Political Science Now

Data Collection, Opportunity Costs, and Problem Solving: Lessons from Field Research on Teachers’ Unions in Latin America

Christopher Chambers-Ju

As I prepared to leave Mexico, my efforts to access an important dataset for my dissertation became increasingly desperate. A newspaper article mentioned that the Mexican teachers’ union endorsed nearly 2,000 political candidates in the 2012 election.1 I wanted to solicit this list. For three weeks I made daily treks to the Mexican teachers’ union’s headquarters in downtown Mexico City. The union was in a dark, cavernous building. I wandered through smoked-filled offices with impressionistic portraits of the union’s president, Elba Esther Gordillo. I sought “Geraldo,” a leader of the union’s political action committee, who could tell me whether the data I sought was obtainable, or give me closure with a simple “no.”2 One day I received news that Geraldo could meet. After hurrying to his office, the receptionist told me that her boss had just stepped out to take an urgent call. Confused, I sat and waited. When it became clear that Geraldo would not appear, I left. Later I was told what had happened. Apparently, after agreeing to the interview, Geraldo informed the union’s top brass that I wanted to know about the union’s political endorsements. Because of a recent damaging leak to the press, Geraldo was ordered not to speak to me, and I was warned to stop contacting union leaders. A gatekeeper had slammed the door on my research.  [Read more.]

Data Collection, Opportunity Costs, and Problem Solving: Lessons from Field Research on Teachers’ Unions in Latin America /  PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 47 / Issue 02 / April 2014, pp 405-409