Remaking Urban Space, Refashioning Social Subjects: Neoliberal Urban Policies from Dictatorship to Democracy in Chile

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 4:10 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Denisa Jashari, Indiana University
The economic and political policies of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), recognized as one of the first examples of “neoliberalism”, transformed Chile’s urban and political landscapes while refashioning the Chilean social body. While the regime privatized and rationalized the public sector, state terror targeted democratic forms of participation and networks of solidarity. Within this project, the dictatorship frequently conflated economic and political objectives. Among Pinochet’s main goals was the eradication of extreme poverty, not for moral reasons, but because its existence was deemed dangerous for the fomenting of political subversion. To accomplish this, the military drew heavily on a spatialized understanding of urban geography to link modernizing projects with the construction of new social subjects. The Municipal Plan of 1979 partially realized this project by administratively and spatially decentralizing power through the creation of municipalities that acted as local intermediaries between social agents and the state. During this time, the regime also violently displaced 37,000 low-income families from wealthier municipalities to Santiago’s periphery. These forced displacements had tangible effects on shantytown dwellers and the spatial configurations of poverty. Following the return to democracy in 1990, the center-left coalition in power, the Concertación, continued dictatorship-era policies and maintained the municipal structure. Indeed, neoliberalism during the 1990s became arguably more punitive, a codified practice that targeted shantytown unruliness through increased policing and focus on crime. I demonstrate how Pinochet’s remaking of the state and social institutions has had enduring repercussions on the politics of the urban poor and on the criminalization of poverty. Because privatization of social functions occurred through the municipalities, they became loci for the deployment of the neoliberal project. My research shows how the territorialization of politics in the local barrios has had lasting, but ambiguous, consequences for political identity construction among the urban poor.