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May 12, 2005



Assistant Professor of Growth and Structure of Cities Juan Manuel Arbona will travel to one of the world's most turbulent centers of social protest next year to study the influence of popular uprisings on urban policy. As a J. William Fulbright Scholar, Arbona will teach at the Universidad para la Investigación Estratégica en Bolivia (UPIEB) in the Bolivian capital of La Paz. Juan Arbona

Read about other 2005-06 Fulbright winners from Bryn Mawr:

Arbona's research will focus on El Alto, a rapidly changing, autonomous municipality adjoining La Paz, where he has been working to organize an applied-research center. El Alto as has been described as the epicenter of a political earthquake — a mass uprising that resulted in the resignation of then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2003. Since then, protest movements centered in El Alto have continued to have a major impact on the Bolivian nation as a whole.

According to Arbona, El Alto is "one of the poorest, largest and most dynamic cities in Bolivia," in which only seven percent of the population has its basic necessities satisfied and almost 70 percent of the economically active population works in the underground economy. With a largely indigenous population that has grown by about 500,000 in the last 15 years, El Alto exemplifies the political, economic and social challenges the country faces as its people "migrate in search of employment and social opportunities, straining the capacity of existing infrastructure and institutional resources," Arbona says.

During his Fulbright year, Arbona will teach a graduate course titled "The City in the National Political Economy: Processes and Contexts." As part of a master's degree program, the course will attract mid-career professionals working with NGOs or municipal governments around Bolivia. The course will give students an in-depth look at current debates in urban policy, while also introducing them to research methods that can help them evaluate policy options in the context of their own cities and organizations.

The bulk of Arbona's time, however, will be spent on research: observation and "extended interviews with officials from the municipal government, neighborhood organizations and NGOs to gain insights into the internal debates and how these actors are constructing the future of El Alto." His goal is to publish, in both Spanish and English, studies that "will contribute to the understanding of how social mobilizations — guided by precarious living conditions and indigenous identities — influence urban policy-making and thus the growth and structure of cities."

Arbona hopes that his teaching and research will "engender a more constructive engagement between academics, neighborhood residents and municipal government through the promotion of empirical and locally based research." The proposed research center, he says, should foster such conversations in the long term, serving "as a platform from which to develop long-term collaborations between scholars, practitioners and professionals in El Alto."


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