Fresh Faculty: Manuela Picq
Issue   |   Wed, 02/01/2017 - 01:20

Manuela Picq is a Karl Loewenstein fellow and a Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science. She attended Pierre Mendes-France University, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. She received her doctorate degree in international studies from the University of Miami.

Q: What got you interested in Political Science?
A: I grew up in Brazil and there was a lot of inequality. I grew up in Rio de Janeiro seeing a lot of people living in the streets in very bad conditions. I always felt human indignation at the situation of poor people, so I started working in human rights. Then I started looking at the Andes in particular and indigenous rights because I moved to Ecuador. The specificity of human rights from an indigenous perspective really connects nature and the land with people. From this lens, we stop seeing human rights just as humans but as nature too. Water rights become part of human rights, and it’s a very important approach now in times of climate crisis.

Q: Why did you decide to teach at Amherst?
A: This time, I came because I made very good friends here. I normally live and work in Ecuador … There’s an authoritarian government there right now, and I was detained during a protest, jailed and then expelled from the country in August of 2015. So for the first couple of months I kept thinking they would let me back into the country, but they did not. I have very good colleagues here, and I have a lot of institutional support here from the first time I taught here. I was here [at Amherst] between 2008 and 2011 and [then] I went back to Ecuador … I came back now in September [of] last year. The president of the college did write a letter in my support when I was in jail to free me, and my other colleagues were very present in the process of freeing me and getting me out of Ecuador back then. They were able to give me a one-year position as a Scholar at Risk and a sign of academic support.

Q: What classes are you teaching this semester?
A: This semester I’m teaching Sexualities in International Relations, which is an introductory class to international relations and politics in the political science department. I’m also teaching another one called States of Extraction, which is about politics and the rights of nature in world politics. It’s basically about climate change and extractive industries such as oil, mining, pipelines and hydropower plants that are destroying not only the land but especially indigenous land, which is where most biodiversity remains.

Q: What about Amherst do you enjoy the most?
A: I really enjoy living in the countryside. I live by Puffer’s Pond, and I love being in nature yet having the amount of brains, professors, good cinema and talks through the Five Colleges. I have great and very supportive colleagues. The classes are really small and students end up being colleagues, too. It’s a really ideal environment between living in the countryside with all of the high-end intellectual quality you’d have in a big intellectual center, except you have the woods around you at the same time.

Q: Why did you go to Ecuador?
A: This is the unexpected side of life because our lives never unfold the way we think they will. I graduated in the United States with a Ph.D. in international relations and I couldn’t find a job anywhere. No one would give me a job except for a university in Ecuador, which a friend of a friend of a friend put me in touch with. I thought I’d go there for a year and learn Spanish. I went with that approach, but I really liked it, and I stayed a second year and a third year, and by the time it was time to leave I really had roots in the country. I started doing indigenous politics because I would go mountain climbing, and on the way to the glaciers I would meet indigenous women who looked 100 years old, except they were only 50 years old. So I started to think that there was a huge human rights problem there because they were aging way too fast, among other issues of poverty and violence. So then I started researching, and instead of studying nuclear weapons, the Cold War or the World Bank, I started studying indigenous peoples. For a while, it was not perceived by my colleagues as real politics, but nowadays it’s finally being recognized as part of world politics.

Q: Are you still engaged in human rights activism?
A: Part of why I was expelled from Ecuador is because I was a scholar but also an activist and a journalist. I remain a little bit of a journalist, but I don’t write as much as before. I still write and I have my students writing. They publish their finals online in an indigenous newspaper called Intercontinental Cry. I do a little bit of activism, but more behind the scenes than on the frontlines as before. For example, I help indigenous organizations get funds, so I do a lot of grant applications for them so that they can travel to the UN. Since I was expelled from Ecuador, I presented my case and the case of indigenous rights violation at the UN in Geneva and the European Parliament in Brussels. My partner is still in Ecuador and is an indigenous rights lawyer. We are presenting the case that the government has denied us marriage, so we’re accusing the government of racial discrimination — in this case, ethnic discrimination for him being indigenous. We’re doing a lot of legal and institutional activism by trying to keep the indigenous movement afloat even when there’s less and less funds going to help them participate in the world.

Q: What do you hope to contribute during your time here?
A: I think what I can bring is my activism. I hope to inspire students with the interface of scholarship activism because academia is an amazing space to practice activism … We have the freedom to think and [we have] access to ideas that are unique. The other thing that I really hope to contribute is the development of indigenous perspectives in the department of political science. There are a lot of great people here in political science, but there is no focus at all on indigenous politics, and it’s treated as a marginal topic. Yet in many areas of the world it’s a core of politics. I hope that in the long term, the department of political science will keep offering classes related to indigenous politics and activism.