The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia / Edition 1

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Since the Bolivian revolution in 1952, migrants have come to the city of Cochabamba, seeking opportunity and relief from rural poverty. They have settled in barrios on the city’s outskirts only to find that the rights of citizens—basic rights of property and security, especially protection from crime—are not available to them. In this ethnography, Daniel M. Goldstein considers the significance of and similarities between two kinds of spectacles—street festivals and the vigilante lynching of criminals—as they are performed in the Cochabamba barrio of Villa Pagador. By examining folkloric festivals and vigilante violence within the same analytical framework, Goldstein shows how marginalized urban migrants, shut out of the city and neglected by the state, use performance to assert their national belonging and to express their grievances against the inadequacies of the state’s official legal order.

During the period of Goldstein’s fieldwork in Villa Pagador in the mid-1990s, residents attempted to lynch several thieves and attacked the police who tried to intervene. Since that time, there have been hundreds of lynchings in the poor barrios surrounding Cochabamba. Goldstein presents the lynchings of thieves as a form of horrific performance, with elements of critique and political action that echo those of local festivals. He explores the consequences and implications of extralegal violence for human rights and the rule of law in the contemporary Andes. In rich detail, he provides an in-depth look at the development of Villa Pagador and of the larger metropolitan area of Cochabamba, illuminating a contemporary Andean city from both microethnographic and macrohistorical perspectives. Focusing on indigenous peoples’ experiences of urban life and their attempts to manage their sociopolitical status within the broader context of neoliberal capitalism and political decentralization, The Spectacular City highlights the deep connections between performance, law, violence, and the state.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Spectacular City is a highly original contribution to the ethnography of law, violence, and the state. Goldstein explores the connections between localism and violence both as situated action and as genres of performance, resulting in a nuanced analysis of politics between state and nonstate forms.”—Carol Greenhouse, coeditor of Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change

“Fascinating and rich in ethnographic detail, The Spectacular City is particularly important at this moment because it examines the increase in common crime that has accompanied the consolidation of neoliberal capitalism in Latin America. Although it is widely appreciated that crime has gotten worse, there are very few anthropological studies that explore this phenomenon at the local level.”—Lesley Gill, author of The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822333708
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel M. Goldstein is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

The spectacular city

Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia
By Daniel M. Goldstein

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3370-8

Chapter One

Ethnography, Governmentality, and Urban Life

One irony of life on the margins is that a person can feel both completely invisible yet closely observed.

As I discussed in the introduction, invisibility is the critical condition facing marginalized people in urban Bolivia. Having occupied land and constructed housing illegally on the urban periphery (a process detailed in chapter 2), residents of barrios like Villa Pagador have been politically, legally, and socially excluded from membership in the city and the nation, an exclusion that they experience as a denial of citizenship and basic civil rights. The spectacular displays of belonging in which many of these people participate are efforts to reverse this exclusion, to make themselves visible to the legal authorities and to demand a response to their requests for services, including the desire for order and security in their communities.

Despite this legal and political invisibility, residents of marginal barrios are nevertheless subject to a variety of forms of official scrutiny, as the state endeavors to count, measure, and otherwise know and hence regulate the populations of the urban periphery. Such forms of official knowing have intensified in recent years, as neoliberal reforms and expanding democratic rhetoric have replaced the politicsof exclusion as the state's official doctrine in dealing with marginal communities (see chapter 2). In Villa Pagador, for example, barrio residents are subject to the official gaze of a variety of state agents and agencies engaged in the production of local "legibility" (J. Scott 1998). A project of state formation premised on the transformation of "chaotic" social reality into orderly governability, this "legibility effect" (Trouillot 2001: 132) attempts to subordinate subject populations to state control through a host of normalizing techniques intended to count, assess, and otherwise render citizens "knowable" to the state (in a manner reminiscent of Foucault's [1977] disciplinary techniques of knowledge and control, what he elsewhere calls the "arts of governmentality" [1991]). Ultimately, the goal of such techniques is to inculcate norms of proper comportment and self-discipline in subjects, framing their subjectivity to make them responsible for their own conduct and thereby reduce state responsibility for their management (Gupta and Ferguson 2002: 989; see also Burchell 1996; Merry 2001).

The ubiquity of census takers, tax collectors, and land legalization officials in the marginal barrios of Cochabamba attests to the prevalence of government efforts to render these areas legible to the state by gathering information and ensuring local compliance with state ordinances and procedures. The transformation of squatters into citizens through the land legalization process (detailed in chapter 3) is especially critical in the effort to increase the governability of the margins. At the same time, nongovernmental organizations (NGOS) are also operative in marginal barrios like Villa Pagador, producing their own kinds of legibility as they attempt to determine where and how to create development opportunities for local people. The proliferation of these NGOS under the neoliberal regime also points to the effort to reduce state accountability by devolving governmental responsibilities for such institutions as schools and police to private or nonstate enterprises (Gupta and Ferguson 2002; see Gill 2000).

Under neoliberalism, then, even the invisible barrios of the margins are being closely watched. But the people subjected to these forms of official observation do not readily reveal themselves, nor do they passively submit to these new forms of governmentality or their agents. This is particularly true in the case of tax collectors, whom barrio residents fear and go to great lengths to avoid and deceive. At the same time, though, people in Villa Pagador also recognize that the increased scrutiny to which they are subjected has the potential to undo the invisibility to which they attribute so much of their misfortune. Barrio residents have a special interest in NGOS, which many regard as their best hope for gaining needed services for themselves and their neighborhood, and to whom they want to present a particular view of themselves that they believe conforms to the expectations that NGOS have of their client populations. Caught up in this contradiction of resenting yet welcoming outside observation, barrio residents are very much concerned with manipulating the ways they appear to official enumerators, as individuals and as a group, for the specific ways they are rendered legible will have powerful economic consequences for themselves (e.g., in the form of tax assessments) and for their community (e.g., in the form of development projects). The performance of individual and collective identity here has two faces, one intended to attract resources into the community, the other designed to limit the information available to those trying to take resources out.

Thus, in Villa Sebastian Pagador, people want to control the production of ideas about and images of themselves and their community and recognize the benefits available to them if they can effect such control (see Warren 1996, 1997). In such a context, even the most quotidian of interactions can be performative, a miniature spectacle of individual or collective identity (Butler 1990; Goffman 1959). As the following chapters more thoroughly explore, people in Villa Pagador hope to elaborate a reputation for their locality as an organized and politically mobilized community, a reputation that will bring economic benefits through government investment or by attracting development projects to the barrio; one that will scare away thieves and keep the cops honest; one that will force the local authorities and the national state to pay attention to their needs, to legalize their land claims, and to provide them with needed infrastructure. Publicity, or the power to represent themselves in specific ways to a wider audience, is a vital, material force in people's lives: if they can portray their community as an organized, homogeneous collectivity, local people recognize that they will be good candidates for development assistance from the Bolivian state and international NGOS; if they can portray themselves as poor, they will be less likely to receive an onerous tax bill from city assessors; if they appear to harbor revolutionary potential, they may have a stronger hand in negotiating with the municipality. Barrio residents therefore regard control over images of themselves and their community as absolutely vital to their survival, and good publicity as critical in making these images available to a wider public (see Battaglia 1995: 87; Ginsburg 1995; T. Turner 1991).

Into this environment of observation, suspicion, and self-presentation steps the anthropologist, a different kind of observer (a participant-observer, in fact) come to do ethnographic research in the marginal barrio. The anthropologist arriving to do field research comes with the intent of authorship, ultimately aiming to produce a written ethnographic account of his or her research findings. But from the very outset of fieldwork, the anthropologist-as-author must contend with the attempted self-authoring evidenced by the people about whom he or she hopes to write. The anthropologist enters a milieu in which he or she becomes incorporated as actor, audience, and resource in local representational programs (Battaglia 1995: 83). The ethnography the anthropologist intends to write can take on important implications in local identity-building projects, for the politically savvy regard the anthropologist as a medium of communication previously unavailable to them, and ethnography as a means to present a version of themselves to a wider, perhaps even an international, audience. Many of these people recognize that the anthropologist who has come to study them will ultimately produce a written report about them, one that represents them, their needs, and their desires to a larger and more powerful world beyond their immediate domain, and they will attempt to exert some kind of influence over that final product. Actively engaged in their own ongoing projects of community representation, local people may see in the anthropologist a potential ally in their efforts to broadcast their message of community reputation to the wider world; they also may perceive the anthropologist as a potential threat, a wild card whose writings about the community could jeopardize their local initiatives.

In this chapter, I explore the conflicts that arose during my attempts to write the ethnography contained herein, a process that I came to discover was fraught with political and economic significance for the people of Villa Pagador. One indicator of this significance is the level of mistrust or suspicion that I encountered in doing research, what people in Villa Pagador call in Spanish desconfianza. In the many conversations I had with friends and informants in Villa Pagador about my activities in the barrio, it became clear to me that many in the community were concerned about what I was going to write about them and whether my ethnographic work would benefit or damage local reputation and related initiatives, whether it would bring resources into or take resources out of the barrio. This uncertainty colored my field experience and contributed to feelings of unease, of desconfianza, about me and my work in the community. Such desconfianza is not attributable to some inherently suspicious nature of pagadorenos themselves, nor simply to my own intrusion on their community as an outsider. Rather, desconfianza for many in Villa Pagador is a rational response to the anxiety and uncertain conditions of life in contemporary urban Bolivia. Always on their guard against unfriendly eyes and the hegemonic projects they represent, people on the margins must themselves be ever watchful and wary.

And yet, anthropological research in such a context is not only possible: for me it was remarkably fruitful, fascinating, and, I hope, an important tool in the political lives of the people whose struggles I have documented. Again, however, the process has two faces. The intersections between the kinds of performances offered to "official" observers and those played for anthropologists-and between anthropological and other, official forms of observation and knowing-suggest that the subjects of anthropological research may regard ethnographic inquiry as another kind of extractive enterprise, another means of producing legibility, whose benefits to the local community are difficult to discern. But their willingness to participate in ethnographic research and the collaborative ethnography that is ultimately produced suggests that anthropology can be a form of publicity, and as such a useful instrument in advancing the causes it studies.


I'll begin, as ethnographers do, with an arrival story.

The first thing I noticed about Villa Sebastian Pagador was the dust. Cochabamba is an arid city, to be sure, and even in the better parts of town the dry, brown air is a visible, palpable presence. But in Villa Pagador the dust is almost stifling. The barrio's many unpaved streets and frequent bus transit combine to produce an oppressive cloud of haze that stings the eyes and burns the throat. Most of the trees and low vegetation on the hillside were removed years ago to make way for mud-brick housing, so little plant life remains to hold down the eroding earth against the strong winds that whip up the valley from the south. The dust gets into people's cooking pots and clings to their drying laundry; it enters their homes like an unbidden guest and resists eviction, even against a regular program of sweeping and wet-mopping. Stepping down off the bus from the city center, I pulled the collar of my t-shirt up over my nose and mouth and, like a masked desperado, trudged toward the marketplace, where the leaders' group was holding its weekly meeting.

I had been attracted to Villa Sebastian Pagador because of its reputation in greater Cochabamba as an organized and politically active community. I knew Cochabamba from earlier experience, having gone there to study Quechua in 1993, and when I returned for extended fieldwork (1994-96) my intent was to study migration to and political organization in the peripheral barrios of the city. As I cast about for a field site, my attention was repeatedly drawn to Villa Pagador. Friends in the city spoke of the barrio as being highly mobilized and active in its own development, and Pagador's reputation as the most organized and progressive barrio in all of Cochabamba was frequently broadcast in the local news media. This reputation for organization and political activism made the barrio particularly appealing as a site for the study of migration, community formation, and political action in an urbanizing context.

I had been rehearsing in my head what I was going to say to these people, the leaders of the community in which I hoped to do fieldwork. Though by this time I had already been coming around Villa Pagador for a few weeks, visiting acquaintances and making gently probing inquiries into the possibilities of doing research in the barrio, I had not yet secured official permission from the local authorities to work there. In many ways, this was a formality: many other people were already doing different kinds of research in Villa Pagador, and they hadn't bothered to ask anyone for permission. But I would be the first anthropologist to do fieldwork in the community, and in the tradition of good Latin American ethnography, I felt it would be polite to seek permission before I began in earnest. It also seemed important to have the local authorities on my side, even if they weren't actually in a position to keep me out. As I neared the house where the meeting was being held, I practiced the complex Spanish constructions I would employ to present my case to the authorities and win them over in support of my project.

I was quite surprised, therefore, to discover that not only was I to be allowed to work in Villa Pagador, but that my presence there was regarded by some of the local leaders as potentially useful. Though the meeting began with discussions of regular business, attention soon became focused on me. Dona Lidia, then president of the leaders' group, posed me a direct question: What are you here to study, she demanded, and how will it benefit us? I had come prepared to explain myself, but even so I was nonplussed. Haltingly, I began by saying that I would like to write a study of the barrio, but Dona Lidia interrupted. No, she instructed me, un libro, putting me on notice that nothing short of a book would be acceptable to the community. A book, she explained, would put the name and the history of Villa Pagador before the eyes of the world.

Thus I began my work in Villa Pagador with a commission to represent that community to the outside world. This charge gave me something of a unique position in the community, one that was open to various interpretations by different people in the barrio. As a "professional" from the United States, I was regarded by some as a potential resource in their efforts to gain national and even international recognition for the community. For some people I represented a possible connection with USAID or some other, unspecified development organization (not an unrealistic expectation, given the prevalence of international development workers in the community; see below). Others, like Dona Lidia, recognized my potential as a mouthpiece for community reputation, that is, as a resource for publicity, the dissemination of images of the local group to a mass audience.

Being perceived as the person who was going to represent Villa Pagador to the rest of the world had its advantages and its drawbacks. From a fieldwork perspective, my efforts to write a book about the community served to open a number of doors that would otherwise have been closed to me. People often invited me to attend meetings and community events, taking the time to clarify what was going on and to explain how particular incidents or individuals figured in the broader history of the barrio. Others willingly submitted to my requests for interviews or shared documents they had in their possession. At times, however, I felt that people were putting the best face on things for me, emphasizing those aspects of local history that they felt reflected most favorably on the barrio, particularly on its image as an organized and unified community. By the same token, I occasionally felt excluded from discussions or meetings that revealed certain negative aspects of barrio life, such as conflicts or disunity among community members, or events that touched on aspects of local politics deemed sensitive by some of the local leaders. Particularly in the early days of my fieldwork this limitation felt problematic, and I worried about the comprehensiveness of the understandings I was reaching, whether I was not just being played as a puppet by the local spin doctors. It was as though I were trapped in some sort of Goffmanesque house of mirrors, in which I could never find my way into the "backstage" that lay behind the public face of the community.


Excerpted from The spectacular city by Daniel M. Goldstein 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

Introduction : becoming visible in neoliberal Bolivia 1
1 Ethnography, governmentality, and urban life 29
2 Urbanism, modernity, and migration in Cochabamba 53
3 Villa Sebastian Pagador and the politics of community 90
4 Performing national culture in the Fiesta de San Miguel 134
5 Spectacular violence and citizen security 179
Conclusion : theaters of memory and the violence of citizenship 215
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