Archive for August 26, 2014

Interview: Christine Schreyer and the Linguistics of Kryptonian

Christine Schreyer is assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, where she teaches courses in linguistic anthropology. Recently, Schreyer was given the unusual opportunity to contribute to the creation of the Kryptonian language for Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated Superman film, Man of Steel (2013). With such a fascinating story to tell, we interviewed Schreyer to learn more about how she approached creating an alien tongue for the iconic character and her experience working as an anthropologist in the world of big-budget entertainment.

Could we begin by learning a little about your scholarly background and interests, in particular your interest in constructed languages?

My doctoral research examined the relationship between land, language and identity amongst two Canadian indigenous communities, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, located in northern British Columbia, and the Loon River Cree First Nation, located in northern Alberta (Schreyer 2011a). I continue to work with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and we are currently working developing an interactive and participatory mapping tool that can also assist community members in re-learning their Tlingit language, particularly place names and names of resources from the land. I have also worked with Kala speakers in Papua New Guinea, where I assisted the Kala Language Committee to develop an alphabet for their language in order that it could be taught in schools, and generally strengthened within their communities.

My interest in constructed languages, however, developed out of my teaching experiences rather than my past research experiences. The textbook I use in my Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology class, The Anthropology of Language (Ottenheimer 2013), has as one of its assignment suggestions a language creation assignment. I have used a modified version of this assignment with my first year students since the fall of 2008 to great success (see Schreyer et al 2013 for a discussion of my students’ and my own reflections on this assignment). It was during the end of the fall of 2009 semester that I noticed news stories about the numerous individuals learning Na’vi, from the movie Avatar. As I like to incorporate news items that relate to my courses into class discussions, I showed this to my students and wondered at that time how so many people were learning Na’vi and why.

The following summer, I went to Papua New Guinea to conduct my research with Kala speakers for the first time and learned Tok Pisin, the national lingua franca. Learning a pidgin language was fascinating and in the fall of 2010, I taught a course that focused on “new” languages for the first time – Pidgins, Creoles and Created Languages. It was during this class that my students and I further explored who Na’vi speakers were, which led to my article “Media, Information, Technology, and Language Planning: What can endangered language communities learn from created language communities?” (2011b). In this article, I examined how created language communities, such as Klingon and Na’vi, had used media and IT to help develop their communities and raise the prestige of their languages. I discuss how minority language communities could also use some of the same techniques to raise their number of speakers, but also discuss why media and IT are not always relevant or useful to minority communities.

After this article, I developed a survey of Na’vi speakers, which I ran online during the summer of 2011. The survey was designed to determine who the Na’vi speakers were (age, gender, nationality, education levels etc.), but also how they were learning Na’vi, why they were learning Na’vi, and how they thought Na’vi would develop over time. The Na’vi community was truly wonderful and welcoming and I was overwhelmed with the number of responses I received (297 in total), as well as the support I had from Na’vi speakers who helped translate my survey into 7 other languages (Russian, Ukrainian, German, Italian, French, Hungarian, Na’vi) in order to reach the maximum number of people. The results of this survey have further confirmed for me that it might be possible for speakers of endangered languages to model some of the learning strategies of speakers of created languages in order to develop more speakers (see my website for details on the results of this survey).

There have been many famous constructed languages in the history of fantasy and science fiction, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven to Star Trek’s Klingon and, more recently, Na’vi. As far as you know, how has language theory, anthropology, work by anthropologists, etc., influenced the creation of these past languages?

I should add a comment here on terminology; I switch between using constructed languages and created languages, as a stylistic choice. However, conlang, a new addition to the Oxford English dictionary, is generally the most popular term, especially amongst those who develop languages (the conlangers, themselves).

To my knowledge, I am one of the only conlangers, who is also a professional anthropologist, and I am unsure the extent to which anthropology as a discipline has impacted the work of other conlangers. For instance, Marc Okrand, the inventor of Klingon, and Paul Frommer, the inventor of Na’vi, are both retired linguistics professors. While David Peterson, who has invented numerous popular languages for television and movies, including Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones, has a Master’s degree in Linguistics. While these individuals have worked on more recent media-driven languages, Tolkien was also trained in linguistics rather than anthropology.

However, Peterson, in a recent blog post to celebrate the inclusion of the word conlang into the Oxford dictionary, has written about the “historical method” of language creation that, he states, “Tolkien pioneered” (2014), and which he uses himself. Peterson continues that, “With the historical method, an ancestor language called a proto-language is created, and the desired language is evolved from it, via simulated linguistic evolution”. Discussions of proto-languages, as well as linguistic evolution, are concepts found within the domain of linguistic anthropology. For instance, these are both topics in my Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology class, and the language creation assignment I give my students, includes a section on language change. After first beginning their languages, including the Phonology, Morphology, and Syntax, as well as Non-Verbal communication, the students are then asked to create slang and also borrow a word from another newly created language (i.e. language evolution). In sum, it’s my belief that anthropology does have theories and ideas to offer language construction, such as the way that cultural concepts (such as gender, race, age, kinship etc.) are socially constructed and aided by language choices. I would also love to know if there are other anthropologists out there who have developed languages and what their experiences have been as opposed to those who have backgrounds in linguistics.

 

What was your familiarity with the Superman character before MAN OF STEEL reached out to you?

I would say that my knowledge of the Superman character prior to my work on Man of Steel was on par with many others who grew up with the Christopher Reeves movies. I knew the basics of the stories, but was by no means a super-fan of Superman.

 

What were the “aesthetic considerations” you wanted to bring to bear on constructing the Kryptonian language?

To be clear, I worked in association with a graphic designer named Kristen Franson while developing the Kryptonian language for Man of Steel, so the written aesthetics were developed for the most part by her to match the other aspects of design (see Wallace 2013 for more details on Kryptonian design).

My contribution to the writing was to suggest that a syllabic writing system could be used, similar to Cree syllabics, where one symbol represents a consonant/vowel pairing and the rotation of the symbol indicates what the vowel is. As well, since the reboot of the story already had the iconic “S” on Superman’s costume meaning “hope”, a second version of a writing system was also already in place when I was asked to participate. My suggestion was that these symbols for houses could be an older logographic form of writing, where one symbol represents an entire idea or word, while the syllabic system could be a newly evolved form of Kryptonian writing.

In terms of phonological “aesthetics”, I was somewhat limited to the material that was already available in the Superman canon. My initial task was to look at the names of people and places from Krypton that were found in the comics and movies and determine what all of the previously sounds used were since these sounds would need to be found within this new Kryptonian language as well. I also knew that some of the actors might potentially end up speaking the language and, as a result, I added only one sound (the voiced glottal fricative) that does not exist in the English language in order to slightly increase the “alien-like” feel of the language.

 

What was the input and feedback like from the non-anthropologists in the production?

I was given much leeway to decide how I wanted the language to be developed and the person who gave me the most feedback was Kristen, the graphic designer, as we were the ones who ended up knowing the most about how the language worked since we were using it frequently. However, Alex McDowell, Production Designer, and Helen Jarvis, Art Director, were also extremely supportive of the work that Kristen and I were doing, which was nice since it led to more opportunities for the language to be used throughout the film’s production.

 

As an anthropologist, what struck you about working in “the field” of a big-budget and highly anticipated film such as this?

I think my experience traveling to new places and meeting new people as a part of my anthropological fieldwork helped immensely in acclimatizing to the set and the “world” of Krypton, which was being designed around me. In particular, when I was on set, as a newbie to the film industry, I had to be guided through the studios. To some extent, this reminded me of my beginning trips to new field sites where individuals take it upon themselves to show you the ropes and how life proceeds. People don’t tell you the explicit rules, but you follow along, participate and observe, and learn for yourself.

As well, my work on Man of Steel, was embedded in secrecy. Early on I signed nondisclosure agreements, which stated that I could not reveal what I saw and heard during my work. I learned about the plot of the movie on my first day on set, but could not tell anyone about it. I also heard a lot of information about how production was unfolding while walking through the sets and around the studios with my guides. But again, it was a case of listening to learn but not to use. I have often had similar experiences in the field, where people talk about things in front of you, which help situate you in the field, but which are so deeply personal that they are not ever written down or shared. The secrets we as anthropologists keep are an interesting part of our discipline, although not something we are explicitly taught in fieldwork courses.

 

How was your work, and your profession as a linguistic anthropologist, understood by those you worked with? Were there any misconceptions?

Interestingly, I was very rarely labeled as an “anthropologist” when I was on the set or when I was being introduced to someone, but was instead “the linguist” who was developing Kryptonian. However, as many anthropologists who work on issues of language and culture will tell you, I’m often labeled as a “linguist” rather than as an anthropologist. Duranti’s (2009) introduction to his reader on Linguistic Anthropology does an excellent job describing the challenges with labeling the field of linguistic anthropology. Labeling the people who work in this field is equally as challenging! Again, one person, who fully understood my background as an anthropologist, was Alex McDowell. As a uniquely talented world-builder, Alex has explored anthropology himself through his work and I appreciated the conversations we had on anthropological topics.

 

What did you take from the experience? Did this project influence the way you think about your scholarly work, or your work with “real” languages?

Since my work on this project, I’ve been fascinated with the ideas of world building and the on-line worlds that people build and participate in. This has led me to re-look at my research with Na’vi speakers through the lens of digital ethnography. I’ve also had fans of Superman contact me requesting more information about how to learn the language I developed. As of now, Warner Bros., the official owners of this work, have not yet developed a learning guide for Kryptonian. Despite this, people are interested in learning the language, making me wonder, what can we do to make those interested in learning minority languages “fans” of their languages again? What can “fandoms” teach us about the enthusiasm required to help reverse language shift?

Last, through developing a language myself, I came to re-appreciate the lessons I try to teach my students in their language creation assignment. In that assignment, I want them to realize without my explicitly saying it that they need to think about who the speakers of their languages are, where they live, what they do (or in other words, to think about their culture) before they can get very far in the language creation process. In my work, I wasn’t developing a new world but attempting to make sure a world that exists so vividly in the minds of its fans, as well as in the minds of the movie production team, was fairly and accurately represented. I took their ideas of what Krypton was like, such as the history and values of Kryptonian people, and incorporated these into the language in various ways. As the Man of Steel universe expands, with new movies, I wonder how the world of Krypton might be further developed as well.

 

References:

Duranti, Alessandro (2009). Linguistic Anthropology: History, Ideas, and Issues. In Linguistic

Anthropology: A Reader, 2nd edition. A. Duranti, ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ottenheimer, Harriet J. (2013). The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Toronto: Thomson-Wadsworth. 3rd Edition.

Peterson, David. (2014). How I created the languages of Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones. Oxford University Press Blog. http://blog.oup.com/2014/07/dothraki-valyrianlanguage-game-of-thrones/

Schreyer, Christine (2011a). Re-Building Language Habitats: Connecting Language Planning and Land Planning for Sustainable Futures. Language Documentation and Description, Volume 9: 35-57

Schreyer, Christine (2011b).  Media, Information Technology and Language Planning: What can endangered language communities learn from created language communities? Current Issues in Language Planning 12(3): 403-425.

Schreyer, Christine, Clarke Ballantine, Vanessa Bella, Joanne Gabias, Brittany Ganzini, Robyn Giffen, Pamela Higgins, Justin Kroeker, David Lacho, Stacy Madill, Louisa McGlinchey, Sasha McLachlan, Shelley Nguy, Tara Wolkolsky, and Vanessa Zubot (2013). The Culture of Con-langing: What Can We Learn About Culture from Created Languages? Fiat Lingua. FL-000017-00, Fiat Lingua, <http://fiatlingua.org>. Web. 01 August 2013.

Wallace, Daniel (2013). Man of Steel: Inside the Legendary World of Superman. Insight Editions: San Rafael, California.

Upcoming September-October Conferences

Asia Minor and South America will be busy for these late summer/early fall WGF-supported conferences!

20th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists

September 10 – 14, 2014

Istanbul, Turkey

The European Association of Archaeologists’ Annual Meetings started bridging the gap between East and West in 1994 and have become the main meeting forum for archaeologists in Europe. EAA Meetings stimulate academic debate in a variety of archaeological fields, but also enhance partnership with scholars working in related disciplines, like social anthropology. The Meetings allow especially colleagues from former socialist countries to establish professional and personal contacts that often develop into long-term co-operations. EAA Meetings attract an ever increasing number of attendees (1356 in 2013), many of whom are early-stage researchers (some 160 in 2013) seeking to discuss their results with established colleagues at an international level. This is attested also by the growing number of submissions for the Student Award, conferred on the best conference paper by a student or archaeologist working on a dissertation, and then published in the European Journal of Archaeology. As well as academic sessions and the poster exhibition, EAA Annual Meetings host a range of round tables and working party meetings where current themes in European Archaeology, as well as policies setting standards for professional practice and ethics, are discussed. These are often taken up by European institutions, such as the Council of Europe.

 

Cultures Of Crisis: Experiencing And Coping With Upheavals And Disasters In Southeast Europe

September 18 – 21, 2014

Istanbul, Turkey

Both the history of the last two centuries and the present of Southeast Europe are marked by deep transformations and upheavals. For entire societies, social groups and individuals all these upheavals and crises meant the experience of fundamental discontinuities, of historical and social ruptures that divided time into periods ‘before’ and periods ‘after’, experiences that structured peoples’ lives and historical memories. In many cases the ongoing crisis became a way of life. The primary goal of the conference will not be to elucidate the natural, political, military or socioeconomic causes of societal, social or individual crises but rather will focus, from an ethnological or anthropological perspective, on the reactions of societies, of social groups, or of individuals to such crises, on their impact on the everyday life of people, on their various strategies of managing and coping with them, on the processes of adaptation and interpretation, and on peoples’ concepts and attitudes, shortly: on the cultures of crisis in Southeast Europe.

 

7th Meeting of Archaeological Theory in South America (TAAS)

October 6-10, 2014

San Felipe, Chile

The TAAS (Teoría Arqueológica en América del Sur) was born from the need to discuss the specific situation of Latin American archaeologies and its positioning regarding global theoretical paradigms. The 7th TAAS will be the first time for this event to take place on the Pacific coast of the continent. The TAAS aims to provide the chance to open a more democratic and critical engagement between professionals, students, and a burgeoning and diverse group of local stakeholders of the past, to achieve a better theoretical, ethical and practical framework for archaeological practice. We expect to have up to 350-400 participants, including students, junior and senior archaeologists and different stakeholders (mainly indigenous representatives) from several Latin American and other countries. Due to its nature, TAAS also welcomes the participation of specialists of related disciplinary fields whose work resonates with the interests of archaeology, promoting an open discussion on a variegated set of topics.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Bilge Firat

"No Borders Between Brothers" and bombshell graffiti on "Fortress Europe" set up in front of the European Parliament during 2009 European elections

Bilge Firat is Lecturer in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Istanbul Technical University. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the State University of New York, Binghamton, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Negotiation of Turkish Europeanization in Brussels,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas M. Wilson, investigating how lobbying as a politico-cultural communicative practice works in facilitating the enlargement dynamic of the E.U. towards the Republic of Turkey. In 2013, now on the faculty of Istanbul Technical University, Dr. Firat received the Engaged Anthropology Grant and used it to organize a unique opportunity for political actors who would normally not be in dialog with each other to discuss political and cultural issues outside of a formal context. 

Europeanization alla Turca? A Communicative Engagement Event Towards the Positive Agenda

While conducting my Wenner Gren-supported dissertation fieldwork on Turkish Europeanization and lobbying in Brussels, I observed Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership talks (or accession negotiations, in Eurospeak) to gradually undergo a stalemate from 2008 to 2009. This stalemate, or rather crisis, has since then impelled actor-agents to rethink the fundamentals of the EU-Turkey relationship. In this rethinking, I found, mutual mis/trust, pedagogical power, and other political currencies loom large. At the end of my research in Brussels, I concluded that various dynamics rendered Turkey’s bid for EU membership an anti-case. Communicative setbacks arising from existing power parameters between the EU and this candidate country contributed into the disintegration of actors and agents from one another, which in return contributed into the deepening of mistrust and the losing of political and administrative credibility among members of Turkish and non-Turkish Eurocratic policy communities—otherwise equal partners in this process. I observed mistrust as a strong political currency most commonly in policy actors’ non-communication with one another outside the given communicative channels and tokens provided by an institutional framework. I recently went back to Brussels, thanks to a Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, in order to bring together public and private negotiators of Turkey’s EU accession to discuss the nature of this anti-case and to amend their communicative holdups.[1]

In my engagement project, I proposed to nurture a para-ethnographic moment in the form of a roundtable discussion wherein participants, who would otherwise not speak to each other, were to do so by way of my mediation/meditation and to establish a new communicative channel unguided by official policies and formal institutional identities—prerequisite for establishing a sound politico-cultural dialogue and moving on with the process.

Europeanization alla Turca in session

Please take off your political hats!

These were the exact words with which the Europeanization alla Turca roundtable that I organized at the European Parliament (hereafter, the Parliament) on 17 September 2013 started. My guests included public (governmental and non-governmental) and private interest representatives from the European Union, its member states, and Turkey who have been entrusted with facilitating Turkish bid for EU membership over many years now, but many of whom have lately been estranged from one another—both personally and institutionally. About 25 policy workers congregated in Room 3H1 of the Parliament’s Altiero Spinelli Building that Tuesday evening, in order to openly debate how past achievements and limitations in the everyday of negotiations could be turned into future opportunities for the EU-Turkey relations.

I have long ago observed that the EP serves as a market place where information, interests, and influence frequently exchange hands. A Greek Member of the EP and Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats political group, Maria Eleni Koppa, kindly hosted us. In her opening remarks, she declared that Europe is a “community of values.”[2] The rest of us, after her, began to debate what this “community of values” entails for doing the daily work on the EU’s enlargement towards Turkey.

 

One of the meeting rooms through the labyrinthine corridors of the European Parliament

With Turkey, everything is political

Four speakers (including myself) reflected at that statement deriving from their European experiences and expertise from working with each other. Historical dept of the variegated relationship between Europe and Turkey was juxtaposed to the current impasse in the EU-Turkey membership process, which has its own landmark developments such as the signing of a customs union agreement between the EU and Turkey in 1996. The current deadlock in membership talks, or rather the “death spiral” as one of the speakers aptly put it in policyspeak, is plainly because “with Turkey, everything is political.” All speakers agreed that, at the individual bureaucratic level, this death spiral deepens the peculiar absence of mutual trust, lack of understanding of one another, as it further obliterates chances for the attainment of a common language between the parties to Turkey’s European tango.

“We need to build trust by living together,” stated Ms Fazilet Cinaralp, a true Turkish European and the long-term Secretary General of the European Tire and Rubber Association, a pan-European sectoral business association that also has Turkish members. “Accession is a process, and the industry is participating in this process daily with its challenges, prospects, opportunities,” she continued adding that more needs to be done.


Europe enlarges..

The venerable representative of Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists Association in Brussels, Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi remarked, “Europe enlarges, but this is not an inclusion. Nobody comes to Europe; Europe goes to those places.” He recommended that we listen to European expats (businessmen, artists and the like) living in China, who as a result of this have a unique perspective on the future of Europe, of China, and of Turkey and are very much in favor of the EU enlargement towards Turkey. In his opinion, the real questions are whether there is any will left in both sides and which interests the EU and Turkish citizens have in common. “A Europe that has successfully enlarged itself in a global order, or a shrinking Europe? Or a Europe of variable geometry where an enlarged EU could keep its core Eurozone, which may be easier to explain to its citizens.”

 

Common Interests? A perspective on the European Commission

A better language, a real understanding

An adviser to the EU’s techno-bureaucracy on energy issues, who wished to speak off-the-record, stressed the importance of proper political communication. He suggested that the way actors and agents of Turkey’s Europeanization negotiations address each other is very important, whether it is done formally or informally in a non-structured or structured environment. He confided: “There has to be a real understanding of what the other person is hearing rather than what you are saying. And we lack that deeply on both sides.” From his long-term engagement with Turkey, this adviser summed up some of the turbulence in Turkey’s EU membership talks: “There have been many capable diplomats in both sides who knew how to approach an issue. But it only takes one person to say something stupid, and that throws off the entire relationship.”

The roundtable provided a platform for the participants to share their experiences with each other. Others such as officials from European Commission’s various directorate generals, civil society actors from the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions also made interventions from around the table. It was not an easy task to bring them together, especially as an anthropologist with no institutional or political attachment in Brussels. But in the end, we were able to take off our hats that evening, albeit for a brief moment.



[1] I would like to acknowledge the help and support I received from two individuals in organizing this event: Aslihan Tekin and Evangelos Tountas, my long-time and more recent friends.

[2] Ms. Koppa was the only person who was not asked to take her political hat off, anticipating that a politician could never agree to that.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Simón Uribe

Visit of the veeduría to the road project area, vereda Campucana

Simón Uribe is Lecturer in the Department of History at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. In 2009, while a Ph.D. student in Geology at the London School of Economics, Uribe received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The State at the Frontier: A Historical Ethnography of a Road in the Putumayo Region of Colombia,’ supervised by Dr. Sharad Chari. In 2014, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his fieldsite and share his research with the community that hosted him.

During 2010 I conducted fieldwork in the Colombian Putumayo, a border province in the southwest part of the country traditionally portrayed as a marginal territory marked by conflict, lawlessness and violence. My research focused on the history and ethnography of a road connecting the Andean and Amazon regions, and sought to explore the processes and practices of state-building in this particular province. The history of this road dates back to the mid nineteenth century and goes up to the present, during which time it has undergone various transformations, from an indigenous trail to a colonisation road and, more recently, to a road project part of a large interoceanic scheme aimed at connecting the Atlantic and Pacific through Brazil and Colombia.

Interview exercise, vereda Guaduales

The idea of applying for the Wenner-Gren Engagement Grant originated from a central concern of my research, related to the conflicts around the current road project. The passage of the road through the Amazon-Andes Piedmont, home to indigenous and peasant communities and one of the regions of greatest biodiversity in the world, has been a point of contention on environmental and social grounds. However, the public debate about the road’s actual and potential impacts and conflicts has largely neglected the broader historical and political dynamics in which such conflicts and impacts are grounded. The Engagement project, conceived in conjunction with the veeduría ciudadana (citizen oversight organization) of the road project, sought to address this problem in two related ways: first, by generating awareness among the local community about the importance of understanding such dynamics in order to face the multiple social, economic and environmental challenges associated to the road; and second, to collectively develop strategies aimed at translating this awareness into effective actions.

Editing and blog workshop in Mocoa.

Taking into consideration the veeduría’s current main challenges and problems, the project focused on the development of citizen journalism as a way to strengthen the organization, as well as to encourage wider involvement of the broader community as veedores (overseers) of the road. The first strategy or component of the project was to provide basic training in media skills to both members of the veeduría and other people interested in joining the organization, especially among the veredas (rural communities) directly affected by the road. This training, carried out with basic equipment provided by the project (digital cameras and voice recorders), was developed through a series of workshops over a period of six weeks. These workshops covered different topics such as journalism ethics and local history, as well as a wide range of skills, from photo and video reporting to editing and uploading. As the guiding principle of the workshops was to learn by doing, they consisted largely of field activities and exercises like visits to the road project area; interviews with project’s functionaries, road workers, and the local community; and reportage of conflicts and events associated to the project.

Drone video of the construction of the road elaborated by members of the veeduría

More importantly, and apart from those activities, the workshops provided a space for dialogue and discussion, where participants exchanged ideas ant thoughts about the road project and the subject of participation and involvement in the veeduría. The latter has always been a difficult and sometimes controversial issue, especially since mega-projects of this sort are usually an important source of jobs –though temporal and mostly unqualified- for locals, a situation severing community ties and hindering people’s capacity to organize and act collectively. At the same time, however, the rapid changes brought to the area by the project as daily evidenced by the increasing presence and traffic of heavy machinery and workers, has triggered anxieties and concerns among those living in the vicinity of the future road. In this context, the workshops offered a valuable opportunity to reflect not only about the project’s current impacts and conflicts but the meaning and long-term implications of the road.

Radio program of the veeduría

The main outcome of the workshops was a blog site of the veeduría. This blog was collectively constructed and conceived as a virtual space for the veedores to report, denounce, and inform the broader public about the different problems and issues surrounding the road project. The blog will support the second strategy of the project, which consisted of the development of a radio program for the veeduría. This strategy was regarded by the veedores as crucial for their mission, especially since radio is a widely used source of information and public debate in the region. As some of the members of the veeduría have experience in radio, the project’s contribution was to provide funds to buy radio air time in one of Mocoa’s (Putumayo’s capital) radio stations. The program, of half an hour duration, is currently being broadcasted daily by Radio Waira, Putumayo’s indigenous organization radio station. Both the radio program and the blog will contribute significantly to the veeduría by making visible their role and activities in the road project. Finally, and at a broader level, they will help generate awareness on the importance of civil society engagement in public policy processes, and of the relevance of communication and media technologies as effective tools of social action.