UCL Institute of the Americas


AMER0033: The Latin American City: Social Problems and Social Change in Urban Space

***NOT RUNNING IN 2022/23***

Module convenor: Dr Katherine Saunders-Hastings

Demographically, Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world. But what kind of social worlds are Latin America's cities? This module examines social, spatial, political, and economic dimensions of the Latin American city, drawing primarily from anthropology and ethnographies, but also from history, urban studies, political science, sociology, and geography. From colonial cities that sought to order and civilize a New World to the dystopian insecurity of gang-dominated slums, it surveys the urban aspirations, anxieties, and realities that have shaped the development of Latin American societies.

Although we consider elites and their enclaves, the module focuses on the less privileged inhabitants of the region's deeply unequal cities: the poor, the working classes, racial 'others', criminalized slum-dwellers. The aim is to identify processes of urban development and underdevelopment that create inequality and to understand the experience of living with and living in such inequality.

Case studies from throughout Latin America explore the following central themes:

· The city in theory and practice: grand visions meet untidy realities

· How race, ethnicity, gender, and class shape people's experience of the city

· The relationship of urban space to socio-political processes

· Informality and the urban poor: life and politics in informal settlements and economies

· Politics at the urban margins: clientelism, corruption, social movements, and protests

· Insecure cities: urban violence and criminal economies; security politics and practices.

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

Introductory reading:

  • GM Joseph and MD Szuchman, eds. (1996) I Saw a City Invincible: Urban Portraits of Latin America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • J Holston (1996) The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • B Fisher, B McCann, and J Auyero, eds. (2014) Cities from Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • DM Goldstein (2016) Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • C Irázabal, ed. (2015) Ordinary Places/Extraordinary Events: Citizenship, Democracy, and Public Space in Latin America, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.
  • S Lazar (2008) El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • KL O'Neil and K Thomas, eds. (2011) Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • T Caldeira (2000) City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • K Koonigs and D Kruijt, eds. (2015) Violence and Resilience in Latin American Cities. London: Zed Books.
  • B Penglase (2014) Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela: Urban Violence and Daily Life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.