Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology, Stanford University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Stanford University
The Risks of Racism: Afro-Colombian Migration and the Politics of Security in Urban Chile

Since 2013, approximately 20,000 Afro-Colombian migrants fleeing violence on Colombia's Pacific coast have built an estimated 35 informal settlements in the city of Antofagasta, Chile. Migrants have constructed these settlements around transmission towers and water pipelines, literally using transmission towers as pillars and water pipelines as steps up into their front doors. Antofagasta's regional government argues that the potentially lethal magnetic fields of transmission towers and high-pressure flow of water pipelines make settlements insecure for life and, therefore, "unfit for human habitation." In late 2015, the Antofagasta regional government passed the "Plan to Overcome Encampments" (POE), a seven-year plan to re-settle migrants in a "safer" neighborhood in Antofagasta. Yet, during preliminary research in 2017, many settlement residents I interviewed expressed that they did not want to be moved. Residents argued that settlements provide a haven from widespread racism in the formal city. Manifest in violent anti-migrant protests, differential access to goods and services, and police brutality, racism, residents argued, produces forms of risk that are a more immediate matter of concern than the electrocutions, floods, fires, and mudslides that the government insists are imminent in settlements. Through 12 months of ethnographic research in Antofagasta, this project examines competing definitions of security as an optic on how Afro-Colombian migrants come to challenge liberal assumptions about the centrality of physical security to a desirable life. To this end, this project asks, 1) Through what material and discursive practices do officials working for the POE produce migrant settlements as spaces "unfit for human habitation"? 2) How do residents construct the space of settlements as desirable places to live in? 3) What "solutions" alternative to those provided by the POE do residents articulate for solving the "problem" of settlements?