical engagement with alterity and suppressive power structures lent itself to constructing abstract phrases full of name dropping that, after letting it sink in, didn’t amount to much. A bit like that last phrase I just wrote, I’m afraid.
That is, I presume, the chasm between activism and scholarship, and it’s great that such a conference brings together those different strands and makes them visible — but I guess I am more on the scholarly side of the aisle. Still, it was a enriching three day experience of learning about struggles, resistances and attempts to collectively create something different, something better, something that is progressive. Let’s see what the follow-up meeting in 2020 brings.