Shannon Speed, U of California, Davis, was the second recipient of the AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship. Speed’s dissertation topic was Global Discourses on the Local Terrain: Grounding Human Rights in Chiapas, Mexico. Her research investigated the relationships among the globalized discourse of human rights, state legal and normative orders, the local production of cultural identities and gender norms and forms of resistance in the indigenous communities of Chiapas. Speed noted, “In this area, where many indigenous people are actively participating in an insurgent movement and social conflict is high, there has been dramatically increased interaction between members of local communities, various state apparatuses and national and international human-rights activists. The project explores this intensified interaction and its implications for local indigenous peoples’ understandings and knowledges, for state strategies and constraints and for transnational and global discourses and practices.”
Speeds’ project is based on four years of activist experience, research and study, begun in mid-1996 when she became Director of “Global Exchange Chiapas,” a project of a San Francisco-based NGO which conducted human rights work in Chiapas. This work gave her intensive contact with indigenous communities and a participant’s insight into the dynamics of human rights in Chiapas. In 1998, she received a two-year interdisciplinary research and training fellowship from the Social Science Research Council-MacArthur Foundation Program on International Peace and Security in a Changing World. She received a year of training in the area of human rights law, through courses at the Law School of the Autonomous U of Chiapas, and worked as an advisor to the Community Human Rights Defenders Network. During the second year of her SSRC fellowship, she conducted field research in the communities of her study (Nicolas Ruiz, Chancala, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Tuxtla Gutierrez and Mexico City).
Speed believes that her dissertation will contribute to our knowledge of: 1) the significance and meaning of the increasingly prominent global discourse of human rights—by demonstrating how different social actors are conceptualizing, utilizing and being affected by the spread of this discourse throughout the world; 2) the impact of globalization processes—by examining the ways in which local cultures interact with globalized discourses in the context of intensified cultural exchanges; 3) the gendered nature of rights discourses—by highlighting the role of the discourse of human rights specifically in the re-negotiation of gender norms at the local level; and 4) the nation-state’s changing position on globalization processes—by exploring how the formulation of the state’s rights discourses and legal regimes shape local production of rights claims and understandings. She goes on to state, “Each of these issues is of critical concern in a world which, while plagued by ongoing problems of violence and human-rights violations, is undergoing important shifts in how such issues are understood and confronted in the context of globalization.”
Speed also expects her work to contribute to Native American studies by analyzing: 1) the relationship of globalization/transnationalism to negotiations (in the broad sense of the term) between the state and indigenous populations; 2) the relationship between human rights and indigenous rights as political discourses and political projects; 3) the ways in which some indigenous communities interpret, integrate or reject, and find use for, non-local concepts such as human rights; and 4) the interaction with such non-local discourses by indigenous communities.
Speed finished up her research in Chiapas. She conducted follow-up interviews, spent time in the community of Nicolas Ruiz (where she had conducted some of her research) and worked with the Chiapas Community Human Rights Defenders Network. She has also co-authored two articles with Jane Collier. One published in Human Rights Quarterly. The second article appeared in Memoria, a Mexican journal.