This article examines the emergence of self-defense forces (autodefensas) in Michoacán (Mexico) in the context of relationships between drug trafficking and the state, concentrating on the recent history of fragmentation, disorder, and violence. It traces how these processes generated comprehensive criminal sovereignty projects, which then triggered the emergence of armed defense forces in both indigenous and mestizo communities. Recent developments in Michoacán are described in light of anthropological theorizing about the relations between sovereignty, state-making, and (dis)ordering. The analysis elucidates the triangular dynamics of sovereignty-making among organized crime, the state, and armed citizens. Special attention is given to state interventions to dismantle de facto self-defense sovereignties because these have created an unstable and violent situation. It is argued that sovereignty-making is territorial and historical, and that it is embedded in political, economic, and cultural identities.
“We Had to Pay to Live!”
Competing Sovereignties in Violent Mexico
Wil G. Pansters
Authenticity, hybridity, and difference
Debating national identity in twentieth-century Mexico
Wil G. Pansters
This article studies the transformation of the debate about national culture in twentieth-century Mexico by looking at the complex relationship between discourses of authenticity and mestizaje. The article firstly demonstrates how in the first half of the twentieth century, Mexican national identity was constructed out of a state-led program of mestizaje, thereby supposedly giving rise to a new and authentic identity, the mestizo (nation). Secondly, it is argued that the authentication project around mestizaje is riddled with paradoxes that require explanation. Thirdly, the article studies the political dimension of the authenticity discourse and demonstrates how the homogenizing and unifying forces that spring from the process of authentication played an important role in buttressing an authoritarian regime. Fourthly, the article looks at two recent developments: indigenous cultural politics and transnationalism. Here it is shown how discourses of difference, pluralism, and transnationalism are challenging the central tenets of Mexican post-revolutionary national culture and the boundaries of the national Self.
Sovereignty and Social Contestation—Between Violence and Alternative Sociocultural Orders
Martijn Oosterbaan and Wil G. Pansters
In the past decade, the concept of sovereignty has swiftly risen in popularity within anthropological circles, especially in relation to violence in postcolonial and post-authoritarian societies (Das and Poole 2004). The rationale of this section is rooted in the aspiration to build on and further develop anthropological understandings of conflict and violence centered on the notion of sovereignty. Whereas the contributors to the section are indebted to theoretical approaches influenced by the writings of Agamben (1998, 2005), they also present analytic advantages and shortcomings. For instance, a recent critique of Agamben’s notion of sovereignty—and of many of his followers—is that it reproduces totalitarian notions of modern politics that cannot account for the historical existence of “ordered” communities “free from subjection, and … free from subjecting others” (Jennings 2011: 43).