Carlos Zuniga

  • Fellowship year:2013-2014
  • University: Columbia University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin America
  • Dissertation Title: Subsistence Economies: Household Honor and Labor in Yucat√°n, Mexico 1870-1915
  • This dissertation traces the transformation of law and notions of sexual honor among indigenous Maya and non-indigenous populations in southern and northwestern Yucatán from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.  The export of henequen, a hard fiber used for binding and shipping, integrated the region into the world economy.  The rise of plantation economy in the late nineteenth century simultaneously resulted in cultural and social transformations in households throughout Yucatán as the concept of honor held by the Mayas and the non-indigenous populations hinging on the virtues of honesty, work, and generational obedience shifted to an increasingly attached economic valuation of unwaged labor and alternative domestic forms.  This dissertation contends that, much like their elite counterparts, non-elites embraced republican virtues; however, plebeians transformed these virtues by attaching economic value to sexual honor and to domestic labor, both of which had not previously been commonly thought of in financial terms.  My project investigates the manifestation of this new concept of honor in courtrooms and informal communal intervention within the same analytical framework, revealing how enforcement of social transgressions in neighborhoods functioned in conjunction with Yucatán's legal order.

     My research contributes to historical and contemporary scholarly debates on how communities have addressed everyday insecurity and transgressions in the context of increasingly inattentive legal systems.  My methodological approach, which examines agreements, vigilantism, and shaming before and after a legal proceeding, reveals that marginalized communities have historically used multiple tools inside and outside of the courts to prevent the escalation of everyday conflict.  Adults and youths guarded their households and individual reputations through physical assaults, rock throwing, verbal attacks, and public ridicule in their neighborhoods.  However when communal negotiation failed to enforce morality and reputation, actors tended to turn to the use of the courts to enforce their legitimate claims to honor.  These acts of ordinary violence in neighborhoods by neighbors and family members were fundamental in the adjudication of conflict.  The rural poor did not handle disputes in a separate legal arena but used the courts in conjunction with informal mechanisms to mediate conflicts in their neighborhoods, demonstrating the integration of everyday violence in neighborhoods and villages into the everyday workings of legal institutions and social practices.