Researcher explores maize diversity in Mexico’s Central Highlands

March 28, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- “Maize Diversity and the Value of Chaos: Indigenous Imaginaries and Agricultural Innovation in Mexico's Central Highlands,” a seminar, will be presented from noon to 1 p.m. April 16 in Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library, and also online. This event, which is part of a series of seminars on indigenous knowledge, will be presented by Emma Gaallaas Mullaney, a doctoral student in geography and women's studies at Penn State.

Mexico is the global center of maize genetic diversity that has been maintained here through traditions of knowledge reproduction and small-scale cultivation for more than 7,000 years. Drawing on 11 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Mexico's Central Highlands, Mullaney's presentation will explore the Nahuatl conception of maize, which is understood as an original source of human life, and also vernacular expressions of desmadre, Mexican slang for "chaos" and "disorder" that is coded as feminine. Mullaney believes that these ideas, which play an influential role in the everyday work of maize farmers in the region, illuminate new possibilities for a more just agricultural future, and also pose unexpected challenges to decades of agricultural modernization efforts.

Mullaney has been teaching about ecology and human use of the environment for more than 10 years, and has worked with small-scale farmers and food-insecure populations in rural and urban settings, in the United States and internationally. Since 2010, she has served as a youth delegate to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and Commission on the Status of Women. In March, Mullaney received the Spirit of Internationalization award from the Penn State Office of Global Programs.  

This seminar is co-sponsored by the Department of Geography, the Department of Women's Studies, the Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (ICIK) and the Penn State University Libraries. If you need special accommodations or have questions about the physical access provided, contact Raymond Chappetta at 814-865-4861814-865-4861 or More information on ICIK is available online.

  • Mullaney with a boa constrictor

    Emma Gaallaas Mullaney is a doctoral student in geography and women's studies.

    IMAGE: provided
Last Updated January 09, 2015