- Fellowship year:2017-2018
- University: Indiana University
- Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin America
- Dissertation Title: Cartographies of Resistance: Political Culture and Urban Protest in Chilean Shantytowns, 1973-2002
My dissertation investigates political, social, and cultural organizing in Santiago's shantytowns during the civil-military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and the decade of Center-Left democratic rule that followed (1990-2002). Examining two eras that have usually been studied separately allows me to ask to what extent did coercive state practices dating from Pinochet's regime impact social protest after his exit from the political stage? This approach provides an opportunity to observe continuities between neoliberal dictatorship and neoliberal democracy, in part by tracing power dynamics between shantytown residents and the state. Moving beyond 1990 as the endpoint of Pinochet's politics allows me to evaluate the ways in which the center-left coalition that succeeded Pinochet's regime, the Concertación, impacted and was impacted by shantytown mobilization. The Concertación's continuation of Pinochet's neoliberalism drastically altered the types of claims shantytown residents could make on the state and thus allows us to question the possibilities for political militancy under its ideological weight. Extensive archival research and detailed testimonies evidence the ways in which shantytown residents, Catholic parishes, Left parties, and the neoliberal state contested, collaborated, and negotiated Chilean politics and urban space in the second half of the twentieth century. My research posits that, across these decades so crucial to contemporary Chilean history, shantytown residents engaged in innovative social and cultural resistance, far beyond the institutionalized political resistance other scholars have documented.
The literature on shantytowns has a tendency to present poor, urban dwellers as empty referents for all sorts of depictions, including as the lumpen of urban decay and deindustrialization, as dangerous and threatening, or as having the potential for social upheaval and political action. I engage the seemingly esoteric concepts of lumpenproletariat (the underclass) and abjection, but I unbind them from dogmatic Marxism on one hand and psychoanalysis on the other to argue that as operational concepts of elite actors at the time, these concepts reveal the processes through which the dispossessed individual has been constructed. While on one hand I trace the multiple strategies deployed by powerful actors such as the state, NGOs and political parties in their attempts to control the poor or ascribe certain qualities onto them, on the other, I showcase how dwellers' multiplicity of protest and cultural activities forged a distinct political culture to counteract different forms of exclusion. My dissertation project combines historical methods with elements from critical geography and provides vital insights into the interplay between neoliberal governance and poor urban politics during dictatorship and democracy in Chile. Ultimately, my research engages the ways in which neoliberal governmentality has reshaped the relationship between individuals and the body politic