All eyes will be on Rio when Brazil hosts the Olympics this month but RMIT’s Dr Elizabeth Kath is ahead of the game, with a new book exploring Australia’s relationship with Latin America.
Australian-Latin American Relations: New Links in a Changing Global Landscape celebrated its Australian launch recently with an introduction by RMIT’s Professor David Hayward and a speech by the Victorian Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Telmo Languiller.
Kath, who edited the publication, says the relationship between Australia and Latin America has received little scholarly attention in the past and part of her goal was to encourage students and other scholars to explore this area.
“We’ve made a start by researching various dimensions of Australian-Latin American relations, but much remains to be explored,” she said.
Here, Kath talks more about her research and the impact of these newly emerging relations across the Pacific.
What is your current research focus?
I have a long-standing interest in Latin America, with periods of research in Brazil, Mexico and Cuba. Recently I’ve been focused on Australia’s relations with the region, which has resulted in the new book.
How did the book come about?
What really sparked the idea was the dramatic turnaround we’ve witnessed in Australia in the way we relate to Latin America – so increasing interest, new migration flows and changing perceptions of the region, and expanding relations in diplomacy, education and business.
There was a moment a few years ago when I realised I had probably seen more Latin America-focused events in Australia in a 12-month period than I had seen in the previous 10 years! For the community of scholars in Australia who work in Latin-American studies, these developments were really exciting and we felt a need for further research.
Why is it important we understand Australia’s relationship with Latin America?
Historically, Latin America has been a blind spot for Australia. The perception in Australia has been that Latin America is too remote, disconnected, and politically irrelevant to warrant any serious scholarly or public attention.
Our news media has historically avoided coverage of Latin American news, and there has been very little mention of the region in our school or university curricula.
But interest in the region has increased dramatically and it’s more important than ever for us know the changes we’re facing. Australian universities are attracting Latin American students; we’ve seen new diplomatic relations emerging; investment in mining and other business sectors expanding; not to mention a growing fascination here with Latin American food, music, dance and other forms of popular culture.
We have also seen a new wave of migrants from Latin America who are highly skilled, highly educated, often very entrepreneurial, and who I think will become increasingly influential in Australia.
Now the book has been released, where are you looking to next?
In terms of continuing the work we’ve started, I’m keen to explore how the conditions of the global era play a role in newly emerging relations across the pacific. We are living in an increasingly interconnected world, and this affects all aspects of our relations with other regions, including Latin America.
How has your work developed over the years?
I think the nature of research is that it’s a constant process of exploration. My research has branched off in many directions over the years. Research is often a collaborative process too, and collaborating researchers spark one another’s interests.
I’ve been lucky to work with some very inspiring scholars with fascinating research interests, and they have also influenced me. Releasing Australian-Latin American Relations for example, it was my first edited book, so this time around I was able to share the joy with 11 other people!
Story: Sean O’Malley