Urban Restructuring and Spatial Regimes from Dictatorship to Democracy in Latin America

AHA Session 229
Conference on Latin American History 49
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Adrián Lerner, Yale University
Brodwyn M. Fischer, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

The fast pace of twentieth-century urbanization in Latin America, propelled by rural-to-urban migration and industrialization, led to the formation of sizable cities rivaling those of the Western hemisphere. Urban planning and housing policies became a priority for ruling governments of diverse political tendencies, as reformers increasingly embraced ideas of “development” and “modernization.” The desire to propel Latin America out of its “underdeveloped” status was tied to conceptions about the urban form. Marginality theories of the 1960s emphasized the need for integration of sectors thought to exist outside of socio-economic and political structures, delineating boundaries between center and periphery. Yet, as recent scholars have demonstrated, Latin American “formal” cities exist in a complex and interdependent relationship with their “informal” counterparts (Fischer 2014). Likewise, the legal and illegal realms are intertwined and reveal the contradictions of contemporary democracy and differentiated forms of citizenship as experienced by poor communities (Holston 2008). Popular struggles for access to private property regimes, while providing relief, have implicated poor residents in a neoliberal notion of citizenship (Murphy 2015).

This panel brings together a diverse set of scholars working on twentieth century Latin America in order to rethink the history of urban restructuring during the Cold War and beyond. It shifts attention to the ways in which authoritarian regimes and their legacies impacted urban space, city planning, and popular mobilizations. Thus, we focus on the spatial dimensions of social resistance and on the ways in which they negotiate or subvert entrenched geographies of power. While primarily concerned with the urbanization boom and its intended/unintended consequences, we point to the socio-spatial legacies of colonial power relations, etched as they are into the material landscape of Latin America. We rethink urban restructuring from a variety of local contexts and thematic standpoints, including the intersections between the natural environment and the built city, authoritarian attempts to impose order and economic efficiency, and the spatial manifestations of political polarization.

Adrián Lerner explores the politics of urban authoritarianism through a comparative study of Amazonia's two largest cities: Iquitos (Perú) and Manaus (Brazil) during two different military dictatorships. He shows that environmental aspects, Cold War alignments, and local political cultures were crucial in shaping popular urbanization. Jennifer Hoyt highlights the attempts of an understudied group of actors—architects and engineers—to challenge the Argentine military’s control over urban planning during the Proceso period. Similarly, Denisa Jashari focuses on neoliberal transformations of urban and political landscapes during the Chilean dictatorship and transition period. Neoliberal democracy became more punitive, she shows, a codified practice that targeted shantytowns by policing crime. Alejandro Velasco examines the spatial manifestations of political polarization during the “left turn” in contemporary Venezuela. He traces how the development of segregation in the 1990s led to the emergence under Chavez of a distinct and overlooked phenomenon: parallel cities. Together, these papers offer novel perspectives on Latin American spatial relations and urban transformations during the region’s convulsive late twentieth century.

Presenters and the Chair will keep comments to 12 minutes, allowing 30 minutes for discussion.

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