Research Student Spotlight May: Silvia Edith Olvera-Hernandez

Our monthly spotlight on the work and lives of the next generation of water@leeds researchers.
This month: Silvia Edith Olvera-Hernandez
PhD title: Performing values as a mechanism to explore local representation in environmental governance.
School of Earth and Environment
Supervisors: Prof. Julia Martin-Ortega and Dr. George Holmes

Tell us a bit about yourself:

Hello everyone! I am from Mexico and my master’s degree is in Science in Natural Resources and Rural Development. Since 2011, I have been working in the Lacandon rainforest, in Chiapas (Mexico). I collaborated with different projects fostering rural women’s participation in sustainable economic activities. Now, I am exploring a fun and creative method to bring to the fore local people’s values and discuss power differences in environmental decision-making, in the Performing Change project.

Why did you choose Leeds University?

I found out about the University of Leeds when I was looking at the Usumacinta Roc Project. The Roc project was implemented, in the Lacandon rainforest by Prof. Julia Martin-Ortega. Actually, I participated as ‘spect-actor’ in a Forum Theatre that was performed to present some of the results of ROC project. So, my interest in the University of Leeds and Forum Theatre in environmental governance started there.

What is your research about?

My PhD research explores the potential of Forum Theatre as a mechanism in which values of those affected by environmental decisions can be brought to the fore, while it discusses the power disparities that might limit the representation of their values in decision-making. We implemented a Forum Theatre (FT) in two rural communities in Chiapas, Mexico. This FT represented a fictitious (but very real) community discussion about an eco-tourism development, in which the participants can intervene changing the story. We show how Forum Theatre allowed and created debates about hierarchies of values regarding nature, and power distribution in environmental decision-making. Forum Theatre arose as a useful mechanism to foster inclusive participation and induce more just environmental decisions.

What did you wish you knew before starting a PhD?

I wish I’d had more experience in the performing arts.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to collaborate in civil society organizations to keep implementing and evaluating arts-based methods, in their potential to empower rural people, and support their representation in the environmental policy arena.

Follow Silvia on twitter @SilviaEdithOlv1