A member of the faculty since 1999, Dr. Margarita Balmaceda's area of interest is Eastern Europe, from which she has developed an expertise in energy politics in post-Soviet states. Her new book is titled Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union. The book focuses on how the physical characteristics of different types of energy, by shaping how they can be transported, distributed, and even stolen, affect how each may be used—not only technically but also for political pressure. Balmaceda conducted extensive field research in Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union, in particular Germany, for this project, utilizing her knowledge of Russian, Ukrainian and German language to tap previously unused sources. One unique element that sets the book apart from others on energy politics of the region is the emphasis given to technical details in the production and transportation of each type of energy, which is, in her view, key for understanding their political use as well. To do this, she had to undergo extensive technical as well as advanced language training, for example through two individual courses on "Ukrainian for Mining and Metallurgy." Although she is not a scientist nor an engineer, Balmaceda set out to develop a deep knowledge of subjects outside her field. While other books may give the reader an easy read, Balmaceda says that she, "Trusts the reader wants to and is capable of learning about technology." To facilitate this learning, the book includes a useful appendix providing an explanation, in layman's terms, of the key technical processes discussed.
Several institutions in the U.S. and the European Union, including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, provided her with grants to conduct research on this book. This book builds upon her previous work on the area, which includes three other single-authored books, three edited books, and numerous articles.
She emphasized that while conducting research like hers is challenging, it is the "knowledge that people believed in [her]" that gave her the strength to continue with this project despite it being the hardest she has encountered so far. She also said that accomplishing such large projects requires a conception of a goal or a "light at the end of the tunnel" to achieve ones aims, and that this is a skill that students ought to develop. Similarly, she suggested that others' belief in her has been integral in every accomplishment since she was an undergraduate. Yet, acknowledging this has not always been the case in a discipline where women and people of color are still a small minority, Balmaceda rounded out our discussion by stressing that one cannot allow others to deny you their ability and dreams, and that students should surround themselves with "people who believe in you."
Balmaceda is a native of Buenos Aires who grew up there and in Puerto Rico, and came to the continental United States in her teens to study at Johns Hopkins University, earning a B.A. in International Studies. At 17, she entered the graduate program at Princeton University, from which she earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics. She rounded out her education with a post-doctoral fellowship in Ukrainian Studies at Harvard. Throughout her education, in addition to her first language, Spanish, she gained fluency in English, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian and German.
Categories: Nation and World