Transformative Methodologies | Professional indigenous women acting to transform urban spaces in Mexico: methodological reflections

Research practices often still do not adequately recognize the multiple points of views, experiences, and knowledges of those we work with. In the process, the meanings that people give to their own lives and to reality are often overlooked, which silences subjective interpretations. In this blog, we share some reflections on the methodological process developed while carrying out a project about the right to the city with indigenous women in Guadalajara, Mexico. Thinking of research as a living system comprising numerous collaborative gears turned and interlocked by different types of support can help us do research more mindfully and responsibly.

Photo taken by the authors

In 2022, we started a research project focused on understanding the main barriers professional indigenous women face in accessing goods and services in cities, especially relating to higher education, work, and mobility. Our point of departure was the systemic gender-based exclusion that exists in Latin American metropolises, and more in particular the gender-based discrimination experienced in Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The project was financed by ISS-EUR.

We interacted with five professional indigenous women: E.B. (Rarámuri) from the state of Chihuahua, A.G. and S.G. (Ñoo da´vi) and N.O. (Zapoteca) from Oaxaca, and D.E. (Totonaca) from Veracruz. They either moved to or were born in Guadalajara. All of them have been involved in specific projects to build diverse and gender-equal urban spaces. In both individual and collective encounters, we jointly problematized the concept of the ‘Right to the City’.[1] We did this from a feminist intersectional perspective to understand and question the constraints women face while living and moving around in cities, particularly in relation to gender, social class, and race power structures. Together, we looked for new ways of understanding and  transforming such realities. One of our common agreements was the relevance of highlighting the contributions that professional indigenous women as active participants make to modifying urban spaces, instead of exclusively looking at the barriers faced.

This triggered us to reflect on our methodological process more broadly, and we came across the concept of ‘collaborative gears’ as an analogy for a mechanism that sets in motion innovative ways of doing research while acting towards addressing social problems. In our project, this premise was materialized by working with women who engaged in critically thinking about how to create culturally diverse and equitable urban spaces. Our different contexts, professions, positions, and understandings about the Right to the City were the points of departure and strengths from which we built our common arguments and proposals.

This approach is what we consider a transformative methodology – one that can also be used to reveal the role of those who are less recognized, both in collaborative networks and in research processes. For us, recognition, care, and respect were essential factors to mobilize a living system of knowledge production.


Transformative Gears

The initial gear we identified was our connection as two Mexicans doing PhD research at ISS-EUR in The Netherlands to each other. As colleagues and friends, we were able to share and discuss our academic projects on multiple occasions. We have both worked using feminist methodologies – Marina’s research is based on collaboration, respect, and care and Azucena’s on the value of the embodied experiences of women to transform urban spaces and mobilities. Our common interests led us to develop ‘The Right to the City and Indigenous Women: Mapping Racism’.

Then, the gears kept moving with the support of Prof. Karin Arts (ISS-EUR) who joined and helped us to materialize the initiative. The experience of Prof. Arts as a researcher and her punctual advice guided our general reflections and helped us to consolidate the conceptual framework of the project. Her assistance in navigating institutional (administrative) processes was important, too.

At the same time, the trajectories, knowledges, and perspectives of every one of the five professional indigenous women with whom we interacted constituted invaluable bases for shaping and shifting the research. E.B. is a bachelor student in Urban Design and is part of NUCU (Our Cultures), a collective of college students from indigenous and Afro-Mexican communities. A.G. obtained a BA degree in Educational Sciences and S.G. has a BA  in Business Administration. Both A.G. and S.G. are part of the collectives JIU (Indigenous Urban Youth) and ÑOI, Cultura en tus Manos (Culture in your Hands), a collective of indigenous women. N.O. has a BA in History and an MA in Gender and Development. She works as a librarian at the state university. And D.E. has a BA in Pedagogy and an MA in Educational Research. She works in a public entity that coordinates and promotes public policies for the sustainable development of indigenous peoples in Jalisco.

The motion of the gears has been sustained by the joint inputs and efforts of every collaborator in this project.


‘Transformative’ also means action

Four concrete actions and outputs resulted from the methodological process:

  1. a collective article for the blog Resistencias y Mujeres Profesionistas Indígenas (Resistances and Professional Indigenous Women) with concrete proposals to build inclusive and diverse cities.
  2. the creation and publication of the maps of urban mobility and experiences of each participant in Cartofem.
  3. this text which all revised and agreed with, and
  4. a co-written academic article.


To think further… things to consider

We identified several complexities in the process of carrying out collaborative and contextual research. Academia in general does not provide sufficient time, material, and financial resources for developing practices grounded in the experiences of marginalized communities such as indigenous women. For instance, the weaving of networks, initiation and maintenance of dialogues, reflection, rethinking nuances derived from listening to and collaborating with research participants, writing, validating drafts with every participant, translating between different languages, and considering time zones all require a lot of time and economic resources that do not correspond to academic deadlines and budgets.

Yet, while being a challenge, collaboration from and through diversity is also a learning process and a contribution to feminist and transformative methodologies. Transformative methodologies should entail a respectful and caring way of producing knowledge that ensures that contexts and realities are represented from multiple perspectives. That is why we organized our project in such a way that all the participants and collaborators were recognized and had a say in what the research was about, how it was carried out, and why it took place. For us, this is just the first of many (sets of) gears necessary for a very much-needed alternative way of conducting research and transforming current academic practices.

[1] We understand the Right to the City as the entitlement to access, inhabit, transit, and to participate in urban settlements.

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About the authors:

Azucena Gollaz Morán is a PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam and an Associate Professor at ITESO University. Her research interests focus on gendered embodied experiences, gendered mobilities and sustainable cities. She has specialized in mobile feminist mapping methods to understand gendered and intersectional geographies of exclusion. Azucena is currently conducting research about Gendered and Intersectional Embodied Daily Urban Mobilities Experiences in Guadalajara, Mexico. More information about the project can be found at:


Marina Cadaval Narezo is a Mexican PhD candidate in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies -Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS-EUR) in The Netherlands where she also completed a master’s degree in Social Policies for Development. Her action-research passion around the tensions of gender, race and class in education policies derive from her involvement in the first graduate scholarship programs in Mexico aimed at indigenous people. She is interested in producing knowledge from a collaborative and feminist perspective considering diversity and care as main values (  She has also participated in several selection committees in higher education and advised educational policies.

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