This fall, UW–Madison Continuing Studies was pleased to welcome Dr. Lola Loustaunau to its School for Workers, where she studies the impacts of COVID-19 on migrant workers in food processing and their experiences of resistance and collective action. Below she shares how upbringing and public policy work in Argentina impacts her research today and how she helps to empower the students who take her courses.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I am from Argentina. I grew up in a small town called Mar del Plata but moved to Buenos Aires — Argentina’s capital — to study political science at the University of Buenos Aires when I was 18. After graduating from the University of Buenos Aires, I worked for Argentina’s federal government, specifically for the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers. While I enjoyed working in public policy, I knew I wanted to continue studying, and in 2015 I moved to Eugene, Oregon, to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Oregon. I lived in Eugene until I moved to Madison this past summer.
How did you get into your field of research?
My research and academic trajectory have certainly been influenced by the sociopolitical context in Argentina and Latin America over the past two decades. I grew up during a time of big economic crises but also of very active social movements. This played a huge role in getting me more and more interested in researching processes of collective organizing and resistance and the working and living conditions of the growing precarious and informal workforce.
I realized that for the type of research I was interested in, a discipline like sociology offered some of the methodological and analytical tools I needed. I enrolled in graduate seminars on economic sociology and labor studies in both Argentina and Mexico. When I moved to the U.S., I continued my research on precarious workers and started collaborating with different worker and community organizations, many of which were led by migrant women. This, along with my own personal experience as a migrant in the U.S., reaffirmed my commitment to research that centers migrant workers’ voices and traces and analyzes their collective organizing experiences.
What attracted you to UW–Madison?
What first drew me to UW–Madison was the School for Workers itself — its mission and goals — which really line up with my research and teaching interests. Of course, I was also drawn to the university’s international prestige, academic resources and beautiful campus.
The first time I ever visited the state was during my job interview, and I immediately knew that this was the right professional space for me. While it is a big institution, it is very clear that everyone goes out of their way to create a sense of community and collaboration that I really value. Finally, I am personally committed to public education, and I was excited to be able to be part of such an outstanding public university.
Tell us what you’ll be doing in your role as an assistant professor in the School for Workers and what most excites you about the position.
I think the School for Workers is a unique department, a clear legacy of the Progressive era and the Wisconsin Idea, and I am really excited to be part of it. It is really amazing to be able to be in such an interdisciplinary space where all the faculty share a common interest in labor and in workers’ movements. The possibility of doing rigorous academic research along with public policy-oriented scholarship and teaching labor education courses to folks all over the state is very rare, and I feel truly lucky to do it.
I am also excited to continue the research I have been doing on migrant workers in the food industry here in Wisconsin. I look forward to collaborating with colleagues in the School for Workers and across campus, and of course, teaching both undergraduate and labor education courses.
What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
From the moment I start designing a course, I think not only about the materials we are covering but the community we are creating. I seek to expose students to ideas that engage social and political predicaments of contemporary society and explicitly decenter whiteness.
Starting from the students’ prior expertise, my goal is to create an empowering environment that not only allows them to become familiar with a certain body of knowledge but equips them with specific skills such as academic, news and media literacy, different writing formats, policy analysis, civic engagement, collective decision-making, time management and public speaking. I hope that in my courses, students are able to develop their own ideas and realize their abilities as active subjects engaged in the continuous construction and transformation of the world they are part of.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I am a pretty avid camper, and I am looking forward to exploring Wisconsin’s natural beauty. I am also a classically trained ballet dancer, and I am hoping to continue dancing here in Madison as well.