Statement of Grant Purpose
Anna Brodrecht, Mexico, Anthropology
Policy and Poverty Alleviation in Three Communities in Yucatin, Mexico
This research explores an alternative within development policy as it proposes an
anthropological reconceptualization of public programs as encounters between policy-makers
and the public. The United Nations currently embraces top-down, objective-based development
policy, which utilizes public programs as mechanisms for the direct transfer of benefits from
policy-makers to the public. As 2015 approaches, the lagging results of the Millennium
Development Goals trouble practitioners and renew public doubt about the efficacy of global
development. This study examines the disparity between political expectations and public use of
programs to determine how differences play into the ubiquitous gap between projected results
and actual results in development projects. This one-year, multi-sited ethnography of a public
development program in Yucatan, Mexico will examine both state-level development policy and
public culture to understand how each influences the results of the program.
In January of 2011, the state government of Yucatan, Mexico will begin a two-year
public program to improve health and economic opportunity among 600 indigenous Mayan
families in 20 communities. The state will fund the construction of water filtration plants in each
community in order to reduce waterborne illnesses. At the same time, the state will provide the
families with a prescribed packet of produce seeds and livestock in an attempt to jumpstart the
expansion of family farms. Program designers anticipate that greater diversity of plants and
animals on family farms will provide more complete nutrition for families while surplus can be
sold at local markets to increase family income. Improvements in health and economic
opportunity are expected to reduce poverty in these communities.
This multi-sited ethnography examines this public program as an encounter between the
state's development policy and public culture (Escobar 1995). Research will begin in the capital
city of Merida in the Secretariat of Communitarian and Social Policy, a state office that guides
social policy and designs corresponding programs. Twenty semi-structured interviews will be
conducted with policy-makers and program designers about the objectives and anticipated
outcomes of the program in relation to Yucatan's social policy. These interviews will be
recorded, transcribed and analyzed using MaxQDA to determine the epistemological foundations
of public policy and how these influence program design. In-field analysis will facilitate constant
comparison of observational data and member checks of results (Glaser and Strauss 1967).
The remainder of the research will focus on understanding local perspectives of the
program through long-term cultural immersion in each of three recipient communities. As such,
the program will not be analyzed as a top-down transfer, but as an encounter in which
knowledge, materials and ideas are offered by the state through public programs, where they may
be accepted, co-opted, internalized or rejected depending on the needs and limits of local culture
(see Wolf 1958). Semi-structured interviews with adults of a random sample of ten families in
each community will be recorded and analyzed in the field to determine how the materials and
ideas of the program are perceived and/or internalized by recipients. Participant-observation will
provide data concerning daily use, co-optation or rejection of the materials and ideas of the
program. Recordings of community meetings with government employees, radio broadcasts of
the governor's speeches and other direct encounters between policy-makers and the public will
be recorded and analyzed to determine how the eventual results of the program are negotiated.
Finally, non-recipient neighboring communities will be studied as a control group for
understanding the influences of the program in the recipient group.
Statement of Grant Purpose
Anna Brodrecht, Mexico, Anthropology
Policy and Poverty Alleviation in Three Communities in Yucatdn, Mexico
These data collection and analysis methods will determine whether and to what extent
differences in state and public interpretation of the program account for gaps in the projected and
actual results of the program. Research concerning the epistemological basis of Yucatin's social
policy and the design of this particular program will determine policy-makers' expectations of
the program and how the program is designed and implemented to achieve its goals. Immersion
in recipient communities during the implementation of the program will allow an understanding
of the local interpretation and uses of the program. These two data sets will then be
systematically compared and contrasted to understand similarities and differences in perspectives
of the program and to determine whether these factors influenced outcomes. These conclusions
are applicable to broader development theory and practice, as they take into account the public as
a legitimate player in the outcomes of development programs. Gaps in projected and actual
results are not understood as failures, but as spaces of successful negotiation and are embraced as
scientific data that can be used to improve program implementation and design around the world.
The research will be conducted over the course of 12 months. The first six weeks of the
grant period (mid-July to September 2011) will be spent conducting research within the
Secretariat. Nine months (September 2011 to July 2012) will be divided amongst the three
recipient communities. The final six weeks will be spent sharing the data and conclusions. The
Secretariat of Communitarian and Social Policy of Yucatan and, in particular, Victor Gordillo,
the designer of the program, invited me to conduct this research and will provide the resources
necessary to complete the study. The program designers and I both await the opportunity to
collaboratively apply this ethnographic research toward the improvement of public programs. I
will also provide an interactive seminar of my research in each of the three participant
communities and for the Anthropology Department of the Autonomous University of Yucatan.
This research utilizes ethnographic methods including semi-structured interviews, long-
term participant observation and text analysis. The Fulbright objective is intrinsic in these
ethnographic methods as they promote and ultimately rely on effective cross-cultural
understanding and mutual interaction. Further, this study recognizes language as a window into
culture and analyzes local idioms to understand participants' cultural perceptions of the program.
I currently speak Spanish at an advanced level. Although most people in the recipient
communities speak Spanish, Yucatec Mayan is often their mother tongue. I will attend the
Yucatec Mayan Summer Institute offered by Duke University from June to mid-July 2011 to
gain the language skills necessary to include Mayan idioms in my analysis.
This research is strengthened through its inter-institutional affiliation with the Secretariat
of Communitarian and Social Policy of Yucatan and the Department of Anthropology at the
Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY). The Secretariat's invitation embodies their interest
in using ethnographic research to improve their public programs. However, the Secretariat also
embraces me as an academic ambassador that will develop lasting partnerships with the
University of Florida and UADY. I am currently coordinating with Dr. Genny Negroe of the
Department of Anthropology at UADY to offer their students research opportunities with the
Secretariat. Further, Dr. Rodolfo Canto Saenz has agreed to advise my fieldwork and I look
forward to co-authoring future publications with him about this research. While a Fulbright
award would improve my own dissertation by funding this fieldwork, it would also assist me in
stewarding a partnership amongst the Secretariat, UADY and the University of Florida.
Anna Brodrecht, Mexico, Anthropology
This summer the Secretariat of Communitarian and Social Policy of the state of Yucatan,
Mexico invited me to conduct my PhD fieldwork through their newest social assistance program.
Although the invitation itself took only seconds, it represents a nexus of my past experiences, my
current research interests and my future goals. As the daughter of a fireman and a school bus
driver, public service factored into my values and career goals at an early age. My parents'
service and volunteerism in the community demonstrated the effectiveness of collaborative
efforts and stimulated my interest in social assistance. Although their public service careers left
us on a tight budget, my parents invested in a modest RV to introduce my brother and me to the
world outside of our home state of Alabama. Our summer and weekend road trips eventually
encouraged us to RV in Australia, where my passion for international travel came alive. I then
enrolled in an International Baccalaureate high school where I learned Spanish and began
developing the technical skills necessary to appreciate and learn in other countries.
Elon University's liberal arts curriculum and study abroad programs further fostered my
interests in public service and international travel and introduced me to careers in international
development. Upon graduation, I improved my Spanish by working small jobs to fund
backpacking trips to Spanish-speaking countries. Once I gained confidence in the language, I
applied myself to international development efforts by volunteering for an educational NGO in
the shantytowns of Lima, Peru. My experience organizing and directing a photography project
for the children put me in the position to collaborate with local people to improve their lives and
prompted me to formalize my interest in international development through graduate study.
As a Master's student at the University of Florida, I researched access to education
through another educational NGO in the shantytowns of Lima. I was disappointed to find that the
NGO focused only on the satisfaction of immediate needs without addressing the underlying
policy that inadvertently but pragmatically discriminates against poor children. Despite my own
efforts to coordinate a sewing cooperative that offered poor mothers a more sustainable self-help
solution, I left the field realizing the power of policy and the ability of anthropological research
to guide socially responsible policy-making. As such, the Secretariat's invitation offers a
collaborative environment for me to move forward with policy research. Most rewardingly, the
Secretariat looks forward to using my anthropological perspective to make their public programs
more culturally responsible. Their attentiveness to my results gives my research the potential to
positively influence social policy while benefiting recipients both today and in the future.
My affiliation with the Secretariat, The Department of Anthropology at UADY and Dr.
Rodolfo Canto Saenz facilitates interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration that will
help me in reaching my career objectives in international development. I envision a public
service career through USAID or the economic career track of the Foreign Service that will
allow me to continue shaping policy design and implementation through anthropological insight.
Learning and using Yucatec Mayan will allow me to understand the relationship between
indigenous language and culture and enable me to promote cultural consideration in future
development policy. My leadership role in establishing these partnerships and working in this
inter-institutional team will prepare me for the challenges I will face as a development
practitioner in the 21st century. My past experiences, current research interests and future goals
have thus inspired me to apply for a Fulbright Public Policy Initiative Grant so that I may unlock
the many personal, institutional and public benefits this research opportunity offers.