Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Constructing Urban Autonomy: Communal Responses to Precarity in Mexico City’s Peripheries

For the first time, most people on the planet live in cities. Great numbers find themselves in urban peripheries in the megacities of the Global South living lives shaped by inequality, deprivation, and sociopolitical exclusion. Yet, despite these harsh realities, the urban poor have been remarkably effective at developing shared strategies to live dignified lives. This project expands understandings of responses to urban precarity by exploring a movement of 15,000 people in the peripheries of Mexico City that explicitly turns away from rights-based demands of the state and moves instead towards insurgent autonomous practices that prefigure a dignified and communal form of life in the urban peripheries. These practices include communal management of security and conflict, auto-construction of housing and shared infrastructure, horizontal decision-making in commissions and assemblies, and increasing self-reliance in domains of medicine, education and agriculture. Through ethnographic research in eight communities, this research asks how autonomy and the construction of autonomous communities are pursued as strategies by urban poor to confront urban precarity. By exploring autonomy as a response to urban precarity, this research contributes to understanding of the dynamics of peripheral urbanization and of social movements that decenter the state as a locus of political struggle.