Faculty Spotlight: Gastón Wright, IES Abroad Buenos Aires

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IES Abroad

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gastón Wright has been teaching at IES Abroad Buenos Aires since 2008. With a B.A. in Political Science from Del Salvador University, and an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto, he started his academic career as a TA and Lecturer in Argentina and Canada. Gastón has lived, worked, and studied abroad in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. He is also Argentina’s Country Director at Change.org and shares with students how new technologies and entrepreneurial ideas can help make a significant change in Latin America, a region that has to cope with high levels of corruption and inefficiency, among other issues.


IES Abroad: What courses can IES Abroad students take with you in Buenos Aires?

GW: I teach a Political Science and International Relations course titled, PO/IR 353 Contemporary Latin American Politics.

My area of specialization is in the political economy of development, particularly on the relationship between institutions governing economic public policies and the presidency.

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IES Abroad: What makes Buenos Aires, Argentina, such a particularly relevant place to study Latin American Politics?

GW: Buenos Aires is a politically-charged place. Many things have happened in Buenos Aires in the last 60 years—from the emergence of Peronism to a long process of political instability that ended with serious human rights violations in the 70s. Buenos Aires is also the place where the “third wave” of democratic transitions in Latin America started in 1983. Combine all of this history with Buenos Aires’ vibrant culture and a society that talks about politics everywhere makes it an excellence place to study Latin American politics.

IES Abroad: You’ve taught in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. What is the biggest cultural difference teaching in Argentina?

GW: I think the biggest difference is the context in which you are teaching. If you are teaching about Latin America or Argentina, being in Buenos Aires allows you to have a different conversation with students. They can experiment the actual processes we are discussing by walking on the streets or just talking to their Argentine friends. Another difference is related to the degree of political involvement of the students. I also teach at the University of Buenos Aires, the biggest public university in Argentina, and every single student there has a political opinion and a large majority participate in political groups. Sometimes classes end up being a political discussion with a lot of passion going on. It is really hard to see that in Canada, the United States, or the Netherlands.

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IES Abroad: You have an interest in the intersection of technology and social change. Tell us more about your work with Change.org and how you incorporate this knowledge into your teaching.

GW: During the last 17 years, I have combined my work in academia with my passion for social change and technology. I have always worked on issues related to political participation, collective action to have institutions react to society's demands. The Argentine landscape was in need of an online platform to channel individuals’ demands into petitions that would put pressure on decision-makers to respond. That is the reason why in 2013 I launched Change.org Argentina with the goal of shaking up the relationships between public officials and regular citizens.

In a matter of almost four years we went from 100,000 users in 2013 to 3.7 million users in Argentina today. We are very close to hitting 10% of the population. My students at the end of the course visit the Change.org offices to have a real taste of how it is to work in an organization dedicated to empowering regular individuals to create the change they want to see. It is part of their experience that goes beyond just discussing theoretical approaches to mass mobilization in class, but to understand that participation is changing and that online tools are extremely powerful organizing mechanisms.

IES Abroad: What has been your proudest teaching moment or career achievement?

study abroad in buenos aires

GW: One of the highlights of my career has been to be able to include Change.org as a reference platform for the Argentine Congress. Today, every time there is a petition asking for new legislation or a change in the legislation, the Congress will be able to respond to the petition creating a new and innovative way of communicating between elected officials and regular citizens. 

IES Abroad: What advice do you have for students preparing to study abroad in Buenos Aires?

GW: My advice is to make the effort to e-mail professors and ask all the questions they might have about the courses they are planning on taking. It is difficult to select courses by the title or just reading the syllabus. All the professors in Buenos Aires are really accessible, friendly, and are more than willing to talk to students before applying or arrival. Every time I finish a course at IES Abroad Buenos Aires I tell my students that if they are in touch with colleagues interested in coming to Buenos Aires that they can share my e-mail address and I am more than happy to answer any questions about my Contemporary Latin American Politics course.

IES Abroad: What’s the most interesting question you’ve received from an IES Abroad student?

buenos aires, argentinaGW: The most interesting question I have received was about Peronism. Last year, during the days before the election in October, one student asked me, “Professor, there is something that I really don't understand. You are telling me that there are two candidates competing for the presidency and both say they are Peronists, however one of them seems to be more left-wing and the other is more center-right. How can Peronism be left and right at the same time?”

The question is actually one of the most important and deepest discussions in Argentine Political Science. Scholars are still trying to understand why a movement that emerged in the 40s in order to incorporate millions of people into the middle class through populist policies transitioned in the long-term into a political party that works as a pendulum according to society's mood. Peronism is an incredible electoral machine that adapts itself to the historical contexts in a way that no other party can. The political science literature has called this organization a “catch-all political party”.

IES Abroad: What is the most important takeaway you hope students leave their study abroad experience in Argentina with?

studying abroad in buenos aires

GW: For me, it is to be able to foster critical thinking about Latin American issues. Most of the courses on Latin America at the undergraduate level in the United States try to accomplish too many things at the same time. While they are very formative, they tend to focus on generalizations and cover too many countries in a short period of time. The focus is usually on why Latin American countries suffer political and economic underdevelopment. My goal is the opposite, I want my students to actually understand that there are more differences than similarities. For countries like Argentina or Uruguay, the transition from colonialism to independent republics is more similar to the European experience rather than their regional counterparts. I hope that my students finish my course and go back to the United States with a clear understanding of the differences among Latin American countries, rather than similarities.

Take your knowledge of Latin American politics to the next level when you study abroad in Buenos Aires!

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