image title

ASU professor explores Catalonia-Spain feud

November 1, 2017

Catalonia’s official quest for independence from Spain was squashed by the country’s constitutional court Tuesday, temporarily ending the long-simmering separatist movement towards total autonomy.

Spain’s central government has now taken direct control of the Catalonian government, sacking more than 100 officials, chasing its former president to Belgium and attempting to restore order to the region.

Catalonia’s bid for succession has placed Spain in its worst political crisis since the 1970s. To gain a better understanding of this complex situation, ASU Now turned to Jeffrey Kassing, a professor of communication studies in Arizona State University's School of Social and Behavioral Sciences who teaches an annual study-abroad class in Catalonia.

Man in green shirt

Jeffrey Kassing

Question: Can you give us some historical context why Catalonia wants succession from Spain? 

Answer: There are several key reasons. First, Catalans see themselves as distinct culturally from the rest of Spain. The history of Catalonia as a European nation state predates modern Spain by several centuries. In fact, Catalonia was a thriving economic/Mediterranean power from the 12th to 15th centuries, which spanned from Barcelona to Naples, Sicily and Athens. Catalonia has its own language derived from Latin that achieved status similar to Spanish, French and Italian during the development of Europe.

Second, there is a history of repression against Catalonia, with their language and government institutions being banned on several occasions. This was particularly evident during Franco’s rule from the late 1930s through the 1970s.

Q: Is there a financial subtext for Catalonia wanting its own government?

A: Catalonia currently and historically has maintained a robust economy. Many Catalans feel that the level of taxation the region incurs does not match the resources re-invested in Catalonia.

Spain would suffer economically if Catalonia would depart. Thus, there is support for keeping Catalonia as part of Spain.

Q: How do Spaniards outside of Catalonia feel about this issue? 

A: My impression is that most Spaniards are quite dismissive of the Catalan independence movement. It is not well understood outside of Catalonia, particularly if people do not know the region’s history.

Catalans have a strong cultural identity that is lost on Spaniards generally. This takes the form of maintaining traditional festivals, dances and games as a key part of their culture through active participation in these activities. So their cultural practices aren’t simply folklore that exists in books and museums but rather something that is enacted routinely in public displays. For example, human tower building, or castells, is a unique Catalan sporting tradition. It is practiced widely throughout the region, routinely put on display at festivals and even has a biannual competition that draws the best teams, large crowds and a televised production.

Q: Speaking of sporting traditions, does the role of soccer play a part in this?

A: Yes. FC Barcelona (FCB) has a long and clear association with Catalonia. The team badge carries the Catalan flag on it as does the collar of the team’s jersey. During the Franco regime the stadium was one of the few places large groups could gather. Thus, it became a place where one could go and show their Catalan identity. Although finding itself in a tenuous place at the moment, the club has historically embraced its role and place as a representation of Catalan identity.

Catalan flag

A fierce rivalry exists with Real Madrid, the capital club and one that has become synonymous with Franco’s regime and the Spanish state. The rivalry is littered with stories and myths about the advantages Real Madrid received over the years in relation to FCB. So the rivalry between these clubs has mirrored and paralleled the perspective that Catalonia has been persecuted and disadvantaged by the Madrid-based centralized Spanish government.

Q: What do you teach in your class about Catalonia, and what is the work that you do give clarity about this complicated region?

A: The course begins with a focus on Catalan history and culture. We then examine the politics of the independence movement. The final part of the course considers the role sport plays in cultural identity generally, but particularly in Catalonia. The involves a close examination of Barcelona playing host to the 1992 Olympics and the role FCB plays in embodying Catalan identity. All of this is brought together when we visit Barcelona. There we see the distinct art and architecture that makes the city uniquely Catalan. We examine historical sites that remind students of the long history in the region and the struggle against repression (e.g., bomb shelters used in the Spanish Civil War). And we visit the Olympic Village and Museum as well as the FCB stadium and museum.

On the first day of class I ask students to share why they wanted to take the course. Many are interested in studying abroad in Spain. To which, I pose the question, “What if I told you, you weren’t going to Spain but to Catalonia?” This serves to introduce the idea that while part of Spain, Catalonia is a place that sees itself as distinct from Spain.

On the research side, I am preparing to collect data from foreign supporters of FCB related to their impressions of the club and how it represents Catalan identity. This is an exploration of the global brand FCB has developed and the degree to which the club has exported the idea of Catalan identity and independence.

Top photo: The Spanish flag. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

image title

Veterans aim at highest target in academia

ASU educating approximately 140 veteran doctoral candidates
November 1, 2017

ASU's 140 veteran doctoral candidates are one of largest military-affiliated cohorts in US; here's a look at some of their research

A quarter-century ago, Sean McCafferty was at loose ends and didn’t know what to do with his life.

When inspiration didn’t strike, he turned to the Army.

He quickly became a rising star, was sent to West Point and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

“My goal was to stay in the service until it wasn’t fun anymore or until the Army kicked me out,” said McCafferty (pictured above, center). “I figured if that happened, I’d go on and do something else.”

After 25 years in the service, the Army still hasn’t kicked McCafferty out. In fact, they are helping him become a senior leader in the Signal Corps and have sent him to Arizona State University to get his doctorate to become a strategic thinker. He’s one of about 140 veteran doctoral candidates at the university, one of the largest military-affiliated cohorts in the United States.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

ASU has forged a reputation as one of the nation’s most military-friendly schools thanks to programs aimed at veterans who have left the service as well as active-duty students.

The Pat Tillman Veterans Center is the heart of ASU’s military student efforts, and Matt Schmidt, assistant director for outreach, said that’s by design.

“The staff in the Pat Tillman Veterans Center have committed themselves to creating a culture of empowerment, love, openness and adventure,” Schmidt said of the center, which opened in 2011. “We believe that student veterans and military members exposed to this type of environment are able to better leverage their military backgrounds to succeed at ASU and to continue to lead in the military or in new ways.”

The university’s large veteran population and esprit de corps was a big part of why McCafferty chose ASU for his postdoctorate program, where he’ll study how military technological systems interact with social and other systems at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

“There are a lot of things that brought me to ASU, including the interdisciplinary approach and the welcoming atmosphere to veterans,” McCafferty said. “I’ve put all my eggs in the ASU basket.” 

Karen Gallagher

Karen Gallagher, Speech and Hearing clinical associate professor and veteran student, defends her dissertation on the Tempe campus on Oct. 27. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Gulf War veteran Karen Gallagher said the concept of military-friendly universities didn’t exist when she first pursued her undergraduate degree in 1992 at a Washington college.

“There were no veterans around and for me, not a lot of people to look up to,” said Gallagher, a Tillman Scholar whose research on military members who’ve suffered brain injury and memory loss has brought attention to ASU.

Fast-forward 18 years, to when Gallagher started her doctoral work at ASU. She said the student-veteran landscape has completely changed.

“Everywhere you look at ASU you see veterans,” said Gallagher, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in the College of Health Solutions. “Now I have plenty of examples of successful role models who were veterans and are now successful in academia. It’s inspiring.”

Doctoral student, Air Force veteran and Native AmericanDenetdale is a Navajo who hails from Shiprock, New Mexico. Marcus Denetdale’s research focus is assessing tribal housing projects.

As a program manager at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, he is working with a variety of tribal leaderships to assess natural building materials found on their lands. He hopes to manufacture these materials without leaving a carbon footprint and assist with tribal enterprises.

Marcus Denetdale

Air Force veteran and civil, environmental and sustainable engineering doctoral student Marcus Denetdale talks during a presenting for CON 598: Indigenous Project Delivery, on Oct. 17 at College Avenue Commons. Denetdale and his group presented a development project for Tuba City rodeo grounds. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Denetdale says his academic journey from undergraduate to PhD took more than 15 years, and he credits the military for instilling academic discipline in him. He also gives props to other vets for keeping him on course.

“Having others in class who have the same life experience has been the biggest help in re-adapting,” said Denetdale, who is also a staff adviser for ASU’s Veterans Club. “We like sharing our experiences and helping each other if we can.” 

That's why Gallagher made it a point to invite fellow veterans and past research participants to her dissertation presentation, which packed a room inside Coor Hall on Oct. 27. 

“It was important to me to share this day with the veteran community that has supported me along the way,” Gallagher said. “They showed up and participated in my research in order to help other veterans. They had my back.”

“I wouldn’t want to present this work without them. It would be incomplete.” 

Top photo: School for the Future of Innovation in Society doctoral student and Army Lt. Col. Sean McCafferty (center) speaks with his classmates as they review a writing assignment Oct. 13 on the Tempe campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now