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Get to Know Berkman Klein Fellow Paola Ricuarte Quijano

a spotlight on one of our 2018-2019 BKC Fellows

Mary Meisenzahl headshotby Mary Meisenzahl and Christina Chen

This interview is part of a collaborative effort between the summer 2018 BKC interns and the Communications team to showcase the tremendous work and backgrounds of our 2018 -'19 BKC fellows

Paola Ricuarte Quijano is a professor and researcher at the School of Education, Social Sciences and Humanities ITESM at University Tecnológico, Monterrey, Mexico. She studied journalism, gained a Masters in Latin American Studies, then pursued a PhD in Linguistics at Mexico’s National School of Anthropology. Throughout her education, she became interested in technology and how it relates to social causes. Her research interests include the empirical study on the impact of technology in social life, and digital politics and activism. 

Read more stories from our Interns and Fellows!

 

Christina: So I guess we could start with your background, if you could tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a professor at University Tecnologico de Monterrey. I work in the School of Education and Humanities in Mexico City, and I have been working with several topics around digital culture, like youth and digital culture, citizen innovation, technopolitics, and techno surveillance. So I have been working around digital culture and the Internet for some years now.

Christina: And what led you to research and work in this interesting area?

I got involved with digital culture around 2008 because I was interested in understanding first how youth related to new practices in social media. But after that I got involved with some movements in Mexico and that took me from one topic to another.

I belong to a digital rights collective, and we began working together for a common cause. We began first defending the rights of parents that lost their children; in 2009, something horrible happened. A daycare was burned and 50 children died. That was for us a very sad event, and we decided to support parents from that moment.

After that, we began working for many other causes, like equal marriage and mobility rights. At that time we were aware that the state was investing a lot of money in buying surveillance equipment, and we began research around state surveillance. In 2013 we published a report to make visible all the surveillance that the government was doing and the types of software that they were using against journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers that were involved in several movements in Mexico.

In 2013 we published a report to make visible all the surveillance that the government was doing and the types of software that they were using against journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers that were involved in several movements in Mexico.

Recently we adopted a platform to identify bots on Twitter. There is a very well-known platform called Botometer developed by Indiana University Center for Complex Networks research group, and we adapted it to Spanish to use that platform during the election campaigns, because another thing that we saw is that in Mexico, as in other countries, there were many groups trying to manipulate opinions on the internet. We decided to use this tool for people to try to identify bots on Twitter so that they would not be manipulated by different parties in Mexico.

That’s what we’ve been doing since 2008 until recently, and we’re also involved with many communities in Mexico that work with free software and open knowledge. I’ve been involved with Wikimedia groups around the globe, in Mexico in particular. I have been involved in general with digital culture-- not only in academia -- but also as an activist and volunteer for many other open knowledge groups.

I have been involved in general with digital culture-- not only in academia -- but also as an activist and volunteer for many other open knowledge groups.

Christina: Those are definitely topics that are really important. We’re both really interested in hack feminism and what that means, and what kind of research you’re doing here at the Berkman Klein Center.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that in Mexico, but also in other countries in Latin America, you can find many groups like hackers and makers and people working with citizen labs, but in general you see that there is a gender divide. There are many divides: a digital divide, an economic divide, but also a gender divide. What I found is that women are less visible in these groups, in the sense that of course there are women and men in different groups, but usually the work that they do is much less visible than the work that men do.

There are many divides: a digital divide, an economic divide, but also a gender divide.

Then, a couple of years ago I met some groups of women that were working with digital rights or digital education for other women, or digital security teaching women how to be safe, not only online but also in the physical space. In Mexico, we are living in a very violent time for women, and these young women are trying to make other women aware that you have to be safe not only in the physical sphere but in the digital sphere.

In Mexico, we are living in a very violent time for women, and these young women are trying to make other women aware that you have to be safe not only in the physical sphere but in the digital sphere.

I want to make this work by women on these topics, digital rights and feminism, visible, because they are trying to discuss and teach people that technology is also gender biased. They are making a very profound reflection around technology, but from a feminist point of view. They are not only critical about technology or the economic system, but they are also critical about patriarchy in the sense that they say that technology is reproducing the same patterns of power as other spheres of life.

So, what I want to do is document their stories and their ways of thinking about and relating to technology and to other women, because for them this is a way of creating sororities. They do not do this only for a cause, like changing the world for a macro cause, like a big transformation. Of course they want to do that, but they work more in terms of what we call micropolitics. They are not looking for big transformations of society but small transformations of people.

They are not looking for big transformations of society, but small transformations of people.

This is a completely different approach from other groups that are working towards social transformation from a macro politics view. They are working from this more private and closed sense of themselves. They want to build networks of women that are helping each other and are learning together to be more secure, to get support from others, to just know that they are together. I think its something for me at least that’s very relevant, because, when you speak about social transformation, you usually think that you need big changes of society, but they have a completely different view, a view from a group of women that learn together and work together. It's something we should learn about, and listen to what they have to tell us.

Christina: I love that.

Mary: I’m really excited to see where that goes.

Yeah! Well, They are amazing, I mean, I feel lucky because when I met them, it was a real revelation for me. You always think about how you are so involved in the world, but you don’t know how the things that you do and the way that you do them are contributing to the same system. But they are so aware of many things that you learn a lot from them. The way that they approach their lives, for example, the things you buy, things you do, for me it has been inspirational, of course, it has been an amazing experience.

You always think about how you are so involved in the world, but you don’t know how the things that you do and the way that you do them are contributing to the same system.

Christina: I’m curious about the scope of your research, are you interested in capturing the stories of women around the world?

No, no, Latin America. I just put two countries, Mexico and Brazil, to keep it small, but what I want to do is to speak to women in Latin America specifically. I’d like to also talk to women in Argentina, in Colombia, other countries.

Christina: In terms of scaling the project, I’m curious what stage you are now, what you’ve completed and where you’re looking ahead.

In terms of the project, I have been talking to these young women, they are aware of the project, and I have asked them to tell their stories. So, I’m in the process of documenting these stories, and in Boston I expect to have at least a group of stories collected so I can begin processing the information.

Christina: When you have these stories what is the best medium you have for disseminating them?

I want to make an open platform to showcase all the stories, not all of them want to make their names or cases open to the public, so I’ll need to select those stories of course with permission to collect them on the platform. I wish to publish a book also with all the stories, even without names. That would be a nice output also.

Mary: What’s something about you the people would be surprised to know?

Something curious is that I studied in Russia. I am from Ecuador actually. I first studied in Russia, then I moved to Mexico because I had a boyfriend, and I ended up in Mexico, now I’m Mexican. People are surprised to find that I was born in Colombia, but I’m from Ecuador, then I studied in Russia, and then I lived in Mexico, my children were born in the U.S. and my husband is Cuban.

Mary: What brought you to Russia?

I studied journalism.

Christina: It seems that your transnational research could inform your work in a digital world, which is interconnected and sort of borderless. I’m curious if there is anything in particular from Russia and your experience in these different countries that helps inform or further enrich your work?

My experience in Russia was relevant for me because it gave me another point of view. When you’re raised in the Western world, even if Latin America is not really considered Western, living in a completely different country with a completely different language makes you more aware of diversity, and that’s why I always try to look for diversity in everything I do. What are those other views that we are not listening to? What are those other sensibilities that we are not taking into account? We are so used to living the way we live, thinking the way we think, to gathering with people that are similar to us. Really trying to connect with other people that have been raised differently, that speak a different language, that think differently, but also that sense differently, it's a challenge.

We are so used to living the way we live, thinking the way we think, to gathering with people that are similar to us. Really trying to connect with other people that have been raised differently, that speak a different language, that think differently, but also that sense differently, it's a challenge.

Christina: Thinking about society now and everything that's going on globally, I’m curious if you have 3 things in mind that you think are really important, that society should focus more on or improve on?

Well, at this point, I am very sensitive to the gender divide in technology in particular but in general in science, and in making platforms to let people develop their own talents and possibilities, because what I think when I see a small girl, in our countries at least, is that: Girls have a lot of talent and a lot of energy, but our structures don't let them develop those talents.

Girls have a lot of talent and a lot of energy, but our structures don't let them develop those talents.

That’s why I’m focused on these gender issues in particular, of course and violence and social transformation, but we cannot expect or think that we’re going to be able to build a new society if we have these profound differences among people in every sense, economically, gender, etc. For me, the gender divide, but also these enormous divides that we have in our countries, are the most important thing.

Christina: What do you most look forward to as a fellow at the Center?

Learning from others! And also I would love to discuss our own particular contexts, problems, and views with others. That would be for me a unique opportunity to share experiences and share points of view because I think this confluence of diversity, as I told you, is the most rich way to grow and think better and do things better.

 

Read more about our Open 2019 - '20 Fellows Call for applications!

Interviewers

Mary Meisenzahl

Mary is a senior studying history at Wellesley College outside Boston, originally from Rochester, NY. Her prior work is with an NGO that monitors censorship in London and as a student journalist interested in civil liberties. During the summer of 2018, Mary worked with the Freedom of Expression team!

Christina Chen

Christina is in her second year of law school/engineering school in a dual degree JD/computer science program at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is from Brooklyn, NY and went to NYU for my undergraduate studies. After graduating from college, Christina worked as a Cybercrime Analyst at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for 4 years. During the summer of 2018, she worked with the Cyberlaw Clinic!

 

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