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Matilde Córdoba Azcárate

Assistant Professor

Overview

My research uses a political ecology approach and ethnographic perspective to understand the relations between tourism, space and capitalism and it is based on contemporary Southern Mexico. I work across the fields of social and urban anthropology, critical geography, development and tourism studies.

I am currently writing a book tentatively titled “White Sand, Brown Bodies, and Pink Flamingos: Tourism Landscapes of Contemporary Yucatan”. This manuscript examines the socio-spatial and economic restructuring brought about by the implementation of tourism as a state development tool in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula since the mid 1970s. The manuscript builds on extensive ethnographic research on mainstream and alternative forms of tourism development in the region and it is informed by multi-sited, global and mobile ethnography approaches.

These last two years I have organized two interdisciplinary Faculty and Graduate Working Groups on Cities, Space and Politics (2017-18) and Nature, Space and Politics (2018-19) as part of the International Institute here at UC San Diego where I am also a member of the 2018-19 Sawyer Seminar: Claiming the City: urban citizenship, hybrid cultures, & governance in the current era.

I am also an affiliate faculty at The Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies (CILAS), The Center for U.S-Mexican Studies, the Studio for Tactical Ethnography, The Chicano/a Latino/a Arts and Humanities Program and the International Institute.

Projects

My research specializes in understanding the social and spatial inequalities produced by the tourism industry when it is employed as a development tool. This research builds on four different but closely related projects:

Ecotourism Development, Conservation, Labor Mobilities

Ecotourism Development, Neoliberal Conservation, Natural Protected Areas, Labor Mobilities, Space Production, Environmental Managerialism, Commodification of Nature, Spectacle.

Heritage Politics, Colonial Imaginaries, Indigenous Luxury Tourism

Community Development, Cultural Heritage, Landscapes and Materiality, Public Policies, Space and Place, Colonial Continuities, Social Inequalities, Elite Mobilities, Indigenous Governance.

Ecological Crisis, Urban Governance and Informality 

Urban Governance, Built Environment, Tourism Infrastructures, Enclave Geographies, Space and Resource Enclosures, Disaster Capitalism, Moral Economy.

Domestic Maquila, Souvenir Production, Debt

Global Production Networks, Crafts and Commodity Chains, Maquiladoras, Cosmopolitanism, Emergent Rural-Urban Forms, Financial Capitalism, Debt as Sociality, Ethnographic Documentary.

This is a list with the titles and course overviews of the most recent undergraduate courses I have taught at UC, San Diego (2013-2018):

COMM 181. Neoliberal Cities (Spring 2017; Spring 2018; Spring 2019). Explores the uneven nature of globalization and its geographical expression in the built environment by looking into gentrification processes, community change, consumer-citizen spaces and labor in service-oriented economies in the Global North and in the Global South. Hands on research involved work in shopping malls, theme parks, public plazas and parks, hotels and public transportation in and around the city of San Diego.

COMM 159. Tourism, Power and Place (Fall 2017; Spring 2018). Explores the tourism industry’s relations with power and place. It studies tourism encounters around the world to question the discourses, imaginaries and social practices involved in the production, consumption and re-production of stereotypical representations of otherness (place, nature, culture, bodies). The course introduces main theoretical concepts in the study of tourism from an anthropological lens (the tourist gaze, tourism stages, tourism encounters, tourism performances) and it strongly builds on ethnographic materials from around the world with a hands on research emphasis in San Diego, a city with one of the largest service economies in the world & US main craft brewery destination!

COMM 162. Advanced Studies in Cultural Industries: Framing the Other in Cultural Tourism (Spring, 2015). Cultural Tourism is one of the largest creative industries in the world and a powerful one when it comes to create images and experiences of cultural difference. This course critically explores the ways in which the cultural tourism industry -including culinary tourism, ethnographic tourism, literary and cinematographic tourism, ‘voluntourism’ and slum tourism among others- depicts other places and peoples for consumption purposes. We will pay special attention to practices of framing the Other for tourists and to the consequences that such representations have upon other people’s everyday practices and lived spaces.

COMM 180. Advanced Studies in Communication Theory: Branding and Consuming Nature (Spring, 2015; Fall 2017). This course discusses the processes of branding and consuming nature that are characteristic of globalization processes. It uses a sociocultural approach to analyze specific case studies where natural spaces and its resources have been commoditized through tourism planning, conservation policies and urban development. The course pays special attention to the practices of contestation and resistance to corporate globalization as encountered in our built environment.

COMM196A and COMM 196 B Honors Seminar (Fall and Winter, 2013-2014). This seminar is designed to enable Communication students admitted to the Honors Program to conceptualize, research, and ultimately write a full-length Honors Thesis. Working in conjunction with a faculty adviser, each student will produce a substantial research essay (which may or may not incorporate a multimedia/web-based project) of no less than 40-50 pages exclusive of endnotes and bibliography. Along the way, Honors students will learn about how to ask research questions, how to think about different research methodologies, and how to use resources that will enable you to master a complex research agenda over a six-month period.  You can see some of the Honors’ Students reflections on the Department of Communication’s Honors Program here.

COMM 106G.C1 Tourism Global Industry and Cultural Form (Spring, 2014; Fall 2015; Fall 2017; Spring 2019). The largest industry in the world has far-reaching cultural ramifications. We will explore tourism’s history and its contemporary cultural effects, taking the perspective of the “toured” as well as that of the tourist. Ethnographical up to date case studies from around the world will exemplify the major patterns that organize tourism as both and industry and a social phenomenon with deep cultural and spatial implications. The course’s weeks are designed to introduce and explore different tourism models including: resort tourism, cultural tourism, ecotourism and adventure tourism, slum tourism, volunteer tourism and indigenous luxury tourism.

COMM 179 Global Nature/Global Culture (Spring, 2014; Fall 2015). Considers globalization’s impact on concepts of nature in and through media texts, information systems, circulation of consumer goods and services, the emergence of global brands, science, health initiatives, environmental media activism, technology transfer in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The course will understand globalization as a set of uneven interconnections and will pay especial attention to its spatial and socio-cultural dimensions. In the first weeks of the course, we will analyze and deconstruct the modernist binaries (local/global; nature/culture; masculine/feminine; North/South; West/the Rest etc.) that inform globalization debates and metaphors. We will then analyze through particular contemporary examples the uses and abuses of culture and nature within economic globalization processes, and explore the inequalities associated to branding for the new natural consumer, sweatshops and maquiladoras, the proliferation of global slums and reconstruction processes after “natural” crisis.

COMM152 Global Economy and Consumer Culture (Winter, 2016). This course critically examines social and economic forces that shape the making of global consumer cultures by following the flows of consumption and production between the developed and developing worlds in the 1990s until today. We will consider how consumers, workers, and citizens participate in a new globalized consumer culture that challenges older distinctions between the First and the Third World. In this course, we will focus on the flows between the U.S., Asia, and Latin America. We will ethnographically explore global commodity chains, global production networks and export-oriented industries paying special attention to the uneven production, distribution and consumption of apparel, food and cultural souvenirs.

COMM144E Gender, Labor and the Global Economy (Winter 2016). This course introduces students to different theories of globalization and of gender. Against this theoretical background, students critically examine the gendered (and racialized) nature of labor in the production of material, social, and cultural goods in the global economy. Specifically, the course will understand the global economy as a process of accumulation by dispossession. It will pay a detailed attention to processes of symbolic violence, feminization of labor, international migration and poverty. We will ethnographically explore the export- oriented industries’ dependence on docile workers in maquiladoras and in the service economy; the controversies associated with reproductive labor through the experiences of domestic workers and sex workers; the articulation of shop floor politics and worker’s contestation practices in the tech, food and garment industries; as well as depersonalization processes in zones of social abandonment and extreme poverty. Empirical materials will pay special attention to women’s narratives on these issues around the world with a particular attention to the United States, Latin America and Asia.

COMM132 Advanced Studies in Communication, Politics and Society: The Politics of Nature (Spring 2016). Specialized study of the production, consumption and mobilization of discourses about nature. Some of the topics that will be explored include: the marketing of natural brands and the production of natural consumers; the transformation of nature into spectacle; gardens as political tools; natural preservation policies and sustainable environmental planning.

COMM146 Advanced Studies in Cultural Production: Tourism Encounters (Spring 2016). This course focuses in the relationships between cultural production and tourism. The course builds on the concepts of the tourist gaze, host and guest relations, staged authenticity and the performativity of tourism to explore the encounters between the familiar and the strange, the self and the other in the alternative tourism industry.

I have worked one-on-one with several undergraduate students interested in cultural industries, the tourism industry, nature and heritage as part of COMM 199 Independent Study in Communication (Spring 2014; Spring and Fall 2015; Fall and Spring 2017) I have advised Communication’s Senior Undergraduate Students as part of their Academic Internship Programs UC, San Diego (Summer 2016) and currently I am mentoring McNair Scholar Elizabeth Rosas on her research on Homelessness in San Diego. Recently I have been able to facilitate and coordinate UC San Diego PAL- ArtsBridge undergraduate students to do their hands on research at Alice Birney IB Elementary School in University Heights, San Diego which I truly enjoy!

I earned my PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (2007), where I also received a B.A in Sociology (2001) , and a B.A and M.As in Social Anthropology (2003, 2005).

Prior to joining the Communication Department as a faculty member, I have worked as an Assistant Professor, Anthropology Department, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) (2007-2013); a Fulbright Post-doctoral Fellow at the Earth and Environmental Sciences Program and The Center for Place, Culture and Politics at The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) (2010-2012); and more recently, as a Lecturer at the Department of Communication and a Research Fellow at The Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego (2013-2016).

I am the author of one co-authored monograph, a small book on nature tourism in Yucatan, and more than a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters examining processes of spatial enclosure, the politics of heritage, tourism (im)mobilities, and the contested nature of hegemonic and alternative tourism imaginaries.

My research has been funded by The Fulbright Postdoctoral Program (2010-12); The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford (2010-2011); The National Plan for Research and Development, Ministry of Science and Innovation, Spain (2004-2008; 2008-2011; 2012-2015) and more recently, the UC San Diego’s Non-Senate Faculty Development Awards (2015; 2016).

My teaching interests include critical globalization; cultural industries and consumer cultures; tourism as a social form; the ideology and production of nature; capitalism and its ecologies; ethnographic methods. Currently I am part of the editorial boards of Revista de Antropología Social, the Journal Transfers: an interdisciplinary journal on mobility studies, and Etnográfica.

Books

Articles

 Book Chapters (selection)

 Edited Volumes

  • The Geopolitics of Tourism, Assemblages, Mobilities and the State, co-edited volume with M. Mostafanezhad and R. Norum (in progress)
  • “Anthropology, Globalization and Ethnographic Practices”, Revista de Antropología Social, 21 (in Spanish), 2012

 Book Reviews and Other Publications (selection)

Review of Devillard Desroches, MJ  “Españoles en Rusia y rusos en España. Las ambivalencias de los vínculos sociales”, in Política y Sociedad, 2008, Vol. 45 (1) 285-287, 2008