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Accepted Paper:

Subaltern city-making against the grain of state-led urban modernization: the persistence of indigenous markets in Mexico's 'supermarketization'  

Author:

Diana Denham (Portland State University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the paradoxical survival of urban indigenous markets in the context of development strategies that privilege multinational retailers and rebrand Mexican cities as modern and globally competitive. It examines the surprising resilience of these markets as subaltern urbanism.

Paper long abstract:

This paper investigates the paradoxical survival of urban indigenous markets in the context of state-sponsored development strategies that privilege multinational retailers and work to rebrand Mexican cities as modern and globally competitive. I examine how indigenous markets have survived the supermarketization (and, more precisely, Walmartization) of food retail that has taken hold of Mexico. Better known by their Nahuatl name tianguis, open-air indigenous markets held in streets and public plazas predate the first conquistadors and remain common across Mesoamerica today. My examination of tianguis in native language texts, colonial narratives, popular art, and mid-20th century newspapers demonstrates that while they once constituted the unquestioned, central source of urban food provisioning in Mexico, the state and local elites began to depict them as antithetical to the modern city in the 1970s. Yet, while such campaigns, together with a host of subsequent neoliberal government policies, have ushered in a new era of supermarket dominance across the global South, tianguis have shown surprising resilience. Drawing on ethnographic research in Oaxaca, including auto-driven photo elicitation, spatial analysis and archival research, I argue that tianguis endure because they are rooted in attachment to indigenous foodways and vernacular perceptions of public space, the latter reinforced by fierce vendor activism. Today they constitute a key form of subaltern city-making in Mexico - carving out territory for groups marginalized by formal planners. Broadly, the paper demonstrates the multiple ways that anthropology may contribute to the uncovering of such urbanisms 'from below' and 'at the margins'.

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Peripheral Speculations in the City [Colleex network]