Theses Doctoral

"For The Enjoyment of All:" Cosmopolitan Aspirations, Urban Encounters and Class Boundaries in Mexico City

Leal Martí­nez, Alejandra M.

This dissertation examines the production and experience of class and racial distinctions in contemporary Mexico City by focusing on encounter and proximity between different social groups in the country's most emblematic urban center. It draws on eighteenth months of ethnographic fieldwork with artists and young professionals living in the city's historic center as part of a public-private redevelopment plan locally known as the "rescue." Led by multimillionaire Carlos Slim, this endeavor has been framed as an initiative of civil society to recover the symbolic heart of the nation from crime and illegality while transforming it into a secure and livable space for all Mexicans. The rescue mobilizes a neoliberal idiom of the modern (associated in Mexico and across the world with democracy and responsible citizenship, a retreating state and a free market economy) and epitomizes the illegibility of public and private distinctions. I focus on moments of encounter between the historic center's new affluent residents, on the one hand, and the inhabitants of its dilapidated tenements and the vendors of its informal street markets, on the other. Such encounters slide into suspicion, uncertainty, instability and misrecognition. In focusing on encounter I trace new residents' desire for commonality, for an "all of us" in the historic center (a recognition as urban dwellers or as fellow citizens), and their anxieties about the very possibility of this commonality. Such situated fears, I argue, articulate with longstanding elite apprehensions in Mexico about the popular masses, historically construed as the embodiment of the national subject and at the same time as the manifestation of atavistic residues. In the discourses and practices of different agents of rescue (new residents, the police, private investors and state officials) these masses figure at once as subjects to be redeemed and as plainly irredeemable others, unfit for the requirements of modern democratic citizenship. The dissertation thus traces relations between new residents' quotidian fears of crime and violence in the socially mixed spaces of the historic center on the one hand, and contemporary debates and anxieties over liberal democracy, citizenship and social belonging, on the other.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ivy, Marilyn J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 10, 2011