UCL Institute of the Americas


AMER0030: State and Society in Latin America: Ethnographic Perspectives

***NOT RUNNING IN 2023/2024***

Module convenor: Dr Katherine Saunders-Hastings

This module examines contemporary Latin American states from the perspective of the people that inhabit them. Introducing students to theoretical approaches and modes of enquiry used in political anthropology, the module draws on case studies from throughout the region to investigate key themes and developments in late-20th and early-21st century Latin American political and social life.

The ethnographic perspectives surveyed in this module illuminate a wide variety of ways in which states and citizens, governments and communities, local and transnational forces, and public and private interests interact. Vulnerable groups and excluded populations encounter the state as a source of both obstacles and opportunities; people employ diverse strategies to use, evade, resist, and transform states, bureaucracies, and politics. Studying the state in society brings into focus the means, ends, and effects of political power in the region, as well as the gaps in that power.

What does the state look like on the ground, especially at its social, economic, or geographic margins? How do people negotiate political upheaval and insecurity? What role do states play in people's strategies for getting by and solving local problems? How has neoliberalism affected the relationship between citizens and states in Latin America? These are the kinds of questions we will consider, connecting theories of the state to ethnographies of states and politics. Throughout, we explore what ethnography brings to our understanding of politics and the state, and what studying politics and the state contributes to our understanding of everyday life in Latin America.

Assessment is by means of one 4,000 word essay.

Introductory reading:

  • L Joseph, M Mahler, and J Auyero, eds. (2007) New Perspectives in Political Ethnography. New York: Springer Press.
  • E Schatz, ed. (2009) Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • D Poole and V Das, eds. (2004) Anthropology in the Margins of the State. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
  • JS Erazo (2013) Governing Indigenous Territories: Enacting Sovereignty in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • WG Pansters, ed. (2012) Violence, Coercion, and State-Making in 20th-Century Mexico: The Other Half of the Centaur. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • J Holston (2008) Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • A Velasco (2015) Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • J Auyero (2001) Poor People's Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • A Cívico (2015) The Para-State: An Ethnography of Colombia's Death Squads. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • M Goodale and N Postero, eds. (2013) Neoliberalism, Interrupted: Social Change and Contested Governance in Contemporary Latin America. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • S Sawyer (2004) Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.