Theses Doctoral

Conflict, Change and Social Relations in a Costa Rican Border Village: An Ethnographic Study of Delta, Costa Rica

Abbas, Chelsea Good

This research examined the political narratives of national leaders regarding an international border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua from 2010-2015 and the subsequent social relations in an affected border village known as Delta, Costa Rica. Based on eighteen months of qualitative and quantitative ethnographic research conducted on the binational border, this work documents political discourses about the conflicted territory, referred to as Isla Calero or Isla Portillos, through first-hand interviews with national figures and military officials central to the conflict. These discourses are then juxtaposed to the lived realities in the village through an ethnographic analysis of social relations and community happenings amid this conflict. Particular attention is paid to the patrón-peon relationship between Costa Rican farm owners and Nicaraguan migrant workers, and how this relation exists in the midst of an unprecedented influx of police, military personnel, and security infrastructure beginning in 2010.

To accomplish this goal, the first section of this work provides a detailed report of the rapid changes and security developments that took place in the community of Delta, Costa Rica. An analysis of the different political discourses and narratives to justify these rapid actions follows. The local reality of how this conflict was experienced by villagers of Delta, Costa Rica comprises the second half of this work in the form of an ethnographic account of the social relations and daily interactions between landowners, migrant workers, and the National Police in the border community. The findings highlight the disconnect between national-level political narratives and local experiences of conflict and how a transborder identity supersedes constructed barriers based on nationality, race, ethnicity, language, and even notions of (il)legality.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Comitas, Lambros
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 8, 2020