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Accepted Paper:

Promises of modernity, rural realities - labour, precariousness and the Mexican oil industry  

Author:

Svenja Schöneich (University of Hamburg)

Paper short abstract:

Building on long-term ethnographic research in the Mexican federal state of Veracruz, the paper uncovers a persistent urban-rural dichotomy that shapes exploitation, identity formation and struggles of oil workers and related peasant communities.

Paper long abstract:

As a historical pillar of the Mexican economy, the oil sector features prominently in national narratives of economic growth and wealth. The sector was expropriated after the Mexican Revolution and henceforth led by the state-owned company PEMEX. With the Mexican oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s, PEMEX became a veritable symbol of modernity's promises. Allegedly, two generations of the Mexican working class enjoyed the fruits of this economic growth. Yet, this dominant narrative of successful development stands in stark contrast with the reality of enduring colonial dependencies in postcolonial Mexico. This paper argues that oil extraction in Mexico shares and reproduces the precarious, exploitative, and racialised labour regimes of other export-oriented sectors such as plantations and special economic zones (SEZ).

The focus is on the oil rich regions of the Mexican Gulf Coast Area, in the federal state of Veracruz. Here, the processing and distribution of crude oil takes place in the town of Poza Rica, where the its permanent PEMEX staff is exclusively recruited. Meanwhile, the extraction activities take place in the nearby former indigenous community Emiliano Zapata, which has for decades been stuck with only the temporary day-labourer jobs at the precarious margins of the industry. Building on long-term ethnographic research, the paper uncovers a persistent urban-rural dichotomy that shapes exploitation, identity formation and struggles of oil workers and related peasant communities and how these have recently been exacerbated through the neoliberal restructuring of the Mexican oil sectors imposed by the Mexican Energy Reform 2013/14.

Panel P033
Bringing race-making and class struggles in plantations and export industries back to the research agenda