Research Projects & Public Interests

Talking Heads and Beheadings: Re-Visioning the Human/e in the Face of Monstrous Productions

I am presently thinking about the ways dominant social discourses and neocolonizing imaginaires, and the visual images they conjure, come to have particularly meaning in the public sphere. I am especially interested in the non-images that circulate and are produced as shifting assemblages and monstrous productions in times of panic.


Stories and Bodies-So-Far: Queer/ed Relational Re/Mixings as Coalitional Gestures

In this work, I am exploring queer youth-driven participatory media projects that produce, and are produced by, remixed stories and bodies. Such queer/ed remixings challenge dominant cultural logics of embodied coherence by dis- and re-articulating gender, sexuality, anatomy, and desire. I am considering the possibilities for coaltional gestures at work in these corporeal and narrative remixings and how such gestures might intervene in rhetorical appeals to "exceptional" subjects.


Zines in Third Space: Radical Cooperation and Borderlands Rhetoric**his (This

In this work, I explore the politics of articulation and the rhetorical dynamics at play in zines to demonstrate that we shape, and are shaped by discourses, as well as to reveal the potential for social alliances to produce knowledges, build coalitions, inform egalitarian social relationships and practices, and develop agendas for social justice.

I theorize borderlands’ rhetorics from a third space perspective, illustrating the potential within third space for the politics and practices of articulation and therefore for the building of coalitions engaged in social justice agendas. While my work identifies borderlands’ rhetorics operating in both academic and nonacademic discourses, I include an in-depth analysis of zines (noncommercial, often self-published magazines) to elucidate third space theory with praxis, to show how third space borderlands’ rhetorics works to challenge dominant (heteronormative) knowledges and practices, and to offer pedagogical applications for those who might be interested in using zines and other community/alternative media sources in their classrooms.

Emerging from research I conducted at Duke University’s Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Zines In Third Space develops third-space theory with a practical engagement in the subcultural space of zines as alternative media produced specifically by feminists and queers of color. I explore how borderlands’ rhetorics function in feminist, and queer of-color zines to challenge dominant knowledges as well as normativizing mis/representations. I characterizes these zines as third-space sites of borderlands rhetorics revealing dissident performances, disruptive rhetorical acts, and coalitions that effect new cultural, political, economic, and sexual configurations. offers an interdisciplinary and progressive vision of feminist coalition in theory and in practice.  I hope that the interdisciplinary reach of this manuscript, which builds upon scholarship in cultural studies, women’s studies, queer studies, rhetoric, sociology, and even critical/feminist geography, will invite wide-ranging opportunities for discussion, as well as yield a broad readership.

*(This manuscript was designated a semi-finalist in the 2008 First Book Competition in Women and Gender Studies at SUNY Press).


The Crossroads Collaborative

To change conversations requires introducing new ideas and asking new questions. The Crossroads Collaborative, a think and do tank funded by the Ford Foundation, is dedicated to advancing research, graduate training, public conversations, and ultimately social change in the areas of youth, sexuality, health, and rights.Working across disciplines has necessitated innovative inquiry. As a Co-Director of the Collaborative, I have learned that transdiciplianry work is both challenging and rewarding. It is challenging to work across institutional and community locations and disciplinary boundaries. It is rewarding, however, to be teaching and learning from emerging scholars and community activists to work beyond boundaries in creative and critical inquiries that are already resulting in a shift of conversations, policies, and research methods around youth, sexuality, health, and rights. It is also rewarding to begin presenting some of our transdisciplinary innovations and conversations to broader audiences interested in the work the Crossroads Collaborative is engaged in.


The Social Production of Latin@ Visibilities and Invisibilities: Geographies of Power in Small Town America

(Collaboration with Dr. Marta M. Maldonado)

This paper engages in a critical analysis of the socio-spatial dynamics unfolding in a rural Iowa town that has been facing rapid change since the 1990s due to growing Latino/a immigration. Community voices that emerged in interviews we co-conducted help us to consider what we call the social production of Latino/a visibilities and invisibilities: spatialized practices by individuals, families, communities, and institutions that render different Latino/a groups visible or invisible, with repercussions for survival, community integration, and political praxis. We discuss the extension of border politics and borderlands rhetorics to the US “heartland” and to other “new gateways” in order to consider how the entrenchment of a regime of deportability throughout the US creates racialized and gendered conditions for the in/visibility of heterogeneous Latino/a immigrant populations and for Latinos/as more broadly. We draw from our interviews to inform our concluding considerations of some of the theoretical and political implications of our analysis.  


Changing Demographics and Reciprocal Integration: Latino/as in Iowa and Best Practices 

(Collaboration with Dr. Marta M. Maldonado)

In new immigrant destinations in the U.S., integration is often conceived and pursued uni-directionally.  It is often conceptualized by members of receiving communities and deployed from established institutional sites.   The assumed role of receiving communities seems to be that of helping immigrants become integrated into “the mainstream.” Scholars and community practitioners are increasingly calling for a re-conceptualization of integration as a dynamic and multidirectional process. I add space to this call because space, like integration, is always dynamic, historically defined, and contested. Studies on spatialized practices are asking who is included, excluded, and displaced or erased from the public realm. In her discussions on space, Massey argues against a one-way-ness and its implied superiority and power. I believe Massey’s emphasis of relational production over one-way-ness has significant implications for new understandings of integration as a spatialized practice that is explicitly distinct from assimilation.  The understanding of the dynamic relationship between integration and space allows us to more fully represent the vibrant and fluid (sometimes unanticipated) nature of demographic and community change in new destinations.  Such re-thinking moves us away from deficit theories to engage an understanding of immigrants as knowledgeable participants and potential agents of change, and as assets for the communities in which they live. By reframing Latino/a immigrants as knowledgeable (informed and active) participants in integration and social change, I, together with my research partner, Dr. Marta M. Maldonado, seek to address the paucity of research on the local benefits of a transforming demographic, from the transformation of cultural practices, to positive institutional change – each with spatialized implications. Our aim is to explore the transformative potential of integration as a set of reciprocal practices that create a dynamic and mutually beneficial relationship between immigrant and non-immigrant populations and the spaces in which they interact. 

For an interdisciplinary research project in a small town in Iowa to identify best practices of integration from the diverse perspectives, locations, and lived experiences of Latino/a immigrants, we are using qualitative methodologies to include field observations, in-depth interviews, discourse and textual analysis, and critical social cartography to highlight the ways in which space, identity, and relations are contested and constructed and to better understand how integration is pursued, resisted, imagined, and accomplished especially in the context of new destinations.

In 2005, I was a named fellow at the Center for Excellence in Arts & the Humanities at Iowa State University for a related Interdisciplinary Research Project titled Globalization and Place-Making in Perry, Iowa:  An Exploratory Sociospatial Analysis. In 2006, we were awarded a Diversity Grant from the Office of the Provost at Iowa State University for this cross-disciplinary research project.  


aguamiel: secrets of the agave ~ a documentary film 

This film focuses on women’s cooperatives and their responses to the unequal effects that globalization imposes and aggravates including growing poverty and ongoing environmental degradation. aguamiel: secrets of the agave is an educational film intended to promote public dialogue that challenges mainstream representations of Mexican and Mexican-origin households, as well as borderlands’ communities. The perspectives and practices that emerge are from people who live along the Juarez/El Paso border. aguamiel: secrets of the agave weaves together women’s stories and everyday practices in a transnational context to show how women are using traditional and contemporary knowledge to move into practices of survival, sustainability, and security.

In New Mexico, Delia and Claudia tell how the Women’s Intercultural Center began as a gathering place to address the isolation that women in poverty and (un)documented immigrant women experience.  They tell how women in their community learned to design and build their Center using discarded, non-biodegradable tires and a rammed-earth method of construction.  Built around “Grandmother Tree,” the Center embodies traditional and contemporary values. Using a circular form of governance, and so both teaching and modeling participatory democracy, the Center has evolved into a community space that houses classes in healing arts, nutrition, organic gardening, micro-enterprise, ESL, tax preparation, and art, as well as a carpentry cooperative, a sewing cooperative, and a commercial kitchen.

In Chihuahua, Mexico, women gather to teach and learn about healing practices, practices of sustainability, health, English, community education, and micro-enterprise.  They share their process of ecological waterless toilet production; from pouring cement molds, plastering, sanding and painting to installation with community classes on hygiene, water conservation and community health.  Tina and Yoli walk us through their colonias, showing the trees they have planted while discussing the grey water filtration system they implemented using wetland grasses, rocks and charcoal. They speak to us about bronchial health and the positive effects of shade and dust control in the desert.  They lead us into greenhouses where they have planted medicinal plants for traditional healing practices. aguamiel documents the reclaiming of traditional healing practices as women make a variety of medicinal salves to address the pressing health concerns of their communities.  Of significance is the teaching of these methods not only to other community members but to young medical school students from the United States as part of a project initiated through the Women’s Intercultural Center in Anthony, NM.  Women’s use of community knowledge here, too, reveals meaningful understandings of life, values, learning, collaboration, community, micro-enterprise, equity, and sustainability.

In its broadest representation, aguamiel: secrets of the agave is a film about the space between two nations – a “third-space” that remains invisible to much of the world. The Mexico/U.S. border is a microcosm of globalization and this film highlights what everyday experts are doing to re-imagine this space and redress practices that have entrenched inequalities and injustices along the border. aguamiel’s highlights community achievement as experienced along both sides of the U.S./Mexico border and reclaims the traditional knowledges that have always been of vital importance to individual households and communities, and their practices of environmental and cultural sustainability as well as economic viability.

exploring the relationship between action research & social justice media
As a commitment to the potential for public scholarship to serve as a catalyst for social change, I am committed to collaborating with women from the cooperatives we have filmed who are pursuing social change. We will work with them to conduct community film screenings and lead discussions as a way to generate a small income through honorariums that might, in part, serve their project goals. The film will be a tool for community education --one for them to build coalition in neighboring communities and even in transnational contexts -- to teach about sustainability.  We believe that this is their story and work to represent them as the storytellers in all aspects of production and in our outreach initiative.  Ultimately, this film focuses on quality of life issues and positive social change as it identifies the meaningful collaborations that are transpiring along the U.S./Mexico border to address economic inequality and injustice, to fortify communities, and to represent and promote cultural, environmental, and economic sustainability and literacies.  

This film is a vehicle for fostering the interactions between women in local and transnational contexts.  In highlighting their lived interdependency, it can be an inspiration for students, teachers, and community members to pursue meaningful relationships across borders that can inform praxis as reflected-upon practice, research, and understanding.  Media emerges in our project as a vehicle for coalition-building, public knowledge dissemination, action, and education. Together with my collaborators, I hope to create a model for media-focused coalition-based organizing.  Using a national PBS broadcast as a focal point, we hope to advance community-based solutions to local problems and issues.  Using documentary film as accessible media, we will work with the women from the cooperatives to demonstrate ways to build alliances between people and communities in local and transnational contexts. 

post-production plan: 
While rough-cuts are being reviewed and revised, we will begin to create our bilingual study guide and organize for use in community and academic classrooms. I believe that through personal stories of positive social change, transformation can happen. The women of aguamiel, informed agents of social change, tell personal stories from both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border and in doing so emerge as theorists and practitioners – everyday experts – of sustainability, literacy, economic development, community health, and community education.  They demonstrate an understanding of the global and local implications, potentials, and (im)possibilities of their situated lived experiences on the border.

This film is a vehicle for fostering the interactions between women in local and transnational contexts.  In highlighting their lived interdependency, it can be an inspiration for students, teachers, and community members to pursue meaningful relationships across borders that can inform praxis as reflected-upon practice, research, and understanding.  Media emerges in our project as a vehicle for coalition-building, public knowledge dissemination, action, and education. Together with my collaborators, I hope to create a model for media-focused coalition-based organizing.  Considering classroom need and pedagocial potential as focal points, we hope to advance community-based solutions to local problems and issues.  Using documentary film as accessible media, we will work with the women from the cooperatives to demonstrate ways to build alliances between people and communities in local and transnational contexts.   

film production team: 
Adela C. Licona (Producer/Director/Writer). In 2006 I was awarded a Diversity Grant from the Office of the Provost at Iowa State University for initial production funding for aguamiel:  secrets of the agave

Jamie A. Lee (Producer/Director/Editor) is an award-winning, independent filmmaker who runs visionaries filmworks, a production company dedicated to social justice media. aguamiel:  secrets of the agave is Lee’s fourth documentary feature. Her latest film, Green Green Water (2006), about the Cree Nations in northern Manitoba who are organizing to critically re-consider the construction of large-scale hydroelectric dams on their lands while reclaiming their traditional ways of life, premiered at the imagineNATIVE Film Festival (Toronto, ON), the American Indian Film Festival (San Francisco, CA), and the Planet In Focus Environmental Film Festival (Toronto, ON).  It is currently screening at colleges and universities, conferences, and communities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  Lee’s first film, Treading Water:  a documentary (2001), was awarded Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary by an Emerging Filmmaker at the 2002 Minneapolis/St. Paul Int’l Film Festival and has broadcast on PBS affiliates throughout the Midwest.  Lee’s second film, THIS obedience (2003), was awarded the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at the 2003 Central Standard Film Festival and is currently being distributed through American Public Television.

Miguel Mario Licona, Ph.D., (Producer/Assistant Director/Researcher) is an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at New Mexcio State University.  He serves as Director of Secondary Education and is on the Multicultural Education, Distance Education, and Secondary Education Committees.  His recent publication collaborations include: Educational change and challenges: Constructivist, collaborative ideals in teacher preparation; Examining the impact of science fairs in marginalized communities; Deconstructing oppressor ideology in teacher preparation; and Learning science in multilingual settings.

Our academic advisors for the film include:
Robbin Crabtree, Ph.D., Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, Professor of Communication, and Past Director, Campus Center for Service Learning at Fairfield University. 

Anne-Marie Hall, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of English, and Director, Writing Program at the University of Arizona.

Neil Harvey, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Government, and Director, Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University.

Marta Maldonado, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Sociology & Latina/o Studies at Iowa State University.

Sheena Malhotra, Ph.D., Associated Professor, Women's Studies at California State University in Northridge.

Milagros Peña, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies and Director of Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research at University of Florida.

Laura Rendon, Ph.D., Professor and Department Chair, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University.


Mapping Roadside Memorials

(Collaboration with Dr. Ken McAllister)

photographs by adela c. licona


Preliminary Ideas/A Work in Progress: I am particularly interested in the production of (contested) knowledges in space - who gets written into and out of space through spatialized (mis)representations, historic accounts, and material practices. I have long wanted to document (research, archive, photograph, and film) public memorials, especially roadside memorials or descansos.  I see these public~intimate/intimate~public spaces as spaces of resistance, recognition, and devotional reflection. My interest in material space, spatialized representations, rhetoric, and public scholarship has most recently manifested itself in this growing interest in roadside memorials.  I am presently in conversation with new media scholars, rhetorical scholars, photographers, journalists, poets, folklorists, and filmmakers to begin exploring a trans-disciplinary approach to documenting, archiving, representing, and understanding the material practices, rhetorical performances, and spatialized implications of these descansos especially in the context of late capitalism and transnational migrations. I have initiated a photographic documentation of some of these descansos to which one scholar replied:

The photograph album of roadside memorials is provocative. I am especially engaged by those that show the tenderness of the shrines--the gentleness of hands that placed the remembrances--in juxtaposition with the trucks zooming by. How violent the trucks seem--as if they are the killers--and, in some way, of course they are. That makes all of us complicit because we depend on the products the trucks carry. These are, then, both individual memorials, as well as memorials to a world that we haven't made, but might, if we imagine a new kind of world together. Undoubtedly, this "message" will be conveyed even more intensely in virtual reality.


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