Articles

2015

With Kristine Kilanski. "From 'making toast' to 'splitting apples': dissecting 'care' in the midst of chronic violence." Theory & Society.

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Scholarship has tended to focus on the deleterious impacts of chronic exposure to violence, to the detriment of understanding how residents living in dangerous contexts care for themselves and one another. Drawing on 30 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this article examines two sets of practices that residents exercise in the name of protecting themselves and their loved ones. The first set (Bmaking toast^) includes the mundane, Bsmall acts,^—often embedded in routine— that residents draw on in an effort to form connections and create order in a funda- mentally chaotic and stressful environment. The second set (“splitting apples”) involves the teaching and exercise of violence in the name of protecting daughters and sons from further harm. Using interviews and field notes, we argue that both sets of practices, when viewed in situ, reveal an Bethics of care.^ Resisting the urge to either romanticize or sanitize these efforts, we engage with the difficult question of what it means when an expression of Bcare^ involves the (re)production of violence, especially against a loved one.

"The Politics of Interpersonal Violence in the Urban Periphery." Current Anthropology 56(S11)

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Based on 30 months of collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in a high-poverty, crime-ridden area in metropolitan Buenos Aires, this paper scrutinizes the political character of interpersonal violence. The violence described here is not the subaltern violence that, thoroughly documented by historians and social scientists, directs against the state, the powerful, or their symbols. It is a violence that is neither redemptive nor cleansing, but it is deeply political in a threefold sense: (a) it is entangled with the intermittent and contradictory form in which the police intervene in this relegated neighborhood, (b) it has the potential to give birth to collective action that targets the state while simultaneously signaling it as the main actor responsible for the skyrocketing physical aggression in the area, and (c) it provokes paradoxical forms of informal social control as residents rely on state agents who are themselves enmeshed in the production of this violence.

With Katherine Jensen. "For Political Ethnographies of Urban Marginality." City & Community

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Based on 30 months of collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in a high-poverty, crime-ridden area in metropolitan Buenos Aires, this paper scrutinizes the political character of interpersonal violence. The violence described here is not the subaltern violence that, thoroughly documented by historians and social scientists, directs against the state, the powerful, or their symbols. It is a violence that is neither redemptive nor cleansing, but it is deeply political in a threefold sense: (a) it is entangled with the intermittent and contradictory form in which the police intervene in this relegated neighborhood, (b) it has the potential to give birth to collective action that targets the state while simultaneously signaling it as the main actor responsible for the skyrocketing physical aggression in the area, and (c) it provokes paradoxical forms of informal social control as residents rely on state agents who are themselves enmeshed in the production of this violence.

2014

With Lucía Alvarez. "La ropa en el balde. Rutinas y ética popular frente a la violencia en los márgenes urbanos." Nueva Sociedad 251.

Basado en un trabajo de campo etnográfico y en una investigación periodística en dos barrios altamente violentos y pobres de la provincia argentina de Buenos Aires, este artículo retrata el modo en que los vecinos elaboran estrategias para lidiar con los riesgos que acechan sus vidas y las de sus seres queridos. Sitiados por la violencia interpersonal, vecinos de barrios relegados establecen rutinas y tejen relaciones sociales para superar y responder al peligro físico. Al hacerlo, ejercitan un «ética popular» aún inexplorada en la literatura sobre violencia urbana en América Latina.

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With Lucía Alvarez. "La ropa en el balde. Rutinas y ética popular frente a la violencia en los márgenes urbanos." Nueva Sociedad 251.

Basado en un trabajo de campo etnográfico y en una investigación periodística en dos barrios altamente violentos y pobres de la provincia argentina de Buenos Aires, este artículo retrata el modo en que los vecinos elaboran estrategias para lidiar con los riesgos que acechan sus vidas y las de sus seres queridos. Sitiados por la violencia interpersonal, vecinos de barrios relegados establecen rutinas y tejen relaciones sociales para superar y responder al peligro físico. Al hacerlo, ejercitan un «ética popular» aún inexplorada en la literatura sobre violencia urbana en América Latina.

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With Agustín Burbano de Lara and María Fernanda Berti. "The Uses and Forms of Violence among the Urban Poor." Journal of Latin American Studies 46:443-469.

Based on 30 months of collaborative fieldwork in a poor neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this paper scrutinises the multiple uses of violence among residents and the concatenations between private and public forms of physical aggression. Much of the violence reported here resembles that which has been dissected by students of street violence in the United States – that is, it is the product of interpersonal retaliation and remains encapsulated in dyadic exchanges. However, by casting a wider net to include other forms of aggression (not only criminal but also sexual, domestic and intimate) that take place inside and outside the home, and that intensely shape the course of poor people’s daily lives, the paper argues that diverse forms of violence among the urban poor (a) serve more than just retaliatory purposes, and (b) link with one another beyond dyadic relationships.

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"Taking Bourdieu to the (Shanty)Town." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

This paper examines the experience of time among residents of a highly polluted shantytown in contemporary Buenos Aires. Drawing on Bourdieu’s understanding of time as constitutive of social action and waiting as a key modality of experiencing the effects of power, I inspect the routine encounters between the poor and the state to disclose the temporal texture of political subordination in the city’s periphery. In recurrently being forced to accommodate and yield to the state’s chronological exigencies and practical dictates, the urban poor receive a subtle, and usually not explicit, daily lesson in the workings of domination. Taking Bourdieu to the contaminated urban margins of Latin America allows us to see that poisoned outcasts, in constantly being forced to wait for everything to come from more powerful actors, become the opposite of citizens: patients of the state.

With Agustín Burbano de Lara and María Fernanda Berti. "Violence and the State at the Urban Margins." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 43:1.

Based on thirty months of ethnographic fieldwork in a violence-ridden, low-income district located in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, this article examines the state’s presence at the urban margins and its relationships to widespread depacification of poor people’s daily life. Contrary to descriptions of destitute urban areas in the Americas as either governance voids deserted by the state or militarized spaces firmly controlled by the state’s iron fist, this article argues that law enforcement in Buenos Aires’s high-poverty zones is intermittent, selective, and contradictory. By putting the state’s fractured presence at the urban margins under the ethnographic microscope, the article reveals its key role in the perpetuation of the violence it is presumed to prevent.

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2013

With María Florencia Alcaraz. "Violencia en Budge: Policías en Acción". Anfibia. Julio.

En la reunión, frente a todos los vecinos, Isabel pregunta quién no tiene un hermano, un primo, un cuñado, alguno que conozca a algún transa. Nerina dice que los policías no aparecen. Alicia, que son corruptos y cómplices: saben lo que pasa pero no hacen nada. La palabra más repetida es “miedo”.

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"Born amid Bullets." Contexts. Winter.

The world’s poor often live with terrible pollution – but that doesn’t mean they like it.

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"Los sinuosos caminos de la etnografía política." Revista Pléyade.

El texto pasa revista a la extensa y productiva trayectoria del autor en el difícil oficio de la etnografía política. Mediante un relato reflexivo de su propia experiencia etnográfica, se destaca la relevancia y complejidad del oficio, razón por la que nos remite a los hallazgos, los obstáculos, problemas, limitaciones y proyecciones del ejercicio etnográfico en lo político. El escrito se divide en cinco apartados, correspondientes a los temas de investigación abordados por la trayectoria etnográfica del autor, en los que se revisan la relación y utilidad de la etnografía política en el estudio de las redes clientelares, de la acción colectiva, el estudio de la zona gris de la política, el sufrimiento ambiental y el tema de la espera como una expresión de las relaciones de dominación social. El escrito cierra con una invitación y advertencia en torno al oficio etnográfico.

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"A rede de solução de problemas do peronismo." Revista Brasileira de Ciência Política, No 10 .

O artigo analisa a imbricação entre a estrutura do Partido Justicionalista (peronista) e as políticas assistenciais estatais em comunidades pobres da província de Buenos Aires, na época governada por Eduardo Duhalde. Os agentes partidários se colocam na posição de mediadores, que, evitando uma barganha expressa e adotando um discurso de solidariedade, garantem apoio político graças à capacidade de fazer com que carências imediatas sejam supridas. No processo, propõem e buscam disseminar uma determinada forma de resolução de problemas.

The article examines the entangled relations between the structure of Argentina’s Justicionalist (Peronist) Party and state welfare policies in poor communities in the province of Buenos Aires, then governed by Eduardo Duhalde. Party agents put themselves in the position of mediators who, avoiding an open bargain and adopting a solidarity-based discourse, guarantee political support thanks to their ability to meet basic needs. In the process, they propose and seek certain ways to solve problems.

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2012

With Katherine Jensen. “Lives at the Urban Margins.” Public Books.

Every great city,” wrote Friedrich Engels, in The Condition of the Working Class in England, “has one or more slums, where the working-class is crowded together. True, poverty often dwells in hidden alleys close to the palaces of the rich; but, in general, a separate territory has been assigned to it, where, removed from the sight of the happier classes, it may struggle along as it can… The streets are generally unpaved, rough, dirty, filled with vegetable and animal refuse, without sewers or gutters, but supplied with foul, stagnant pools instead.” More than a century and a half later, the subproletariat still inhabits treacherous, dreadful grounds in today’s megacities. With close to a third of the world’s population living in informal settlements, many of them mired in misery and violence, the need to understand and explain their lives is as imperative as it was when Engels first wrote these words. Three recent books here under consideration take up this task in two very distinct cities, Buenos Aires and Mumbai, dissecting the material and symbolic dimensions of life on “the other side.” These vivid portraits convey the external and internal forces that shape and sustain the slum’s challenges, its struggles, its relentlessness, and its cruelty.

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With Agustín Burbano de Lara. "In Harm's Way at the Urban Margins." Ethnography.

Residents of poor barrios in Buenos Aires are deeply worried about widespread violence (domestic, sexual, criminal, and police) and about environmental hazards – two dimensions of marginalization that policy-makers tend to disregard and social scientists of the ethnographic persuasion seldom treat together for what they are: producers of harm. Based on 18 months of collaborative fieldwork, this article dissects poor people’s experiences of living in harm’s way.

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"Poor People’s Lives and Politics: The things a political ethnographer knows (and doesn’t know) after 15 years of fieldwork." New Perspectives on Turkey, 46:95-127.

This paper reflects on a decade and a half of ethnographic research on five different topics: patronage politics, the intricate relationship between clientelism and collective action, the role of clandestine connections in politics, urban marginality and environmental suffering, and poor people’s waiting as a way of experiencing political domination. The paper examines the contributions that political ethnography can make to a better understanding of these themes and highlights areas for further empirical and theoretical work.

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2011

"Researching the Urban Margins: What Can the United States Learn from Latin America and Vice Versa?" City and Community 10(4):431-36.

Over the decade and a half that I have been conducting research on poverty and marginality in Latin America (with a specific focus on Argentina), I have become increasingly aware of the lack of dialogue between scholars working on similar issues north and south of the border. The striking similarities in the ways neoliberal economic policies and political transformations are now affecting the lives of the urban poor throughout the Americas might present a good (and well overdue) opportunity to break down artificial, but well-entrenched, “area-studies” boundaries and to scrutinize the manifold (sometimes similar, sometimes not) processes that are shaping the dynamics of urban relegation throughout the continent.

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With Matthew Mahler. "Relations Occultes et Fondaments de la Violence Collective." Politix 93: 115-39

Cet article examine les liens souvent invisibles, au sein de ce que nous appelons la zone grise politique, à la jonction entre les acteurs politiques officiels et non officiels, qui sont chargés du plus « sale boulot » politique dans l’Argentine contemporaine. Ce « sale boulot » prend des formes différentes, qui vont de l’incitation à des actions de violence collective aux « récompenses » en drogue et en alcool versés à des jeunes en rétribution de leur présence à des rassemblements politiques, en passant par la menace physique envers les candidats et membres des partis d’opposition. Après un bref passage en revue de la littérature existante sur les relations entre les liens politiques clandestins et la violence collective, cet article s’appuie sur une relecture ethnographique de données déjà existantes pour élaborer trois comptes rendus détaillés permettant d’éclairer le rôle joué par la zone grise dans la politique de l’Argentine contemporaine. Nous démontrerons que le « blanchiment » d’actes politiques à travers ces canaux clandestins constitue une dimension cruciale de la politique qui doit être empiriquement disséquée et théorisée afin de mieux comprendre l’activité politique conventionnelle au sens large, avant de conclure par une brève réflexion sur les implications analytiques et méthodologiques de ce type de problématique.

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With Matthew Mahler. "The Makings of Collective Violence." In Gabriela Polit-Dueñas and María Helena Rueda (editors), Meanings of Violence in Contemporary Latin America. Palgrave.

This volume includes contributions of scholars from various fields – the social sciences, journalism, the humanities and the arts – whose work offers insightful and innovative ways to understand the devastating and unprecedented forms of violence currently experienced in Latin America. As an interdisciplinary endeavor, it offers an array of perspectives that contribute to ongoing debates in the study of violence in the region.

"Patients of the State. An Ethnographic Account of Poor People's Waiting." Latin American Research Review 46 (1):5-29.

Drawing on six months of ethnographic fieldwork in the main welfare office of the city of Buenos Aires, this article dissects poor people’s lived experiences of waiting. The article examines the welfare offi ce as a site of intense sociability amidst pervasive uncertainty. Poor people’s waiting experiences persuade the destitute of the need to be patient, thus conveying the implicit state request to be compliant clients. An analysis of the sociocultural dynamics of waiting helps us understand how (and why) welfare clients become not citizens but patients of the state.

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2010

"Visible Fists, Clandestine Kicks, and Invisible Elbows. Three Forms of Regulating Neoliberal Poverty." European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 89:5-26

In a preliminary attempt to understand the daily production of poor people’s subordination in contemporary Argentina, this paper explores the workings of overt and covert forms of state violence against the urban destitute and of more subtle modes of domination. Attention to the simultaneous operation of what this paper calls visible fists, clandestine kicks, and invisible elbows in the daily life of the dispossessed serves to a) better integrate violence into the study of popular politics, and b) cast light on the productive (and not merely repressive) nature of state power.

Spanish translation: “Puños, Patadas y Codazos en la Regulación de la Pobreza Neoliberal.” In M.J. Funes (editora), A Propósito de Tilly. Conflicto, Poder y Acción Colectiva.

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"Chuck and Pierre at the Welfare Office." Sociological Forum 25(4):851-60.

After an ethnographic vignette that encapsulates the typical trajectory of an applicant to welfare benefits observed during a year of collaborative fieldwork, this brief essay will put to work Tilly’s notion of ‘‘invisible elbow’’ and Bourdieu’s understanding of waiting as a strategy of power in order to clarify the cultural dynamics of a welfare waiting room in the age of neoliberalism.

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2008

With Debora Swistun “The Social Production of Toxic Uncertainty,” American Sociological Review 73(3): 357-379.

Based on both archival research and twoand a halfyears of ethnographic fieldwork in an Argentine shantytownwith high levels of air,water, and ground contamination, this article examines the social production of environmental uncertainty. First, we dissect residents ‘perceptions of contamination, finding widespread doubts and mistakes about the polluted habitat. Second, we provide a sociologically informedaccount of uncertainty and the erroneous perceptions that underlie it. Along with inherent ambiguity surrounding toxic contamination, thegeneralized confusion about sources and effects of pollution is theresultof twofactors: (1) the “relational anchoring” of risk perceptions and (2) the “labor of confusion “generated bypowerful outside actors. We derive two implications from this ethnographic case study: (1) Cognitive psychology and organizational sociology can travel beyond the boundaries of self-bounded communities and laboratory settings to understand and explain the collective production and reproduction of ignorance, uncertainty, and error. (2) Research on inequality and marginality in general, and in Latin America inparticular, should pay close attention to the contaminated spaces where the urban poor live.

2007

With Timothy Moran. “The Dynamics of Collective Violence: Dissecting Food Riots in Contemporary Argentina,” Social Forces. 85 (3): 1341-1367.

This article combines a statistical analysis with qualitative research to investigate the dynamics of collective violence in one of its most recurrent forms- the food riot. Using an original dataset collective by the authors on food riot episodes occurring in Argentina in December 2001, the article argues for the need to dissect the local, contextualized inner-dynamics of the episodes. We find significant interrelationships between three important factors: the presence of police, the presence or absence of political party brokers, and the type of market looted (big/chain or small/local). We then conduct a qualitative and ethnographic analysis to illustrate how these interactions might play out in two ideal type looting scenes – one illustrating the role of public authorities at big, chair super markets, the other showing the importance of party brokers at small, local food markets. We conclude by calling for more such research to better understand the mechanisms and processes, especially the relationships between state power and party politics, involved with all forms of collective violence.

With Debora Swistun. “Confused because Exposed. Towards an Ethnography of Environmental Suffering,” Ethnography 8(2):123-144.

Based on long-term collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in a shantytown called Flammable (real name) located in Argentina, this article examines residents’ perceptions of their highly polluted surroundings. Using a case study to explore the relationship between objective space and subjective representations (habitat and habitus), the article a) describes the widespread confusion that dominates shantytown dwellers’ views of contamination, and b) argues that this confusion translates into self-doubts, division, stigma, and a continual waiting time. The article ends with an empirically grounded speculation regarding the sources of toxic uncertainty.

With Debora Swistun. “Amidst Garbage and Poison,” Contexts 6(2):46-51.

Based on long-term collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in a shantytown called Flammable (real name) located in Argentina, this article examines residents’ perceptions of their highly polluted surroundings. Using a case study to explore the relationship between objective space and subjective representations (habitat and habitus), the article a) describes the widespread confusion that dominates shantytown dwellers’ views of contamination, and b) argues that this confusion translates into self-doubts, division, stigma, and a continual waiting time. The article ends with an empirically grounded speculation regarding the sources of toxic uncertainty.

2006

“L’Espace des luttes,” Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 160:122-132.

Tehran Pars, Iran, dans les années 1970. « Cette nuit-là, lorsque nous sommes sortis de la maison, j’ai assisté à une scène que je ne souhaite à personne de voir. Tout le quartier avait été encerclé par des militaires qui s’y étaient glissés furtivement et avaient interdit à quiconque d’allumer une lumière […]. Ils s’étaient équipés de quatre bulldozers. Ils ont contraint tout le monde à sortir des maisons et se sont ensuite mis à les démolir. Tous les membres de la famille, y compris les enfants, qui logeaient dans l’une de ces habitations, sont montés sur le toit en criant : “Nous ne sortirons pas !” Mais les militaires ont détruit la maison. Le père de famille est tombé et la maison s’est écroulée sur lui. Dès qu’elle a vu cela, la mère s’est évanouie et elle a laissé tomber l’enfant qu’elle tenait dans ses bras. »

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“The Political Makings of the 2001 Lootings in Argentina,” Journal of Latin American Studies 38:1-25

Based on archival research and on multi-sited fieldwork, this article offers the first available description of the food lootings that took place in Argentina in December 2001. The paper joins the current relational turn in the study of collective violence. It examines the existing continuities between everyday life, routine politics and extraordinary massive actions, and scrutinises the grey zone where the deeds and networks of looters, political entrepreneurs and law enforcement officials meet and mesh. The article reconstructs the looting dynamics at one specific site and highlights the existence of three mechanisms during the episodes: 1. the creation of opportunities by party brokers and police agents, 2. the validation of looting by state elites, and 3. the signalling spiral carried out by party brokers.