I last went to ISA in 2002 when the conference was also in New Orleans. I hadn't gone back because there never seemed to be enough Latin America-related panels to justify the trip. ISA does seem to have improved in that regard. At least twenty-three papers included Guatemala and/or El Salvador in their abstract. What's your favorite non-LASA conference for those who study Latin America?
I've never been asked to be a discussant at a conference. I don't envy the job of having to provide critical feedback on three-to-five papers received approximately seventy-two hours before the conference begins. In addition, you're supposed to somehow highlight how those papers go together.
For the most part, however, I can't say that the discussants that I heard did a very good job this weekend. One discussant called out a presenter for not submitting a paper even though the discussant had actually confirmed having received the paper well in advance. After listening to four presenters apologize for the incomplete nature of their papers, another discussant couldn't stop praising how great each paper was. Finally, on other panels, the discussants made it obvious that they hadn't read the papers at all. They asked really basic questions that would have be answered had they simply listened to the presenter.
Is there any way to improve the performance of discussants (or panelists for that matter)? Would it be possible to limit one's participation to a paper presentation or a discussant role? While some can handle both responsiblities, it doesn't appear to be a skill that many have. To do this, universities would have to cover the costs of discussants and not just presenters. At my school we are reimubrsed 100% as a presenter and 75% as a discussant. One would also have to further factor in the discussant role in tenure and promotion deliberations. Any other suggestions?