By Heather Brady
Robert Barr, assistant professor of political science, has received a competitive $60,000 grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation to research populism in Ecuador and Bolivia.
The grant will enable Barr to study for six to eight weeks in both Ecuador and Bolivia, returning to the United States between countries to regroup and go over the information he will obtain.
He intends to use the grant to write a book expanding the definition of populism and exploring its domestic and international implications.
Populism has resurfaced in Latin America in several notable presidencies recently, like that of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but is still a frequently misunderstood concept in the academic world.
“Everyone talks about it, but no one agrees what it is,” Barr said. “I thought that a book on the subject might be helpful.”
Barr was one of five applicants to receive the grant, which is designed for pre-tenure junior faculty.
The Conn.-based Smith Richardson Foundation is a long-time supporter of centrist and conservative think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Enterprise Institute, according to the watchdog organization mediatransparency.org. Foundation funds come from the Richardson family’s Vicks Vaporub fortune.
The Smith Richardson Foundation will award Barr’s $60,000 grant to UMW. Barr must submit a budget proposal for research items and expenses to the University.
“[The University] says that it’s my money, so as long as its use is directed towards the project, it’s fine,” Barr said.
A large portion of the funds will go to fund salaries for Barr’s interim replacement.
Barr’s interest in Latin America and its political climate began early in his academic career.
He focused on Latin American studies while receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Virginia and his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.
After receiving his doctorate, Barr conducted fieldwork in Bolivia and Peru and performed development work in El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, Senegal, and Uganda.
He currently teaches a Latin American politics course at UMW.
“I was definitely happy when they called with the news,” Barr said. “I was hopeful, of course, but I really didn’t expect it. It pays to try, I suppose.”
The grant officially ends in December, but any remaining grant money can be used past that day as long as it involves Barr’s topic of study.
“Realistically, I will research through the summer and fall, and then the writing will begin,” Barr said, “I’ve learned that establishing a fixed formal timeline is a mistake.”
Barr said that he hopes to write a book exploring the definition of populism and its domestic and international implications in the spring of 2009, but he will have resumed full-time teaching duties at that point.
“Given the teaching load, it’s difficult to find time to write, so it could be awhile,” Barr said.
Barr will begin his study in Ecuador over the summer.