Cultura y conciencia

Isis Duarte, Pioneering Dominican Sociologist, Dies at 69

Nelson Santana

By Amaury Rodríguez

May 19, 2011

Isis Duarte, a Dominican author who was a pioneer in the field of sociology in the Dominican Republic died May 15 in Mexico after battling a terminal illness. She was 69.

Born Isis Generosa Duarte Tavárez on May 12 of 1942 in Duarte Province, Duarte laid the groundwork for a whole generation of historians, sociologists and political scientists. In fact, she contributed to the development of sociology as a scientific and rigorous tool to be used in the influential emerging social sciences departments in the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), the state university and others.

In 1967, she received an undergraduate sociology degree from UASD. A year later, she became an adjunct professor at her Alma Mater where she would teach for more than four decades.

In the early 70s, she lived in Chile where she graduated from the Latin American School of Social Sciences (FLACSO) with a Master’s in Social Science and a minor on political science.

From 1974 to 1979, Duarte headed the sociology department at UASD, becoming the first woman to do so. Years earlier, an earth-shaking event in the country opened the way for her and many other women to enter the small but growing field of academia. That was, in fact, the much anticipated collapse of the Trujillo dictatorship which inaugurated a new era of democratic and cultural freedom in the Dominican Republic.

Duarte and her generation experienced a turbulent time that transformed international politics and intensified Cold-War era antagonism throughout the planet. Some of the key events representative of that era were the growing influence of the Cuban revolution around the world, the War in Vietnam and the anti-war and Civil Rights movements in the U.S; the Sexual revolution and further experimentations in the arts, music and literature that surpassed anything that was done before in both quality and quantity.

In the mid-60s, a radical student movement in UASD, which took inspiration from the 1965 revolution to restore Juan Bosch to power, formed the Movimiento Renovador to fight for a more inclusionary educational system. It demanded political and economic autonomy from the state. At the end, the movement won all its demands. Afterward, the UASD opened its doors to thousands of low income students, founded a history department under the guidance of a number of progressive professors and conducted research on the social sciences which suffered greatly during Trujillo. Over the years, the UASD became one of the leading higher learning institutions in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean region.

An exceptional and gifted writer, Duarte penned several books and articles on disparate topics ranging from economic, gender, immigration and electoral politics in the Dominican Republic. Duarte was also editor of a number of compilation book essays.

Some of her most important works are “Capitalism and Over-Population in Santo Domingo,” (1980) for which she was awarded the Pedro Henríquez Ureña Award for best essay; “Urban Workers” (1986); “Dominican Families, The Myth of the Ideal Family and the Head of the Household” as well as the seminal “Sugar and Haitian Migration” which she co-authored with André Corten among others.

Duarte’s articles have been disseminated throughout Latin America and some have even been translated into English. She did not shy away from the public view as she debated some of the most important political events of the day during frequent TV and radio news show appearances.

She did not hide her politics no matter the outcome. In the 70s, her work reflected both a liberal and democratic outlook that challenged the authoritarian government of Joaquín Balaguer who put in motion a plan to destroy the autonomy of the state-owned university by first de-funding it, and second, cracking down on any form of organized dissent.

By the 1980s, and as the Balaguer years receded into the past, she became increasingly involved in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that focused on family planning, an anachronism for population control. For a number of years she was the director of Institute of Population and Development Studies, a branch of PROFAMILIA.

During that time, sterilization as a method of birth control among working class and poor women became a common practice thanks to a state sponsored campaign that promoted it as an alternative to abortion and other methods of birth control. (The campaign was funded by the United Nations and United States among others.)

Duarte continued her NGO work well throughout the 90s when in 1993 she was among the founders of the Dominican chapter of Participación Ciudadana, an internationally funded civil society organization that focuses in part, on electoral reforms.

At the time of her death, she was a member of the Academy of Sciences. Her departure was a shock to many students, professors and colleagues. The president of UASD, the institution she helped build from the ground up through her expertise, released a statement expressing condolences to the family:

“We, UASD family lament the passing of one of our academics and we join in the pain that her family is going through; Isis Duarte is a great researcher who leaves behind her legacy in the books, articles and conferences that gave us prestige as an institution.”

Duarte is survived by a daughter, Hilda Díaz Duarte.

Sources for this obituary came mainly from Dominican media including the newspapers EL NACIONAL, LISTÍN DIARIO, DIARIO LIBRE and ACENTO.