Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras / Edition 1

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"Honduras is violent." Adrienne Pine situates this oft-repeated claim at the center of her vivid and nuanced chronicle of Honduran subjectivity. Through an examination of three major subject areas—violence, alcohol, and the export-processing (maquiladora) industry—Pine explores the daily relationships and routines of urban Hondurans. She views their lives in the context of the vast economic footprint on and ideological domination of the region by the United States, powerfully elucidating the extent of Honduras's dependence. She provides a historically situated ethnographic analysis of this fraught relationship and the effect it has had on Hondurans' understanding of who they are. The result is a rich and visceral portrait of a culture buffeted by the forces of globalization and inequality.

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Editorial Reviews

Estudios Interdisciplinarios De America Latina Y El Caribe (Eial)
“Pine has written a path-breaking book that forms an analytical bridge between the structures of neoliberalism and daily life for the poor who live within its midst.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520255449
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 5/7/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,299,492
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Adrienne Pine is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the American University in Washington, DC

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Read an Excerpt

Working Hard, Drinking Hard

On Violence and Survival in Honduras

By Adrienne Pine


Copyright © 2008 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94162-5




On the day that I moved to the maquiladora town of Choloma in 1999, I saw a man die. I was buying household supplies in a hardware store when I heard and felt a boom and the lights went out. I went outside to look, along with the owner and other customers, and saw a cable on the ground and a man lying motionless near a bicycle. The man began to convulse violently in what I assumed were death throes until I noticed that the cable was actually tangled around and underneath him, electrocuting him as I watched. Acrowd gathered rapidly, and some men managed to drag the cable off him. I stood, impotent with the other onlookers, oblivious to the fact that we were blocking the way of the police and the ambulance. Back in the hardware store, the owner and a customer got to chatting about the man on the bicycle. They agreed that the current couldn't have been that strong, because otherwise he would have been charred. The owner remarked that it was because the cable had been hung wrong. He had noticed it spewing sparks in the rain a few days before. The municipality never takes care of these things, but anyway, he said, the bicyclist was only a drunk.


Violence and death are familiar to Hondurans. Rocío Tábora, a sociologist and former deputy minister of the Office of the President, has noted that to speak of violence there "is to bring to the surface a web of memories and confusing and painful stories, in which the eras, dates, and causes of violence unravel to form part of a vital permanent experience of insecurity, fear and death." Violence, insecurity, fear, and death crop up every day as themes in conversation and dominate the news media. While I was alarmed and angered by the preceding scene, for the people I was with, watching a man's electrocution provoked little more than curious gossip and speculation. It was a spectacle, to be sure, but not an exceptional event. This was not because of some sort of Latin American magical realism, embracing the absurdity of death. Rather, it can be understood as an example of the ways in which violence has become normalized for Hondurans through constant exposure—to the point that this victim of obvious municipal negligence was blamed for bringing about his own demise.

How does violence from without become subjectivity? What are the processes by which we incorporate the world around us into our own bodies, our own lives? How does a group of people come to understand violence done to peers (and to themselves) as violence deserved? In Honduras, there is not the sort of unifying nationalist agenda that exists in other Latin American nations. Hondurans do not have the kind of clear propagandistic answers to questions of identity available, for example, to Mexicans ("We Mexicans are hijos de la chingada; we are malinchistas; we are la raza"). When I ask Hondurans what it means to be Honduran, their answers emerge mostly in the negative: "We're not as advanced as the United States," "We don't have any money," "We haven't yet learned how to control our violence," or simply, "We are behind." Hondurans' imagined community is one of violence and lack.

The concept of symbolic violence—a subject's complicity in violence perpetrated against him or her—is a useful tool for comprehending Honduran subjectivities. I follow Bourdieu in using the theoretical framework of symbolic violence to address the kind of questions I raise in the preceding paragraph and in an attempt to avoid falling into the easy trap of blaming the victims of violence. The Honduran conviction that the essence of Honduranness is violence, that as a people Hondurans are less civilized than those in first-world nations, is a symbolically violent evolutionary trope common to colonialism. As such, this conviction complements economic and other forms of structural violence in Honduran processes of identification and subjectivation.

The theory of symbolic violence relies on another Bourdieuian concept—that of habitus, the structural and cultural environment internalized in the form of dispositions to act, think, and feel in certain ways. For example, habitus can be the bodily disposition to stand at different distances from people in different circumstances, or the disposition to act toward and react to people of different classes or ethnicities (and different habitus) in different ways. Habitus is acquired through enculturation into a social class, a gender, a family, a peer group, or even a nationality.

Habitus is also a central component of symbolic capital. As Bourdieu notes, "Symbolic capital, that is to say, capital—in whatever form—insofar as it is represented, i.e., apprehended symbolically, in a relationship of knowledge or, more precisely, of misrecognition and recognition, presupposes the intervention of the habitus as a socially constituted cognitive capacity." To put it more simply, symbolic capital is the intrinsic knowledge of how and when to employ manners in order to achieve social distinction by demonstrating superior taste, and those manners and tastes themselves are embodied in habitus. Although habitus cannot be intentionally altered through consciousness-raising (since it is embodied and not a merely psychological state), its development is a continuous process.

In this book I argue that the symbolic violence resulting from the Honduran embodied obsession with certain forms of their own "real" (vs. structural) violence is a necessary condition for the acceptance of a violent form of modernity and a violent form of capitalism.


On July 6, 1997, my first day of fieldwork in the town of La Lima, I wrote the following: "On the way walking back [home] I stopped at a taco stand. The old woman seemed shocked that I sat down, and soon there were three of them and an old man crowding around and interrogating me.... They told me to be careful. People could see a girl like me and think I have lots of money and pow. Then came story after story of people who they knew who had been robbed, mutilated, killed, and otherwise wronged for no particular reason." After a few weeks, this conversation became so generic that I ceased mentioning it in my notes and focused on other topics. Talk of violence pervades nearly every conversation in Honduras, and violence holds a special relationship with the maquiladora industry—my original focus of study—in the popular perception. Many Hondurans point to a correlation between the growth of the maquiladora industry and rising levels of street violence and alcohol and drug consumption. As one young maquiladora worker stated in response to my question about the often-cited connection between violence and the factories, "That just comes along with progress. When you have progress, as we do, you get delinquency." Ironically, despite the perception of a link between maquiladoras and violence, many Hondurans locate that violence outside the maquiladora—in contrast to the factory interior, which is imagined as a space of untainted modernity and progress.

Honduras did not experience a war on its population on the scale that Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador did during the 1980s, although militarization (including a significant long-term U.S. Army presence) then, as now, was ubiquitous, and the specter of state violence was omnipresent. Disappearances were a common form of state-sanctioned political repression throughout the 1980s, and death squad activities continue to this day. The biggest fear of most Hondurans, however, is not state violence but gang violence and seemingly random "anonymous" violence. Nancy Scheper-Hughes writes, "At certain levels of political-economic development ... violence and threats or fear of violence are sufficient to guarantee the 'public order.'" "Random" violence in Honduras, while not officially perpetrated by the state, is a controlling process that has been cleverly spun by the state and private industry to serve many of the same functions of—and ultimately to justify—state violence.


One of the ways in which the public order is maintained in Honduras is through a continuous media bombardment of images and tales of bloody, brutal deaths. Honduran media, owned by the same families who own industrial parks and produce elected politicians, is a powerful force in shaping Honduran identity (e.g., as a "violent" people) and subjectivities. Arthur Kleinman has observed that "the immense cultural power of the media in the world order enables appropriation of images of violence as 'infotainment' to feed global commercialism, while at the same time it normalizes suffering and turns empathic viewing into voyeurism [and therefore] a violence is done to the moral order."

Observing the violence done to the moral order as a means of maintaining the social order in Honduras gave me a new embodied understanding of the English term gut-wrenching. On July 4, 2000, I wrote the following entry in my field notes:

Canal 6 ... graced us with close-ups of three different gang murders yesterday during lunch, corpses of bloody young men stabbed or shot at close range the night before and yesterday morning in their faces surrounded by pools of their own blood, each one covered with flies and visibly festering in the noon heat. Apparently they are left at the crime scene until everyone has had a good long look, because the police stand around at each scene, ready with words on youth delinquency and the need for people to find God but in no hurry to remove the bodies.

In a paper on gang and state violence in a Tegucigalpa neighborhood, Jon Carter quotes a former gang member who states that police rarely interfere in gang fights, arriving at the murder scenes only to guard the corpse(s) for the press after the surviving parties have dispersed. Scenes like the one I described in my notes can be viewed numerous times each day on television, and similarly bloody pictures appear frequently in the print media. Carlos Monsiváis has chronicled the existence of this kind of sensational depiction of mutilated human bodies in Mexico, and José Alaniz has used the term death porn to describe it in Russia. More recently, the linkage of pornography with grotesque photographs of death posted on the Internet by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, revealed in images from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and shown in pictures taken by German soldiers in Afghanistan has added a new poignancy to Alaniz's term.

While in the early 2000s these images were usually relegated to underground media in the United States, they were mainstream in Honduras. Such images are jarring to many viewers, but their recent incursion into mainstream media in the United States is evidence of their belonging to a continuum of violence in the form of media voyeurism rather than representing a break from more "civilized" media. Charles Baudelaire's observations about newspaper imagery (written in the 1860s) further attest to this continuum: "It is impossible to glance through any newspaper, no matter what the day, the month or the year, without finding on every line the most frightful traces of human perversity, together with the most astonishing boasts of probity, charity, and benevolence and the most brazen statements regarding the progress of civilization.... And it is with this loathsome appetizer that civilized man daily washes down his morning repast.... I am unable to comprehend how a man of honor could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust."

The rhetoric accompanying death porn is just as important as the images themselves in shaping public consciousness on the issue. Hondurans' chronic fears of violence are both bodily and embodied—that is, violence to the body is that which is most feared and anticipated, and this fear is felt and expressed by Hondurans and others living in Honduras through their bodies. Fear affects all segments of Honduran society; as Green has found in Guatemala, fear is the "metanarrative" for rich and poor. However, there is an awareness among the poor that their lives are thought of as dispensable. In the pervasive idiom of the maquila, with its high turnover and low-skill production methods, replaceable might be a more appropriate term. While both poor and rich express similar embodied fears, the media and stratified practices of everyday violence reinforce the sense that only rich bodies count. On July 16, 1997, I wrote in my field notes: "Yesterday Gianni Versace was murdered at his house in Miami Beach. It was on the front page of La Prensa. While I was waiting for three hours in the office of CODEH, a human rights NGO, [a man] noticed the article. 'Who the hell is this Versace guy? Why on earth should I care that he died?' 'He's probably someone from the jet set,' responded the woman sitting next to him. 'It's more important when one of them dies.'"

In contrast to the "jet set," much of the immediate bodily violence experienced by the poor is portrayed fleetingly and impersonally in the media. Deeply sympathetic stories of individual ranchers and society women and men kidnapped for ransom remain front-page news for months, while violence done to the poor is shown in gory color images of dehumanized bodies, reported on but not individualized or remembered except by relatives and neighbors. As Susan Sontag has noted in the case of war photography, there is an interdiction against showing the naked face of our dead, whereas it is natural to do so for theirs.

The sense of stratified bodily worth is reinforced at death and in illness, with bourgeois notions of bodily ownership keeping anyone who can afford it out of public hospitals. Mario Catarino Rivas, the largest such hospital in San Pedro, is locally nicknamed "el matarino" from the verb matar, "to kill." This reflects the well-founded fears of the indigent that a stay in the overcrowded and underfunded hospital could leave them sick, mutilated, or dead.


Gangs, called maras in Honduran Spanish, held the nation in a panic throughout my years of fieldwork. Evidence of the 18th Street Gang (la Dieciocho), the Vatos Locos, and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) was visible on every wall, in the sidewalk pavement, in the rapid hand signals of loosely clothed boys and a few girls, and tattooed on the foreheads and arms of hungry-looking children. Smaller regional gangs such as the Mao Mao in Barrio Cabañas, where I lived in San Pedro, jealously defended their turf against the more renowned youth groups. A 2001 publication of the National Committee on Human Rights (CONADEH) reported that the National Police Force's Gang Prevention Unit estimated total gang membership in Honduras at 31,164. A newspaper article citing the same statistic added, "Even more alarming, these gangs have a total of 70,500 sympathizers, in other words, seventy thousand young people who identify with gangs and could decide to join one of them at any moment." Newspapers and television stations reported daily on gang killings, especially when graphic photos were available.

While gangs were not originally central to my research interests, I realized early on that they had a deep impact on Honduran processes of identification and subjectivation. Throughout my four-month stay in Choloma in 1999, the large municipal plaque welcoming visitors bore a graffiti message from the 18th Street Gang next to the population and elevation statistics. One morning when I stepped outside, I found "18" inscribed in the new pavement at my doorstep. I was warned daily against going to certain parts of town that were known gang strongholds. Over the years, I learned to habitually avoid certain areas and recognize gang signs, from the telltale graffiti tags and sneakers on power lines to hand gestures and coded speech. In learning the visual language of gangs and the appropriate embodied responses to it, I incorporated a part of Honduran habitus into my own.


A dramatic shift in family structure has accompanied the economic changes of recent decades in Honduras. In an agrarian economy—and even for wage laborers on banana plantations whose working conditions improved after the 1954 strikes—the gendered structure of labor allowed for a man to be the primary wage earner of his family. This permitted him to adhere to a particular definition of masculinity, one in which his control of the family was justified and earned economically. In a process similar to that which Bourgois describes as the transformation of jibaro culture among Puerto Ricans in New York, the economic base of the patriarchy in Honduras has been radically transformed. Whereas the workforce was once primarily male, with the introduction of the maquila industry and the growth of the service sector, poor men find themselves with fewer job opportunities than women and scant opportunities to earn enough money to support a family. The inability of young men to fulfill their duties as men has important effects on masculinity (just as growth in the female workforce has implications for femininity) and on women's and men's roles in the family.


Excerpted from Working Hard, Drinking Hard by Adrienne Pine. Copyright © 2008 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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

List of Illustrations

Introduction 1

1 Violence 25

2 Alcohol 85

3 Maquiladoras 135

Conclusion 192

Notes 205

Bibliography 225

Index 243

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