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Interculturality as Epistemic Project in Latin America. A Comparative Study from the Indigenous and Afro-Descendants`Higher Eduaction Initiatives in Brazil and Mexico

Mario A. Martínez Cortés


Exclusion in Latin America is more than likely to contain an ethnic dimension. More so than other groups, the Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples typify the worst effects of exclusion. This is evident in various spheres, notably in access to proper education. Recently, access, attendance and success of these groups in higher education have become a topic of research and policy design in Latin American countries. The issue has become controversial, and has entailed heated debates regarding the 'optimal way' to promote inclusion.

By focusing on ethnically and racially inclusive projects in higher education, this research explores the formulation and (re)signification of the Nation´s components groups. Two cases are studied, namely Brazil and Mexico which exemplify :

1: Different kinds of projects: 

In Brazil, inclusion projects adopt equalitarian goals and approaches, by the use of affirmative action, and the establishment of quotas. In sharp contrast, in Mexico, initiatives are oriented towards the creation of ethnicized institutions, such as State-run Intercultural Universities and Indigenous Universities.

2:  Different Public Debate and Negotiation Scenarios:

In Brazil, this issue is a matter of public debate in many different forums: universities, mass media, government institutions, social movements, and is a topic of conversation for the man on-the-street. In Mexico, however, this discussion tends to be limited to those regulating educational policies,  with little or no public debates in other spheres of society.

What lies behind such salient differences? The particularities of approach in either country are examined by focusing on their respective concepts of what the nation constitutes. Both Brazil and Mexico embraced the idea of a Mestizaje, as a symbolic mechanism meant to refute the values of Indigenous and African heritages within the Nation. Until recently, Brazil has had a modicum of success in casting itself as a miscegenated nation, largely through the popular-notion of racial democracy, and as such transforming all Brazilians into Mestizos. Mexican Nation, however, would have failed in this endeavour as it possesses two categorical groups: Indigenous and Mestizos. 

Consequently, the robust social debate and controversy in Brazil would represent a democratic transformation of the Brazilian Nation and what Benhabib (2006) terms a reflexive reconstitution of colective identities. By utilising a mosaic version of intercultural education, Mexico, on the other hand, appears to be replicating its national ideology consisting of clearly divided groups, whereas it pays less attention to issues of control (autonomy) and recognition of the Indigenous Universities, through which the role of Indigenous Peoples within the national framework can experience a transformation.


Kontakt: mariomtz@zedat.fu-berlin.de

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