Julia del Palacio Langer

  • Fellowship year:2012-2013
  • University: Columbia University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin America
  • Dissertation Title: Exploration Through Land Invasion: Veracruzan Squatters, Oil Executives, and the Quest for Property Rights in Mexico 1920-1960.
  •  My dissertation explores how the actions of oil-land squatters contributed to change the notions of property during the first half of the twentieth century in Mexico.  Focusing on agrarian struggles in the petroleum-producing areas of Veracruz, I study the relationship among "land invaders," oil executives, lawyers, government authorities, and judges, to demonstrate one central thesis:  that the conflicts between squatters and petroleum companies, contrary to what is traditionally believed, influenced the government's decision to nationalize the oil industry in 1938.  The implications of this statement are twofold.  First, the 1917 Constitution transformed how Mexicans conceived and experienced their access to different types of land.  Second, as a result of that change, property rights became central to how social actors understood their powers as citizens.  By pushing the government to make hard decisions regarding property laws, which resulted in the 1938 oil nationalization, Veracruzan squatters created a new kind of participatory citizenship.  My dissertation, a socially grounded legal and political history, shows how the mutual relationship between agrarian struggles and industrial development defined Mexico's path to economic growth, social equality, and democracy.