Born and raised in rural Hamilton, Ontario, I always set my sights far beyond the farmland I sprouted from. After attending the University of Guelph (2005-2009) for my B.A.H. in International Development I realized my thirst for knowledge was barely quenched. Encouraged by my undergraduate professors in Economic Development and International Relations, I applied and was accepted to the University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC’s) growing International Studies Program.
Moving across the country to the northern community of Prince George was nothing less than exhilarating and a life altering experience. Although I was originally engaged in an Economic Development focused Thesis, I was challenged by Geographer Dr. Catherine Nolin to join her field school to Guatemala in the spring of 2010. Dr. Nolin tasked me to experience the world with my own eyes, rather than a textbook. Somewhere between the mountains of El Estor, Guatemala, my comprehension of the world changed. My participation on the 2010 UNBC/Rights Action field school gave me courage to change my M.A. Thesis topic, and within 2 months, I returned to Guatemala to conduct interviews with Indigenous Maya leaders (August 2010).
Therein, I committed my academic and personal life to the ‘unlearning’ of development practices. Amplifying Voices of Development: Insights from Indigenous Maya Leaders of El Quiché, Guatemala was successfully defended in 2011 with the supervision of Dr. Nolin, but my curiosity of ‘development’ had only just begun. I moved back to Ontario later that fall (2011), and started the Ph.D. program in the Department of Geography with the guidance of Dr. George W. Lovell. I have completed all coursework requirements at Queen’s University, as well as preliminary fieldwork in Guatemala. I am currently working through my Dissertation proposal with my committee in preparation to return to Guatemala in the summer of 2013 for further fieldwork.
My research interests range in relation to my M.A. and Ph.D. experience. They include, but are not limited to: Critical Development Theory, Contemporary Guatemala, Human Rights and Social Justice, Genocide, Extractive Resources, Mining, Canadian Mining Companies, Human Rights Defenders, Activism, Feminist Methodologies, Activist Methodologies, Neoliberal Development, Non-Government Organizations, Grey Literature and Solidarity.
M.A. RESEARCH (UNBC 2009-2011)
Amplifying Voices of Development: Insights from Indigenous Maya Leaders of El Quiché, Guatemala presents findings of a my research project in which I sought the perspectives of eight Indigenous Maya leaders of El Quiché, Guatemala. Based on interviews conducted in September 2010 in the Guatemalan highland city of Santa Cruz del Quiché and surrounding area, I attempted to better understand the meaning(s) of the word development from an Indigenous perspective, and how a self-determined vision of life best suits local communities. Based on their lived experiences, the Indigenous Maya interviewees asserted that ‘development’ practices prescribed by the local government and country’s elites, as well as outside non- government organizations and multinational corporations, are not in the best interests of the Indigenous population. I attempted to highlight how the imposition of the ‘development’ itself has become, to these leaders, synonymous with forms of racism, inequality, exclusion, oppression and a loss of Indigenous identity and culture. Rather, Maya leaders in El Quiché stress the right to self-determined development, cultural preservation and a more holistic vision of life for individuals and communities.
PH.D. RESEARCH (Queen’s University 2011-2015)
Landscapes of Fear: Community Resistance to Neoliberal Development in Guatemala examines the changing emotional and human conditions in the communities of San José del Golfo and San Rafael las Flores, and the impact on daily life in Guatemala as a result of Canadian mining companies operating locally under a Neoliberal development agenda. ‘Development’ practices promoted through Canada’s Neoliberal economic policies, international business strategies, and relations in Guatemala have had a detrimental impact on community life. As a troubled, post-conflict nation, this Central American country has endured centuries of conquest and colonialism resulting in continuous Indigenous and non- Indigenous struggles for land, rights, and self-determined development. Canada is home to a large number of multinational resource extraction companies operating in Guatemala, several of them under scrutiny for human rights violations. Communities peacefully opposing mining as ‘development’ are routinely targeted for reprisal; violence and intimidation are increasingly the heavy-handed norm. Since 2000, the number of attacks on national and international anti-mining protesters has increased dramatically, triggering renewed outbreaks of terror and surveillance not seen since Guatemala’s thirty-six year armed conflict (1960-1996). Yi-Fu Tuan’s notions of “landscapes of fear” serve as the theoretical framework within which to contextualize and situate impacts on communities who resist extractive industries as a form of ‘development’.
Recent Conference/Public Presentations
3rd International Graduate Student Research Conference on Latin America and the Caribbean, York University, Toronto, Ontario, March 15/16th 2013.
American Association of Geographers (AAG) Conference, Los Angeles, California, USA, April 9th 2013.
Keynote Speaker, “Guatemala: “A Beauty that Hurts,” Guatemala/Canada Solidarity Network, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, April 25th 2012.
American Association of Geographers (AAG) Conference, Seattle, Washington, USA , April 12th 2011.
6th Annual UNBC Graduate Conference: Methodology Roundtable, UNBC, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, March 15th 2011.
2012/2013 Queen’s University Geography Exceptional Merit Award
2012/2013 Queen’s University Graduate Award
2011/2012 Queen’s University Graduate Award
Geography Unit Graduate Ethics Board (GREB) Member, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2011 to present.
Member of the Guatemala/Canada Solidarity Network, Kingston Ontario, Canada, 2011 to present.
Volunteer with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), June 2012.
Volunteer with Peace House’s Youth Mural Painting Project, Guatemala, June 2011.
President of the International Development Society (IDS) of UNBC, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, 2010 to 2011.
English as a Second Language (ESL) Conversation Partner, Learning Commons, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 2005 to 2009.
Pedersen, Alexandra (2013) Book Review: Enclosed: Conservation, Cattle, and Commerce Among the Q’eqchi’ Maya Lowlanders. Journal of International Development. “Forthcoming.”
Pedersen, Alexandra. (2012) Brave Yolanda 'Yoli' Oquelí Veliz Post-Shooting [Photograph]. Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) News, July 1 2012. Edited by: Daniel Schwartz. Written by Rev. Emilie Smith. Series Title: How Canada Sees the World. Available from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/06/29/f-canada-image.html