Kuecker, Glen D., Ph.D.
Harrison Hall, Room 221
Peace and Conflict Studies
Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies
Research and Teaching Interests
My current interests focus on contemporary history, especially the problem of how humanity will weather the perfect storm of multiple, large-scale, global, and concomitant crises, including climate change, thermodynamics (energy), food insecurity, demographic transformations (population growth and aging, and rapid urbanization) environmental/ecological degradation, and economic stress.
Courses Regularly Taught
HIST 115: Colonial Latin America
HIST 116: Modern Latin America
HIST 206: History of Mexico
HIST 290: Globalization (with topical focus on migration or resistance movements)
HIST 300: Latin American Environmental History
HIST 382: United States and Latin American Relations
HIST 385: Latin American Revolutions
Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty-first Century: Resistance, Power, and Democracy. Co-editor with Richard Stahler-Sholk and Harry Vanden. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008.
Globalizing Resistance: The New Politics of Social Movements in Latin America. Co-editor with Richard Stahler-Sholk and Harry Vanden. Special issue of Latin American Perspectives. Vol. 34; No. 2 (March 2007).
“From the Alienation of Neoliberal Globalization to Transmodern Ways of Being: Epistemic Change and the Collapse of the Modern World-system.” Journal of Globalization Studies. Vol. 5; No. 1 (May 2014): 154-170.
“South Korea’s New Songdo City: From Neo-liberal Globalisation to the Twenty-first Century Green Economy.” Papers of the British Association for Korean Studies. Vol. 15 (2013): 20-36.
“Any Port in the Perfect Storm: Port Cities and 21st Century Challenges.” BDC - Bulletin of the Department of Conservation of Architectural and Environmental Assets. University of Naples Federico II. Vol. 12; No. 1. (2012): 328-334.
“Resilience and Community in the Age of World-System Collapse.” Co-authored with Thomas Hall. Nature and Culture. Vol. 6; No. 1. (2011): 18-40.
“Turning to Community in Times of Crisis: Globally Derived Insights on Local Community Formation.” Community Development Journal. Co-authored with Martin Mulligan and Yaso Nadarajah. 2010. Doi: 10.1093/cdj/bsq002.
“Public Health, Yellow Fever, and the Making of Modern Tampico.” Urban History Review. Special issue: Public Health and the City. Vol. 36; No. 2 (Spring 2008): pp. 18-28.
“The Perfect Storm: Catastrophic Collapse in the 21st Century.” The International Journal Of Environmental, Cultural, Economic And Social Sustainability. Vol. 3; Issue 5 (2007): pp. 1-10.
“Fighting for the Forests: Grassroots Resistance to Mining in Northern Ecuador.” Globalizing Resistance: The New Politics of Social Movements in Latin America. Special issue of Latin American Perspectives. Vol. 34; No. 2 (March 2007): pp. 94-107.
"El Nexo de la Fiebre Amarilla: El Espacio Urbano y la Salud Pública en el Tampico Porfiriano.” Pp. 355-390. In: El Golfo-Caribe y sus puertos. siglos XVIII. Mexico City: Instituto Mora. 2006.
“Latin American Resistance Movements in the Time of the Posts.” History Compass (2004) Vol. 2, pp. 1-27.
“Pequenas piezas para el rompecabezas: produccion de azucar en el Norte de Veracruz durante el Porfiriato." In: Memorial: boletin del archivo general del estado de Veracruz. Ano 2; Num. 4 (Enero/Abril 1999).
Chapters in Books
“Academic Activism and the Socially Just University.” Pp. 42-55. In: Kathleen Skubikowski, Catherine Wright, and Roman Graf. Editors. Social Justice Education: Inviting Faculty to Transform Their Institutions. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications, 2010.
“Fighting for the Forests Revisited: Grassroots Resistance to Mining in Northern Ecuador.” Pp. 97-112. In: Richard Stahler-Sholk, Glen David Kuecker, and Harry Vanden. Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty-first Century: Resistance, Power, and Democracy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008.
“Introduction: Globalizing Resistance: The New Politics of Social Movements in Latin America.” Co-author with Richard Stahler-Sholk and Harry Vanden. Globalizing Resistance: The New Politics of Social Movements in Latin America. Special issue of Latin American Perspectives. Vol. 34; No. 2 (March 2007): pp. 5-16.
“’The Greatest and the Worst’: Dominant and Subaltern Memories of the Dos Bocas Well Fire of 1908.” In: Peter Gray and Kendrick Oliver, Editors. The Memory of Catastrophe. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2004.
“Alejandro Prieto: Científico from the Provinces.” In: Jeffrey Pilcher, Editor. The Human Tradition in Mexico. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003.
“Mining.” In: Steven Danver, Editor. Native Peoples of the World. M. E. Sharpe, 2012.
“Counterinsurgency.” In: Thomas Leonard. Editor. Encyclopedia of United States-Latin American Relations. CQ Press, 2012.
“School of the Americas.” In: Thomas Leonard. Editor. Encyclopedia of United States-Latin American Relations. CQ Press, 2012.
“Zapatista Uprising, 1994.” In: Thomas Leonard. Editor. Encyclopedia of United States-Latin American Relations. CQ Press, 2012.
“Containerized Freight.” Akira Iriye and Pierre-Yves Saunier, editors. The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
“Border Patrol.” Richard Schaefer. Editor. Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society. Sage Publications, 2008.
Extended Book Review
“Book Review Essay: Understanding Latin America In The Era Of Globalization.” Journal of World-Systems Research. Extended review of William Robinson’s Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective. Vol. 17; No. 1 (2011): 236-243.
Extended review essay of Korten, David. When Corporations Rule the World and The Post Corporate World. Review of Radical Political Economics. Vol. 38; No. 3 (Summer 2006): pp. 430-435.
Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Ph. D. Latin American and global history. 1989- 1998.
Colegio de México, Mexico City. Summer graduate program. 1990.
De Paul University, Chicago, Illinois. Graduate classes. 1987-1989.
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Part time classes. 1996.
St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. B. A. in History and Political Science. 1980-1984.
Chicago White Sox Fan, birth to present.
Grateful Dead devotee, 1976 to present.
Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty First Century. Designated Outstanding Academic Titles, 2009. Choice Reviews Online.
University Professor, DePauw University. 2008-2012.
The 21st century will be defined by a perfect storm of multiple, large-scale, synchronous, and interconnected crises. Society will call upon higher education to advance solutions to climate change, energy transition, demographic shift (rapid urbanization, aging of the population, and population growth and eventual decline), pandemics, food insecurity, conflict, ecological stress, and economic crises. We also offer society the epistemological foundations for understanding the deep transformations in ways of seeing, being, thinking, and acting that the perfect storm entails. Society demands that liberal education provide an epistemic for weathering the perfect storm. The challenge is immense, beyond the scope of master campus plans, general education reform, or finding balance within faculty life. Facing the challenge of weathering the perfect storm is central to my continued development as a teacher.
Preparing students for life-long learning within the perfect storm requires a pedagogy that anticipates a continued and intensified destabilization of knowledge. As collapse becomes our dominant reality, instability will enhance multiple challenges to the old certainties of modern knowledge. The resulting turbulence can allow liberation from old paradigms and permit new ways of being and thinking to emerge. Our students will experience this liberation and participate in the forging of new ways of being, seeing, thinking, and acting. It is an exciting yet daunting proposition, one that I enthusiastically embrace in my teaching. Liberal education is well positioned to participate in this emergence, especially if it fosters three key pedagogies.
First, liberal education has a proven track record for integrated studies. Unlike interdisciplinary studies, which reflects the traditional disciplines by locating knowledge within bounded domains of specialization, integrated studies fosters academic programs without walls. Having a holistic approach, integrated studies leverages liberal education’s mandate for the open exploration of ideas, free of disciplinary dogma, assumptions, and bias. An integrated studies approach empowers students to produce the new knowledge needed to weather the perfect storm by bringing them to a trans-disciplinary critical inquiry into the human condition during an epoch defined by the rupture from modernity. A key part of this pedagogy is discernment: the process of evaluating those timeless propositions, ideas, and values generated by traditions past with the goal of retaining thought necessary for weathering the perfect storm. An integrated studies assessment of epistemological foundations for new thought brings added significance and importance to a great books approach to liberal inquiry.
Second, liberal education is well positioned for helping students to leverage openings and opportunities for new thinking generated by the perfect storm’s instability of knowledge. Liberal arts pedagogy invites students to destabilize their own knowledge by suspending their assumptions while evidence and alternative interpretations are explored. We encourage them to persist with this process as life-long learners. In our pedagogy we often speak of critical reasoning as problem solving. While this view has validity, I think it is very much part of the enlightenment’s sometimes problematic embrace of science. Departing from the Cartesian model, I suggest that contending with the messy world of predicaments --where difficult trade-offs fraught with disturbing moral and ethical challenges displace problems with clear solutions--will define the life-long learning of our students as well as the ways they will create new knowledge in the 21st century. Predicament thinking will be at a premium, and liberal education is well suited for this teaching task.
Fostering integrated studies and predicament thinking converge in complexity thinking, which is the third pedagogical approach for 21stcentury liberal education. We need to focus more on complexity as a critical reasoning skill, perhaps elevating it to the status of general education requirement. This proposition builds from David Orr’s essay, “What is Education For?” Joining Orr, I want students to be complexity thinkers whose understanding of the human condition is informed by concepts like feedback loops, non-linear dynamics, unknown unknowns, or thermodynamics. Complexity thinking is a necessary, if not the essential, pedagogical foundation for liberal education in the 21st century.
This teaching philosophy recognizes the critical importance of transcending the artificial and destructive divide academics have created within our main responsibilities to society: teaching, scholarship, and service (I use service here to mean the academic’s service to society). It is built upon the three-legged stool-- sometimes disturbingly wobbly other times bewilderingly sturdy-- of teaching, scholarship, and service. I see the three as integrated parts to the whole enterprise where excellence in teaching simply cannot function without aspiring to excellence in scholarship and service. It is a praxis (the transformations in knowledge generated by the merging of theory and action) driven feedback loop where teaching inspires me to research, and that research directs me to service, which produces the knowledge that I use to teach. When I am at my best, that praxis feeds the cycle once again. Central to the praxis model of liberal education is the idea that students produce knowledge through their learning, and from that production, teachers learn from their students. Teaching thus becomes a collaborative undertaking, a grand workshop of inquiry, something desperately needed in the 21st century.
A key method to my teaching philosophy is what I call “academic activism,” which I explore in my essay, “Academic Activism and the Socially Just University.” It is rooted in the strong tradition of critical pedagogy and diversity thinking that acknowledges how the divide between subjectivity and objectivity influences teaching. It embraces the messiness produced by the necessary separation of the academic from the world caused by the demand for objectivity, while embracing the reality our subjectivity. While I turn to the critical pedagogy greats like Freire, Giroux, Gramsci, hooks, and Mohanty for insight, inspiration, and guidance, it is the profound depths of knowledge created by those I engage research and service that truly informs my teaching philosophy. Their knowledge, often coming from the post-colonial, “other knowledges” of the global south—is a key part to our assessments of past intellectual traditions and the formation of a new, global epistemic forged by our response to 21st century challenges. A tribal leader in Papua New Guinea resolving community conflict through cultural recovery projects, a subsistence farmer fighting mining companies in Ecuador, a queer, indigenous, transnational migrant who has survived the violence of everyday life in Guatemala, an indigenous grandmother in the poorest community in all of Mexico, an indigenous person fighting dignity’s rebellion against neoliberal capitalism in Chiapas all produce the knowledge that I reproduce for students in my classroom. It is my conviction that this integrated, praxis driven knowledge is the key for weathering the 21st century’s perfect storm.
Commencing with my training as a Latin American historian with a secondary field in global and comparative history, the relationship between local and global has been a central concern in my scholarship. I learned to identify the macro level structures that make global processes knowable, while embracing the nuances and complexities of how people experience and give meaning to the structures that empower and limit their lives. I came to see global and local relationships from the perspective of the interplay between structure and agency, which I have approached from spatial theory developed by geographers and urban scholars. My doctoral thesis deployed post-modern geography in attempt to understand how the global process of late 19th century circuits of capital led to the port city of Tampico, Mexico’s transformation into a modern city. While interested in knowing the structural process, I also illustrated how people’s ways of being, thinking, and acting generated Tampico’s urban spaces. This concern for how the larger structures influence and are influenced by the potentialities of our lives remains a constant theme throughout my scholarship.
An unexpected turn early in my DePauw career happened when the university asked me to direct its Conflict Studies program. This required my teaching the introductory and senior seminar courses, which meant I had to learn the discipline. The introductory course invites students to learn conflict models by applying them to case studies. In selecting the case studies, I developed an interest in people resisting globalization. I began studying the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, which led to my essay, “Latin American Resistance in the Time of the Posts.” It argues that the new forms of social movements that emerged with neoliberal globalization constituted a new period in history, one distinct from the global factors giving shape to the new social movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Moving from this theoretical essay, I wrote a case study, “Fighting for the Forests,” which examined a grassroots struggle against mining in Ecuador. It explores how globalization brought mining to Ecuador, and how that process met resistance from peasant communities. My work in Ecuador led to a collaborative project with two political scientists, which produced a special issue of Latin American Perspectives that served as the foundation for a collection of essays, Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty First Century, which earned distinction as a Choice outstanding title of 2009.
Working on grassroots resistance to globalization, I became skeptical about the dominance of the globalization paradigm in the social sciences. My academic and solidarity work with the Zapatistas and those fighting mining in Ecuador led me to see that globalization is a symptom, although a very important one, to a much larger causal process. That cause is the multiple, interconnected, large-scale, and concomitant global crises that explore in my “Perfect Storm” essay. I came to this view in the mountains of Ecuador, when I was walking a path with parents of a student doing a summer research project. One of them asked me, “So, are you a Marxist?” I responded, spontaneously, that it was a moot question. I went on to explain how we were in the first phases of a new historical period defined by catastrophic systemic collapse. I realize now that mountain walk was the rough draft to my work on how we are going to weather the perfect storm.
Researchers at Globalism Research Centre (GRC), RMIT University, Melbourne, became interested in my Ecuador work after hearing a presentation I made at a sustainability conference in Chennai, India. Dr. Nadarajah invited me to Melbourne for a week of talks. The main talk I delivered became my “Academic Activism” essay. It explores the difficult challenges that emerge from merging solidarity work with scholarship. Middlebury College faculty who were leading a Mellon Foundation exploration of social justice pedagogy published the essay, which led to their inviting me to participate in two NCORE conference panels and two Breadloaf writing workshop.
GRC invited me to collaborate with their research project in Papua New Guinea, and I participated in two field research trips. These projects led to publication of “Turning to Community in Times of Crisis,” which is the template for our current book project, Weathering the Perfect Storm. The manuscript deploys 6 community case studies to illustrate how community is the key to resilience within the global crises of the 21st century. Three of the case studies are from Latin America (mining resistance in Ecuador, ex-guerrilla coffee growers in Guatemala, and Zapatistas in Mexico) and three from Asia (Tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, Urban squatters in Kuala Lumpur, and a tribe in Papua New Guinea fighting mining, clear foresting, and commercial fishing). I am the lead author, responsible for writing the Latin American case studies, an opening chapter that provides our theoretical framework on the perfect storm and transmodern community, and the concluding chapter that provides a comparative analysis of the case studies.
Collaboration with GRC led to my further deployment of post-colonial theory for thinking about the global epistemic in an era defined by the perfect storm. Work first centered on a co-authored essay with Thomas Hall, a former colleague at DePauw University, and a leading world system analyst. We co-authored an essay, “Resilience and Community in the Age of World-System Collapse,” which merged transmodern theory with world system analysis, in an effort to understand which forms of human society will weather the perfect storm. That work led me to write, “From the Alienation of Neoliberal Globalization to Transmodern Ways of Being: Epistemic Change and the Collapse of the Modern World System,” which considers the experience of alienation and its relationship to the forms of knowledge and experience held by those consigned to the periphery of the modern world system. Building from a post-colonial perspective, the essay advances the idea of transmodernity as the condition of the peripherals that emerges from modernity’s alienation, and its centrality to weathering the perfect storm. This work informs my interest in attempting to understand the new ways of being, seeing, thinking, and acting that are in the process of emergence from the turbulence of deep structural change caused by the perfect storm.
Part of my perfect storm scholarship considers the Unite Nations Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) platform’s approach toward 21st century crises. I explore how DRR reproduces uneven relations of power between the global north and south. Taking a critical theory approach, and building from the Arturo Escobar’s critique of the development paradigm, I examine how DRR is designed by academics, policy makers, and practitioners to protect development from the perfect storm. In October 2011, I presented these findings at Cornell University’s Rethinking Development conference. I argued that DRR is an important transnational platform for understanding how global-local relationships will function in the 21st century. It will increasingly define how transnational institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, and international non-governmental organizations like Oxfam will provide financial, material, and human capital to local communities. DRR will have the power to shape the destiny of nation-states as well. Understanding DRR will become increasingly important for how higher education engages community based projects, as well as multiple points of thematic focus in our curriculum.
The next step in my perfect storm research is consideration of cities within our global crises. As the global population grows to 9 billion people and 2/3 of them will be urban, the role of cities will be critical in shaping the perfect storm’s intensity and outcome. Taking a complexity perspective, I am interested in knowing to what extent cities will exacerbate the process of collapse and push humanity deeper into crises, as well as the potential for a soft collapse due to the resilient qualities of the urban form. A key part of this project is my continued learning about Asia, especially the urban transition in China. My participation in a faculty group from Wabash College and DePauw is providing a foundation for this work. We had a faculty development workshop at the East-West Center in 2011 and I traveled to Shanghai for two weeks of meetings with scholars at Fudan University.
Part of this work on cities is my current research and writing on a new urban form, the ecocity. These are the cities from scratch being built mostly in Asia, such as the Sino Singapore Tianjin Eco City project. This interest led me to analysis of South Korea’s New Songdo City, which I presented at the British Association Korea Studies Conference at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The paper is accepted for publication in the forthcoming issue of the association’s journal. In June 2013, SOAS invited me to organize a workshop on South Korea’s green economy, which led me to present further findings on New Songdo City.
I have also been engaged in a testimonial project whose subject is an orphaned, queer, indigenous person from Guatemala. I anticipate having a complete draft of the book in 2014. The informant’s story provides a rich narrative of human survival, but also gives insight about how people navigate multiple borders of difference embedded within sexual and gender identities as they interact with societal constructs of race, ethnicity, and class. Additionally, it is a migration story. The informant migrated to Mexico City, where he lived for 15 years before returning to Guatemala in 2007. His journeys shifted the ways he experienced multiple identities, while also illustrating the interplay between structure and agency in the constitution of those identities. The informant gained a partial and uneven liberation by crossing in and out of the social norms that define sexuality, gender, race, and nationality. His diverse border-crossings are rich terrain for analysis of how global processes stimulate a proliferation of identities resulting in a complex stew of empowerment and limitation within the human condition.
Looking forward, I plan to continue working on the perfect storm project, especially the urban issues pertinent to the outcome of our global crises. At the recent Eco City Summit in Nantes, France, Joan Clos, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, outlined for us the challenges ahead as the UN prepares for Habitat III in 2016. In his view, Habitat II had failed, and he pressed us about the necessity of getting it right this time. That presentation confirms for me that I am engaged in some of the most important work an academic can be doing in the 21st century.
Back to Faculty