Featured Faculty: Dr. Laurie Medina

Laurie MedinaSince she became director in fall of 2015, Dr. Laurie Medina has been working with staff and affiliated faculty at MSU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) to build new research initiatives and to identify new opportunities for collaboration across campus and with partners abroad. During her first year as director, the center added 18 new core faculty, representing seven different colleges; MSU signed an agreement with Mexico’s Consejo Nacional de Ciencias y Technologia (the equivalent of the NSF in the US) to fund graduate study at MSU by Mexican students and short-term research exchanges; and CLACS engaged US and Colombian government agencies and higher education institutions to develop initiatives for post-conflict development and peace building as Colombia emerges from 50-years of civil conflict.

Dr. Medina is also working on the last chapter of a book manuscript based on research in Belize. Building on her earlier research on agricultural development, the research for this book began with a project focused on the implementation of ecotourism in three Maya communities in southern Belize. This research revealed novel political arrangements through which communities and natural resources were being governed in Belize. Rather than being governed by the Belizean state, both people and protected areas were being managed by a transnational alliance of conservation NGOs and by market mechanisms. A 2010 article in the Political and Legal Anthropology Review explores the former, while a 2015 article in the American Anthropologist focuses on the latter.

During the time that Dr. Medina was conducting this research on ecotourism, the Maya communities in which she was working were pursuing a land claim based on indigenous rights. She began to follow the progress of this claim through a series of legal cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Belizean judicial system, spending most of one summer teaching herself the fundamentals of international law. The Belizean Maya case was an early and influential case in the development of an inter-American jurisprudence on indigenous land rights and has played a role in strengthening the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The international legal impacts of this case formed the basis for a 2016 article in the Political and Legal Anthropology Review on the production of indigenous land rights. While the first half of her book manuscript focuses on how contemporary processes of “government” operate through markets and non-governmental organizations, the second half analyzes the practice of contemporary sovereignty and the production of rights, as they intersect in the Maya land claim.

Dr. Medina is currently involved with colleagues from MSU and other institutions in developing a new comparative project that will focus on the implementation of judicial decisions in favor of indigenous land rights. The project will encompass four research sites in Central America where indigenous communities have won land claims in the Inter-American Human Rights System: the Maya case from southern Belize; a Garifuna case from Honduras; and two sites that emerged from the precedent-setting case of Awas Tingni in Nicaragua, the northern and southern autonomous regions of the Caribbean coast. Dr. Medina, Dr. Jennifer Goett from James Madison College, and colleagues from the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of San Francisco are drafting a proposal for NSF’s Law and Social Science Program. Although each of their case studies is extremely complex, they hope that systematic data collection and analysis will enable them to see beyond this complexity to identify similarities in outcomes and the drivers that produce them.

This article appears in our Fall 2016 newsletter. Read the entire newsletter here.