This page focuses on the course 21A.506 The Business of Politics: A View of Latin America as it was taught by instructor Maria Vidart-Delgado in Spring 2014.
This course examined the birth and international expansion of an American industry of political marketing with an emphasis on Latin America. It focused attention on the cultural processes, sociopolitical contexts and moral utopias that shape the practice of political marketing in the US and in different Latin American countries.
By looking at the debates and expert practices at the core of the business of politics, the course explored how the "universal" concept of democracy is interpreted and reworked through space and time. It also examined how different cultural groups experimenting with political marketing understand the role of citizens in a democracy.
Course Goals for Students
- Identify the main features of liberalism and liberalization in Latin America.
- Learn key debates about public formation and civic engagement in the age of mass media.
- Acquire research skills to relate specific ethnographic material to broader political and cultural processes.
Below, Maria Vidart-Delgado describes various aspects of how she taught 21A.506 The Business of Politics: A View of Latin America.
Engaging Students in Discussions
The wonderful thing about a class like this one is that it focuses a lot on media. One strategy I used to engage students in classroom discussions was to show YouTube clips of different Latin American politicians—mainly presidential candidates—so that students could observe different political communication styles. I routinely asked them questions, such as “Why do think, in this campaign, they chose this specific image? Who are they talking to? Who is the audience? Why does this message make sense in this country? Let’s think about the history of the country. Why is this relevant?” These questions were automatic conversation starters. In fact, students shared that before taking the class, they did not know how much went into producing political campaign ads; after the course, they began to see political ads with new eyes.
I established grading criteria for each of the assignments and provided feedback that aligned with the criteria. For example, I commented on the clarity of students’ work and the thoroughness of their research. I communicated this feedback in writing. Using rubrics in this way seemed to work well.
During the class, I also provided feedback about how students were analyzing the political materials. It was helpful to point out how they could move beyond replicating what the media was saying toward generating more of a critical analysis.
Improving the Course
If I teach this class again—and I would love to teach it again—I would be more explicit about how the themes of the course are connected. This is especially important for classes in which students with varying levels of experience are learning together. For example, I had both freshmen and juniors in this iteration of the seminar. They came with different levels of exposure to the themes in the curriculum. Being more explicit about how the themes are connected would make the class more accessible to a variety of learners.
- 21A.506 can be applied toward a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology, Humanities and Engineering, or Humanities and Science, but is not required for any of these.
This course was only offered in Spring 2014.
The students' grades were based on the following activities:
Read more of the instructor's thoughts on assessing the research project below.
Breakdown by Year
1/2 freshmen, 1/2 juniors
Typical Student Background
Students who took this course were also participating in other courses about Latin America; they had a strong interest in Latin America and its culture.
Ideal Class Size
Having between five and ten students is ideal for a course like this one. The class was very interactive. Much time was spent discussing readings, viewing media, and talking about how various themes were related. Having a larger class would reduce how much interaction could occur.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 13 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
- Met twice a week for 1.5 hours per session; 26 sessions total; mandatory attendance.
- All students were expected to complete the readings, and participate in class discussions and activities. Activities included exercises, such as explaining how one would design political polls and surveys to understand the political culture of a particular country.
Out of Class
- Readings in preparation for class sessions
- Five written reports
- One presentation