Lois Wasserspring

Senior Lecturer Emerita in Political Science

Focuses on the politics of development, inequality and democracy in Latin America.

Lois Wasserspring retired at the end of the 2015-16 academic year after 36 years at Wellesley.

Latin America historically has been—and remains—the most unequal region in the world. I am interested in both the roots of this inequality and its continuing impact on both political institutions and people’s lives in Latin America. The primary site of my research has been Mexico, although I have also spent substantial research time in Cuba and elsewhere throughout the region. I am particularly interested in issues of rural development and the impact of both “development” and inequality on women’s lives. My academic work in political science, therefore, is deeply influenced by both anthropology and women’s studies. My work in Oaxaca, Mexico—one of Mexico’s poorest and most indigenous states—has focused on the puzzle of why the most famous female folk artists in Mexico, all Oaxacan potters, remain poor and still struggle to survive, despite their national and international fame as artisans. I am now finishing a book based on my years of interviews with them entitled Growing Up Female in Rural Mexico. At the request of these women (“help us get clients for our ceramics”), I wrote Oaxacan Ceramics: Traditional Folk Art by Oaxacan Women, which, I am happy to report, has brought tourists to their villages.

I taught in the subfield of comparative politics. My courses focused both on Latin American topics (The Politics of Latin America, The Politics of Contemporary Cuba, Mexico: Revolution, Democracy and Drugs) and genuinely comparative themes (Women and Development, which explores the impact of change on women in the diverse regions of the world.) Through my teaching, I aimed to have students understand and appreciate the richness of politics and culture in Latin America—and more broadly (to paraphrase E.B. White), to introduce them to parts of themselves that they have not yet encountered.

I founded Latin American Studies at Wellesley and for more than two decades co-directed the program. I also created Wellesley’s internship program in Costa Rica. My BA, with Honors in Government, is from Cornell University. My graduate work was at Princeton, where I was the first woman in Political Science. (These years at Princeton, when it was still an all-male institution, made me a life-long feminist!). I have also taught at El Colegio de Mexico and have been a Local Consultant in the Social Science for the Ford Foundation.

My work with Mexican artisans has given me a wonderful hobby—I now also lecture in Mexico on Mexican folk art and write about it as well. I live in West Newton, MA and escape, when possible, to central Vermont, another mountainous state, like Oaxaca, that I love. I have two children, a son who is a musician and a daughter who remains a passionate soccer player.