Theses Doctoral

Infelicities: Urban Order and the Production of Knowledge

Mazzei, Umberto

This dissertation is a comparative inquiry into the formation of the urban order as a product of different discursive practices. Three main textual objects are taken into examination to dissect the interaction of textual form with the crystallization of a new social order centered in the city. The first is a martial arts manual written by the Spanish hidalgo and luckless conquistador Bernardo de Vargas Machuca in 1599, titled Milicia y descripción de las Indias. The second is Teatro de virtudes políticas que constituyen a un príncipe, a piece of Baroque literature composed in 1680 by the Creole savant Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora on the occasion of the arrival of the new viceroy to Mexico City.

The last is a manual of public hygiene, Trattato d’igiene e sanità pubblica, published between 1905 and 1912 by Luigi Pagliani, one of the main figures behind the reorganization of the public health administration in post-Unification Italy. I approach these works first as cohesive systems of knowledge, and then investigate their individual components, argumentative logic, representational strategies, and tropes.

Though heterogeneous in nature, these texts identify foundational moments when the city, as a discursive construct, is molded or thoroughly redesigned through the rationality of an emerging field of knowledge: military theory, Baroque literature and spectacle, hygiene and public health. As a constitutive element in the systematization of their respective fields, these texts envision, craft, and perform three “model cities”, or paradigms of urban order, that capture the succession of different mechanisms of power: the ciudad indiana established by colonizers at the fringes of the Spanish empire, the Creole city of the Novohispanic elites, and the hygienic city at the rise of the modern nation-State. These models enable processes of subjectivation to enfold, refashion the urban order into distinct arrangements, and reflect shifts and recalibrations in the modalities of power, the deployment of new techniques of government or means of social control.

Vargas Machuca, Sigüenza, and Pagliani are treated, as it were, metonymically. They express, stand for, and intercept the social dynamics proper to their own cultural and historical horizons. They represented different social types (the indiano militiaman, the Baroque letrado, and the positivist technocrat) and operated as organic intellectuals of their times, who channeled and articulated on the ideological level the demands and injunctions of rising social groups.
It is the complex entanglement of power relations, ideological investments, socio-economic transformations, and collective identities, that I have tried to unravel throughout my dissertation. The city, I argue, comes into sight as a field crossed by multiple forces, an apparatus that engenders sameness and difference, selfhood and otherness, emplaces ranks, hierarchies, and divisions that structure the polity, forges subjectivities through inclusionary or exclusionary strategies.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Leake, Elizabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 2, 2022