Contentious Lives: Two Argentine Women, Two Protests, and the Quest for Recognition [NOOK Book]


Contentious Lives examines the ways popular protests are experienced and remembered, individually and collectively, by those who participate in them. Javier Auyero focuses on the roles of two young women, Nana and Laura, in uprisings in Argentina (the two-day protest in the northwestern city of Santiago del Estero in 1993 and the six-day road blockade in the southern oil towns of Cutral-co and Plaza Huincul in 1996) and the roles of the protests in their lives. Laura was the spokesperson of the picketers in ...
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Contentious Lives: Two Argentine Women, Two Protests, and the Quest for Recognition

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Contentious Lives examines the ways popular protests are experienced and remembered, individually and collectively, by those who participate in them. Javier Auyero focuses on the roles of two young women, Nana and Laura, in uprisings in Argentina (the two-day protest in the northwestern city of Santiago del Estero in 1993 and the six-day road blockade in the southern oil towns of Cutral-co and Plaza Huincul in 1996) and the roles of the protests in their lives. Laura was the spokesperson of the picketers in Cutral-co and Plaza Huincul; Nana was an activist in the 1993 protests. In addition to exploring the effects of these episodes on their lives, Auyero considers how each woman's experiences shaped what she said and did during the uprisings, and later, the ways she recalled the events. While the protests were responses to the consequences of political corruption and structural adjustment policies, they were also, as Nana’s and Laura’s stories reveal, quests for recognition, respect, and dignity.

Auyero reconstructs Nana’s and Laura’s biographies through oral histories and diaries. Drawing on interviews with many other protesters, newspaper articles, judicial records, government reports, and video footage, he provides sociological and historical context for their stories. The women’s accounts reveal the frustrations of lives overwhelmed by gender domination, the deprivations brought about by hyper-unemployment and the withering of the welfare component of the state, and the achievements and costs of collective action. Balancing attention to large-scale political and economic processes with acknowledgment of the plurality of meanings emanating from personal experiences, Contentious Lives is an insightful, penetrating, and timely contribution to discussions of popular resistance and the combined effects of globalization, neoliberal economic policies, and political corruption in Argentina and elsewhere.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Contentious Lives dares to present the lives of two women who lived hard times but at a certain moment plunged into popular movements and then had to bear the consequences of their participation, to make sense of what they had done, and to fashion new relations with other people. The two women have entrusted Javier Auyero with stories few others would want to see in print: stories of suffering, indiscretion, indecision, bitterness, regret, and passion.”—Charles Tilly, Columbia University

”Javier Auyero proves that you can go home again—and that with the proper experience elsewhere you can see more than you would have noticed if you had never left. Returning to his native Argentina as a sympathetic, well trained observer of political conflict, he shows us how intense personal lives and passionate political participation connect with each other. Auyero tells stories of Argentinian political and economic crises from an entirely fresh perspective.”—Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822384366
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2003
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Javier Auyero is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is the author of Poor People's Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita (Duke University Press), winner of the 2001 Best Book award from the New England Council of Latin American Studies (neclas) and a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award.

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Contentious lives

Two Argentine women, two protests, and the quest for recognition
By Javier Auyero

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3115-2

Chapter One

The Day before the Pueblada: A Town on the Edge

What follows is an edited version of Laura's diary covering the first day of the protest; the original version mixes past and present tenses (see figure 3):

Thursday, June 20, 1996. It was a normal day. I woke up early. My same duties were awaiting me. No work was forthcoming, but I had to go and wait for it. Everything was as usual. I had to go to court to check the paperwork for the child allowance I was claiming from my husband; that was tedious, tiring, humiliating. The only difference was that I had to get the boots so that my son could dance as a gaucho at school. Those were small details that, in some other economic condition, would make me feel proud. But I have to face all this wonderful stuff with a heavy weight on my shoulders. I don't have any money to enjoy it; and even the piece of cloth with the colors of the Argentine flag that my son has to wear on his arm is a problem. But there are so many things that I have to do during that day that I just don't want to think about them, I just do them.

That Thursday, I came back home earlier than usual from the house where I teach nobody (because people just show up to ask how much do I charge; since last year we lowered our fees so much that I feel ashamed; we cannot even buya half a kilo of bread and two liters of milk). In the (rented) house where we teach, we don't have radio, and we cannot buy the newspaper, so I have no idea of what is going on in our town. Around 12:15 P.M., my neighbor Claudia knocks on my door and asks me, "Do you know about the whole mess?" "No," I reply, "What's going on?" "Turn on Radio Victoria and listen. They are going to block the (national) route."

"What? Why?"

"Because they won't build the fertilizer plant. The governor canceled the deal with Agrium." "Bah! That's just another game of those on top," I told her, and tuned the radio. I listened to the radio, but I didn't understand what was going on: "They will block the route, stores will close for the day." There were phone calls in which people vented all their anger, anger, a lot of anger. I took care of my kids before they left for the school celebration [June 20 is "Flag Day"]. They were beautiful. Miguel was using his new school uniform. A neighbor procures the uniform from the store where she works; maybe I won't be able to pay for it, but I am happy, my kids are not suffering the misery that is tormenting me. The party was terrific. I cried when I saw Guillermo dancing, and when Miguelito said the pledge to the flag. I took a lot of pictures. I was feeling fine; my kids were the prettiest. We had hot chocolate and went back home. At 4 P.M., I went back to work, and there I met Jorge. He teaches math, and during the afternoons, we spend a lot of time drinking mate. With Jorge, his wife Susana, their two sons, I found a family. Jorge's parents [Maria Esther and Kelio] are marvelous friends ... Jorge is my ally in good and bad times; he makes me feel I am not alone; I always need his words and his smiles ... He works with me, and he is studying to become a math professor. That afternoon, we were talking about what was going on. He told me the history of Agrium, the fertilizer plant, the different factions within the governing party MPN, and all the things I had to know. He knows about these things because he was born and raised here. As we were chatting, we began to doubt: should we open or close? The radio was clearly saying that what was going on was no joke. It was 6 P.M. when my daughter Paula came in saying that the mess was for real, and that her classmates had gone to the road. "Everything is closed," she added before going back home to take care of her two brothers. "I will be there early," I told her. When I went back home, I turned on the radio, and I listened to all the angry comments that the people were making, anger, a lot of anger: "Another political promise was vanishing." Unemployment, "Father YPF" was gone, hunger, nothing to do. I went to bed with the radio at my side; by then I had begun to identify with that poverty that, although it has been part of my life for quite a long time now, I never thought about it, less so analyzed it. And I cried for the three years of solitude, the three years of efforts, of struggles for my three kids that are the only reason why I keep going, and going, and going; three years of fights against a humiliating court system, a system that humiliates those who have nothing ... That night I cried a lot ... I am not well, that's the truth. And I cried and I identified with the comments that people were making on the radio. I didn't have a phone, and I fell asleep ... This is the last thing I thought: "If everything is closed, where will I buy the milk for my kids?" Maybe I thought that because the milk for my children is my only concern since I got divorced [July 12, 1993]. I don't recall at what time I fell asleep or what was the last message on the radio. I only knew that there were a lot of people in the route, that people were bringing food and clothing. And I also knew that I was not well, and that I was poor. I wanted to go to the road, but I couldn't leave my kids alone. I cried, I cried, I should be there in the road. I am poor, with no possibilities, with no hope, thirty-six years old, alone, hoping that someone feels compassion for me. The only things I have are those kids, my students. They taught me to love, trust, with their innocence, their simplicity, and their trust in me. All my income comes from the two students I have. I don't receive child support. That's why I cried and I said to myself: I am poor, I live in the poverty that other people have decided for me and my children. Unjust justice: they receive very big salaries, and they don't do anything for me. They steal under my name. The radio was my only connection to the world surrounding me. Those messages, those angry cries, and the conversation I had with Jorge. The factionalism within the MPN: yellows and whites. "The mobilization was organized by the whites," I concluded that. The mobilization was because of the fertilizer plant ... The morning of the twenty-first, I looked for some milk in my neighborhood stores, but everything was closed. I am poor, but I never participated in something like this, my parents would kill me [if I join in]. What shall I do? Everything is closed. I talked to my neighbor, and we decided to go to the road. The radio was announcing big barbecues, and they were saying that the cabs were free if you wanted to go. In other words, it was like a day in the country, and with that mentality, I went to the road, to have a barbecue with my neighbors. Everything was free. What can go wrong? I was not going to the place full of politicians. The radio was saying: "Everybody to the road." The reality: unemployment and poverty, injustice. My reality: unemployment, poverty, injustice. That was my life.

On the Radio

There are many themes in Laura's pages that merit close attention and that I will explore later-the description of her daily concerns, her references to her humiliating dealings with the court system, et cetera. For the time being, let us concentrate on the key role played by one of the local radio stations, Radio Victoria, during that first day. Laura is certainly not the sole recipient of those radio messages. Early on June 20, Radio Victoria airs the cancellation of the deal between the provincial government and Agrium and "opens its microphones to listen to the people's reaction,"-as Mario Fernandez, director and owner of the radio station, says. "In a way, the radio station called on people. We said: What should the people do? Stay at home or demonstrate? ... We began receiving phone calls from people who said that what was going on was terrible ... and saying that the people should participate ... A neighbor called saying that the people should show their discontent. We got a lot of phone calls, and we aired them. We talked to the people, and the people told us what to do. They were talking about getting together and jointly expressing [their opinions] ... Someone said that we should get together in the road" (quoted in Sanchez 1997, 9).

All my interviewees mention those radio messages as central in their recollections, not only in terms of the ways in which the radio calls on people but also in terms of the way in which Radio Victoria portrays the cancellation of the fertilizer plant project. On Radio Victoria, former mayor Grittini (who for years has been insisting that the plant would be the solution to the main problems affecting both communities since the privatization of YPF, providing hundreds of jobs, and marking the beginning of a new destiny for the community) and his political ally, the radio station owner and director, depict the cancellation of the deal with Agrium as a "final blow to both communities," as the "last hope gone," as an "utterly arbitrary decision of the provincial government."

Daniel remembers that "there was a lot of anger ... the radio said that we should go out and demonstrate, they were saying that it was the time to be courageous. I had a future to struggle for, even though I had nothing, I had my daughter. We have no skills, no studies, no nothing ... I don't know whose decision it was to block the road. The only thing I know is that someone said that we had to blockade it ... and people went out because there was need and hunger." "I learned about the blockade on the radio ... they were talking about the social situation," Zulma says. Laura, Daniel, Zulma, and the rest point toward both the same framing articulator and its similar functions: the radio both makes sense of the "social situation" and persuades people to go to the road. Zulma and Laura also indicate another central actor in this framing process: friends and peers. In Laura's case, it is her beloved friend and coworker, Jorge; in Zulma's, her friends from the community center where she is working and the acquaintances she meets in the road: "When I went there with my friends, people began to tell us what was going on, why we were fighting, and saying that we could not afford to lose more jobs as we did when YPF was privatized. My girlfriends from the community center and I agreed that we were not going to go back to work until this thing was solved."

As the radio broadcasts "the ire that we felt," as Daniel explains to me, calling people to the Torre Uno on Route 22, cabs bring people there free of charge. Is this a sudden eruption of indignation? Are radio reporters and taxi drivers merely the first to spontaneously react? Hardly so. Although the story of the spontaneous uprising has some acceptance among residents of both towns, many others privately acknowledge that a massive mobilization of resources was crucial during the initial steps of the protest; the roots of this mobilization lie in the factionalism within the governing party, the MPN, and particularly in the actions of the former mayor Adolfo Grittini. It is indeed a thorny topic to raise, because it puts in question the story of spontaneity that residents proudly tell to each other and to me about the protest. But even those who deeply believe that the pueblada is an unprompted reaction ("because of the needs and the hunger") mention the word "politics" when asked about their thoughts concerning the presence of possible organizers during the first days of protest:

DANIEL: In the first picket, the one on the curve before the Torre Uno, we were around thirty persons. Mattresses, food, coffee, and milk were brought to us ... JAVIER: And who brought you all these things?

DANIEL: Well, maybe ... politics ...

JAVIER: Tell me a little bit about the first organization? Who decided where to place a barricade?

MARY: I think that everything was coming from the top, it was all prepared. Because it was a big coincidence that everything took place around the Torre Uno. But I have no idea who organized it or who spread the first warning. But we saw (especially the first couple of days) a lot of politicians ... even so, I stayed there out of curiosity.

JAVIER: How was it all organized?

CECILIA: I really don't recall, but ... I might be wrong, but I think politicians began. I went to the Torre Uno because my brother invited me, that's all. But I know that politicians were the first to begin. At that time, I didn't care because it was a just cause, it was for the people who were in need. I didn't care whether politicians were or were not around.

JAVIER: So, you, the picketers, were not the ones who decided to blockade the road ...

JOTE: No, no, no ... This was encouraged by one of the factions of the MPN. There was a radio that promoted the whole thing. It was like calling for a rally ...

Many in Cutral-co agree that the impressive amount of resources mobilized during the first days of the pueblada can be traced back to the figure of Adolfo Grittini, who was waging a personal fight against his former ally and declared enemy Mayor Martinasso-a factionalism that, after the protest, escalated into a "festival of (mutual) bombings," as the public prosecutor explains to me, referring to the bomb attacks that politicians launch against each other from January to March 1997. In an interview that he prefers not to tape, "because the truth cannot be told to a tape recorder," Daniel Martinasso tells me: "Grittini backed the protest during the first couple of days. How? Well, in the first place, buying a couple of local radio stations so that they call people to the route." "Is it that easy to buy a radio station?" I ask him. "I myself paid Radio Victoria so that they broadcast nice things about my administration. The radio's reception area was built with the money I paid to the owner ... that's how politics work in Cutral-co."

The efforts of Grittini and his associates (Radio Victoria's owner Fernandez being a key figure at this stage) do not stop there. Apparently he also sends the trucks that bring hundreds of tires to the different pickets and some of the bulldozers to block the traffic. He is also behind the distribution of food, alcohol, and cigarettes that circulate in the pickets. Although there is not firm evidence, many sources (not only Mayor Martinasso, who has obvious reasons to point the accusing finger at him-after all, the protest is at the root of his later impeachment and destitution-but journalists, politicians, and picketers) indicate that, especially during the first two days, the major resources come from Grittini's faction. Some even say that Grittini pays fifty dollars per night to hundreds of young picketers and that his associates provide them with wine and drugs. In a conversation I have with him in his shop, "El Chofa" Guzman (if anything, an expert in local political dirty dealings) admits that this version is not far-fetched. After five years in jail for drug possession charges, he is on probation, and for obvious reasons, he doesn't want to give names. But during our two-hour talk, he tells me that the distribution of drugs and alcohol among young picketers is one, and not the most vicious, of the local ways of doing politics. The public prosecutor agrees with Martinasso and, curiously, given his personal animosity toward the man whom he publicly accused of being the "local drug czar," with "El Chofa." According to Santiago Teran, "Police information and the voice of the people, which is usually the wisest opinion, told me that Adolfo Grittini was encouraging people to protest against the social situation ... there were political interests behind the mobilization, these interests told local merchants to support the protest with food, meat sausages, wine, milk, bread...." Or as Laura explains to me: "Grittini is the owner of three of the four gas stations in Cutral-co and Plaza Huincul. That's why during the first days there was free gasoline, for everybody, but especially for cabs and buses.... Everything was free, gasoline, meat, milk, cigarettes, wine, firewood, everything ... and everything in the route, in the pickets."


Excerpted from Contentious lives by Javier Auyero Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

About the Series
Introduction: On the Intersection of Individual and Collective Biographies and Protest 1
Pt. I The Picketer 15
1 The Day before the Pueblada: A Town on the Edge 29
2 Laura's Life: "How Did I Fall So Far?" 48
3 Being-in-the-Road: Insurgent Identities 60
4 After the Road: Contentious Legacies 89
Pt. II The Queen of the Riot 101
5 The Lived 1993: The Coming and Making of the Explosion 115
6 The Lived Sixteenth: The Feast and the Remains of the Riot 137
7 Nana's Life: "Thirty-six Years of Crap" 153
8 Contested Memories 172
Conclusions: Ethnography and Recognition 191
App.: On Fieldwork, Theory, and the Question of Biography 201
Notes 209
References 217
Index 229
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