Territories of populism: Dispatches from Latin America

Authors: Jennifer Tucker*, University of New Mexico
Topics: Political Geography, Development, Latin America
Keywords: development, populism, corruption, Latin America, state theory, feminist theory, democracy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A shifty, productive discourse of corruption fuels the rightwing populism sweeping the Americas. Trump’s calls to “lock her up” refracted southward where dubious claims of corruption led to the actual locking up of Brazilian ex-president Lula da Silva. The clang of his prison door perhaps best symbolizes the closure of two decades of redistributive experiments in social welfare under Latin America’s “pink tide” governments. This paper considers the symbolic and material territories of populism by analyzing anti-corruption discourses across three cases: the construction of a scandal-ridden airport in Mexico City, the gender-race-class politics of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, and the homophobic discourse of transparency activists in Paraguay. Taken together, these cases point to the sendimentary layers making up today’s territories of populism. This includes the commonsense valoration of patriarchal claims to power, an epistemology of the state burdened by Eurocentric, rule of law frameworks, and an under-appreciation of the power of what I call outlaw capital, that is, profit from black markets. Across the three cases, outlaw capital shapes urban space, subjectivities and political possibilities. I also identify several promising social movement strategies that contest the exclusionary, anti-democratic dynamics of outlaw capital through a feminist ethic of care that demands both economic redistribution and spatial justice.

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