The AFA is excited to announce the winners for the 2017 Zora Neale Hurston Travel Award, honouring the pioneering African American anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Congrats to our winners!
Katlego is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Amsterdam. He will be presenting his paper, “What’s drag got to do with it: Rethinking Queerness, Community and Kinship in Johannesburg, South Africa.” This paper draws upon ethnographic material from one of Johannesburg’s longest-running queer nightclubs (Club Simply Blue), to explore some of the tensions surrounding the debates on global gay identity. It provides an account of the ways in which trans- and other gender non-conforming individuals understand their own modes of racial and sexual identification, and how they navigate through these and other social identity categories.
Skyler is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Manchester whose work focuses on race, gender, and politics in North Carolina. She will be presenting her paper, “Letting Go to Get it Done: An Ethnographic Study of Progressive Social Policymaking in Conservative North Carolina.” Taking House Bill 250 (the Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act in the North Carolina House of Representatives), this paper argues that race and gender continue to play an active role in the presentation, formation, and passage of public policy.
Guldana is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. Guldana’s paper takes a phenomenological lens into elderly Kazakh women’s lived experiences, bodily practices, and botanical and social memories regarding their indigenous social and kinship structure, awil, and demonstrates that these embodied practices with traditional ecological knowledge convey an intimate connection to the grassland that the Kazakhs have managed, lived, and communicated in Xinjiang, Northwest China.
The AFA is delighted to announce the winners for the 2017 Dissertation Award.
Advisor: Eugenia Georges
Title: Birth in Crisis: Public Policy and the Humanization of Childbirth in Brazil
Williamson’s dissertation examines the implementation of public health policy aimed at “humanizing” childbirth in Brazil’s public health system. Tracking the Rede Cegonha (Stork Network) program from the federal Ministry of Health to local clinics and communities in Salvador, Bahia, she shows how the concept of humanized birth—at its core, a turn toward evidence-based, demedicalized, respectful birth care—is put into practice in a context of persistent, racialized social inequities and widespread economic and political crisis. Drawing on 23 months of ethnographic fieldwork, she asks how women, healthcare professionals, and government agents imagine, effect, and experience the Brazilian State’s attempts to change not just techniques and practices, but the very ethics of care in childbirth. She also shows how these ethics were challenged by the Zika virus outbreak and its reproductive consequences, underlining the problematics of Brazilian maternal and infant health policy in its current forms.
University of Colorado Boulder
Advisor: Donna Goldstein
Title: Women Detained: Justice and Institutional Violence in the Sao Paulo Criminal Justice System
Mena’s dissertation research is entitled “Women Detained: Justice and Institutional Violence in the São Paulo Criminal Justice System.” This research draws from 18 months of fieldwork in São Paulo’s criminal courts and in women’s prisons where she investigated the experience of women incarcerated. In her research, she asks: how do detained women perceive the effects of structural violence in São Paulo? The majority of women and trans men in prison in Brazil are Black or Brown individuals from lower-income communities. These are the same communities that have been criminalized historically. In the aftermath of the 2006 drugs laws which aimed to decriminalize drug use in Brazil, the police has targeted Black and Brown women and other “gender outlaws.” One major consequence of this policing is the surge in women’s incarceration.Her broader argument is that rather than function as a place of discipline and rehabilitation to re-integrate criminal offenders back into society, for the thousands of individuals detained in female penitentiaries, prisons are spaces of terror and madness-making. In these civic slaughterhouses, those who survive do not emerge rehabilitated, but rather grapple with PTSD and upon release often have little-to-no safety nets, which ultimately contributes to recidivism. The criminal justice system thus fails Black and Brown women in particular because anti-Black violence is institutionalized and inextricably linked to Brazil’s ethos: a multiracial society with deep problems of racial-, gender-, and class-based injustices. Despite the inhumane conditions and structural violence that defines prison life for many individuals, however, with a support network, some ex-prisoners participate in prison reform efforts. she underscores the conditions they live in during incarceration, and the strategies they use after they receive parole to self-preserve and support their communities.
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The Association for Feminist Anthropology is delighted to announce the 2016 recipients of the Sylvia Forman Prize for Student Papers. The committee selected two winners and two honorable mentions from an unusually high number of submissions this year. We take this as a wonderful sign of the health of our field, and are honored to reward the outstanding scholarship we considered.
The Association will celebrate their fine work and their faculty advisors’ mentorship at the AFA Business Meeting, 12pm, November 18, in Minneapolis. Please join us!
The Sylvia Forman Prize for outstanding graduate student paper will be awarded to Erin Moore, for her paper “Detoothing Kampala: ‘Idling’ and the Politics of Evasion in Kampala’s NGO Economy,” advisor Jennifer Cole (University of Chicago).
Moore’s essay weaves together detailed ethnography with theories of temporality to propose specifically gendered insights into the experience of time. As she says, “To detooth, in the urban slang of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, is to take a man’s money while withholding the other end of the transactional sexual deal. In this paper, I show how young urban women detoothed not only their male suitors but also Kampala’s widespread and well-resourced NGO economy, which is predominantly focused on girls and women. In particular, the worldwide movement to “empower” adolescent girls has given new shape to population control initiatives in Kampala by focusing on economic and social empowerment as pregnancy prevention. At public health events there in 2012-2013, government officials advocated for reducing unwanted pregnancies by occupying girls’ time. These officials voiced a fear that, when idle, young urban women transact sex for money, or, more simply, because they are bored. Idling has also drawn recent interest from anthropologists, who concentrate on the ways urban youth “hang out” in the face of economic precarity in the global South. This literature, however, often excludes young women because they are presumed to be, and often are, continually laboring within the home. The elision of young women from politicized time-passing practices reproduces a division between household and waged labor that assumes “the household” mediates how women experience the exchange of money and time. By contrast, using a feminist analysis I show how even amidst housework and NGO-remunerated piecemeal labor, young women in urban Kampala still made time to idle. Because they both anticipated and responded to the global macroeconomic logics of contemporary population control initiatives, these idling practices became the vehicle through which young women detoothed Kampala’s NGO economy.”
The Honorable Mention for The Sylvia Forman Prize for outstanding graduate student paper will be awarded to Annie Wilkinson, for her paper “Cleanliness is Holiness: The Transnational Ex-Gay Movement and ‘Dehomosexualization’ in Ecuador,” advisor Lilith Mahmud (University of California, Irvine).
Wilkinson’s paper analyzes the origins and variations of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) in two separate settings in Ecuador: (i) the illegal practice of so-called deshomosexualización as practiced in some private rehabilitation centers, and (ii) “la lucha” (the struggle) in the Quito-based ex-gay ministry Camino de Salida. Drawing on her extensive fieldwork between 2011 and 2016, she demonstrates that while these two spheres are institutionally distinct, they share one important common premise: that homosexuality can—and should—be changed, a discursive product of the transnational ex-gay movement.
In this ethnographic treatment, Wilkinson shows how sexual orientation change efforts in these two spaces derive from separate historical genealogies and motives. She details their distinct models of discipline, philosophies of sexual conversion, forms of organization, and practices of subject-making as employed by each of their practitioners. Wilkinson argues that practices of deshomosexualización in private rehabilitation centers largely constitute an organic and decentralized phenomenon. They engage a model of externally imposed militaristic discipline based largely upon principles derived from outdated behavior modification theories, rely on forced internment, and are driven predominantly by profit motives. In these spaces, clients are punitively disciplined “hasta que cambien” (until they change). Change in these spaces is conceptualized as an external process mediated by an overseeing practitioner and as a commodified product deliverable by force. In contrast, la lucha as practiced within Camino de Salida reflects local practices within the context of a transnationally networked and purpose-driven movement: the ex-gay movement. It engages a model of voluntary self-discipline based upon evangelical Christian theological principles of spiritual transformation and is driven by politicoreligious motives. In this space, to triumph in la lucha requires that clients drive the process of sexual and spiritual transformation themselves by accepting that “el cambio es possible” (change is possible) and so becoming their own agents of change. In turn, change in the ex-gay ministry is conceptualized as an internal process mediated by Jesus and relies upon the notions of free will.
But across these differences both sets of practices derive from and rely upon one common basic discursive premise: that homosexuality can—and implicitly should—be changed. In examining this juncture, Wilkinson focuses on analyzing the role of the transnational “ex-gay movement” in spreading the message that “change is possible” in Latin America. She argues that this transnationally circulating discourse has served not only to generate unique manifestations of SOCE within Camino de Salida but also that it plays a key role in legitimizing and supporting the proliferation of illegal and violent practices of deshomosexualización in Ecuador’s rehabilitation centers—a conclusion with relevant implications for activists working to bring an end to these devastating practices.
The Sylvia Forman Prize for outstanding undergraduate student paper will be awarded to Katherine Brown, for her paper “Re-learning Womanhood: A Gendered Analysis of German-Turkish Return Migrants in Istanbul,” advisor Arjun Guneratne (Macalester College).
Brown’s paper examines German Turkish female return migrants’ strategies to adjust to life in Istanbul. Using ethnographic data, it beautifually explores the roles identity, independence, and gender play in the ways these women interact with the world around them. Drawing on feminist literature, Brown proposes that in the face of contradictory expectations from German and Turkish societies, female return migrants must choose between remaining western foreigners in their ethnic homeland of Turkey or renouncing their German-instilled values to adopt a ‘traditional’ Turkish lifestyle. Ultimately, many German Turkish women adopt a hybrid identity, which allows them to embrace both German and Turkish values while maintaining their individuality.
The Honorable Mention for the Sylvia Forman Prize for outstanding undergraduate student paper will be awarded to Nana Charlene Elfreda Adubea Toa-Kwapong, for her paper “Taking it Back to the Motherland: The Gendered Frictions of Return Migration to Accra, Ghana,” advisor Olga Gonzalez, (Macalester College).
Toa-Kwapong’s paper centers the perspectives of Afro-diasporic migrants who make their way back to the African continent, particularly to Accra, Ghana, after sojourns in the West. Like any other type of mobility, return migration is gendered. As a result of their transnational lifestyles, Accra’s returnees find themselves in the position of balancing Western and local gender norms. They must manage ideals of successful return, with women expected to forfeit parts of their autonomy and men burdened with the expectation to step into the role of provider and the financial obligations of this role. While men tend to fare better in professional contexts, women returnees find themselves in male-dominated work spaces, where outdated gender dynamics give rise to social situations like the growing sugar-daddy phenomenon. While the lines between the personal and professional can be blurry, this does not deter single returnees from trying find both success and love in Accra. They develop strategies, both individual and collective, to facilitate these processes. Returnee women, in particular become major “social actors” (Ortner 1996:116), using their positionality to challenge patriarchal norms. By connecting the dots between identity, geography, gender, and culture as they are experienced by African returnees to Accra, this paper aims to provide a space for returnees − particularly women − an opportunity to narrate their own stories and present their own realities.
Photo coming soon….
Winner to be announced soon …
Photo coming soon….
Winner to be announced soon …
Photo coming soon….
Winner to be announced soon …
Lucinda Ramberg. Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadassi and the Sexuality of Religion. Duke University Press. 2014.
Elise Andaya (Honorable Mention) Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, Women and the State in the Post-Soviet Era. Rutgers University Press. 2014.
Mary’s dissertation draws on intensive research with rural women in the Ayacucho region of Peru, a region with a long and intensely gendered history of political violence, a tense relationship with the state, and a fragmented economy. Using a gendered and intersectional lens, she addresses three different facets of life for rural women: the political life of the citizen; the economic life of the wage worker in the informal economy; and the family life of mothers and children. Her findings in each area challenge gendered stereotypes, including those held by experts in international development. Indeed, one of her most striking findings is the gendering of political citizenship. Given their exclusion from many economic opportunities available to men, as well as the instability of marital ties, women are particularly engaged in shaping census results in order to increase eligibility for benefits and social services. Men, by contrast, tend to avoid contact with the state whenever possible – a gendered difference that results both from men’s more direct experience with past military violence in the area, and in their growing involvement in the illegal drug trade. Women’s exclusion from both licit and illicit violence positions them differently vis-à-vis the state, giving them greater freedom to engage with it as citizens.
Check out Mounia El Kotni’s recent interview with this year’s winners of the Sylvia Forman Student Paper Prize.
Maya Berry is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin with a specialization in African Diaspora Studies and theoretical focus in Black feminism(s). She will defend her dissertation Afro-Cuban Movement(s): performing autonomy in “updating” Havana in Spring 2016. Her work uses black feminists’ theoretical readings of the erotic to examine the performative effect of collective bodily agency in sacred and secular spaces as pedagogies of desire.
Title: “Salvandose: Rumba Performance as a Politics of Black Survival in Reforming Havana.”
Mounia El Kotni is a Ph.D. candidate in in the Anthropology Department at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her work focuses on indigenous women’s access to reproductive health care and indigenous midwives’ rights in Chiapas, Mexico. Her dissertation analyzes the impact of public health policies aiming to push all women to give birth in state hospitals, and the resistance of women and traditional indigenous midwives to such measures.
Title: “The Hospital is Where Women Die.”
Annie K Wilkinson is a first year PhD student at University of California at Irvine. Her future dissertation work will explore the practices and logics of expanding transnational conservative religious missionary networks in Latin America in relation to gender and sexuality.
Title: “Cleanliness is Holiness: Discourses and Practices of the Transnational Ex-Gay Movement in Ecuador.”
Progressive Era reforms, including improving labor conditions and settlement houses, were commonly philanthropic endeavors championed by women. These were a response to the incorporation of America, increasing immigration, increased urbanization, and a reaction to the resulting poor working conditions. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were also a time of significant changes in what it meant to be a woman in America, as more women moved into the workforce, the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, and changing ideology around women’s sexual and social behavior.
Wiawaka Holiday House was founded in New York State in 1903 by middle-class women as a place for factory women to have affordable vacations. Using archaeological, archival, and documentary sources, Wiawaka serves as a case study of the complexities and contradictions of women’s holiday houses, a common Progressive Era philanthropic endeavor which has been neglected in the literature. Questions about gender, class, power, the nature of reform, leisure and labor at these sites of philanthropy will be addressed in the context of Progressive Era philanthropic reform and of being a women in the early twentieth century.
In contemporary Russia, the LGBT community is entangled in simultaneous processes of visibility and erasure. This paper analyzes the politics of queer visibility in Russia through the lens of “conspicuous erasure,” projects which highlight that which is to be excluded. The recent ban on “gay propaganda” has drawn public attention to LGBT Russians while simultaneously criminalizing public queerness. This conspicuous erasure, this paper argues, has created a space of cultural intimacy in which some Russians construct a national community on the basis of queer exclusion. Such projects call into question the valorization of “queer visibility” as a necessarily emancipatory process. Yet at the same time, pro-LGBT activists have their own visibility project, seeking to make conspicuous the erasure of queerness within the political opposition. Their conspicuous erasure seeks to create an alternative cultural intimacy, founded on experiences of repression and precarity, that might produce a more inclusive community of citizens.
Discourses of consumer choice, privacy rights, and defensive reactions to “The War on Women” continue to dominate mainstream organizations fighting for reproductive justice. Meanwhile, activists and volunteers who are “on the ground”—working with patients in abortion care and clinic defense—struggle with representing the realities of their work while reflecting the acceptable discourses of mainstream activism. This paper presents ethnographic research conducted with activists at a reproductive health clinic in the Hudson Valley, NY. I aimed to identify how suggestions about abortion discourse made by feminist scholars were understood and integrated into activist practice. This research was conducted through participant observation and semi-structured interviews with eleven activists. Key findings suggest that activists often think through “tough questions” about ethics, personhood and fetal life, and repeat abortion patients, yet understand the importance of “acceptable discourse” within the public face of activism. I argue that acceptable discourses about reproductive rights limit how activists and volunteers can engage with the political, moral, and intellectual conflicts that they encounter when fighting for reproductive justice. These limitations in turn decrease broad-based support for abortion access. An understanding of the reproductive justice paradigm and a willingness to accept “gray area” and conflicting ethical ideals allows some activists to mediate the realities of their work with the acceptable discourse of political activism. These findings suggest that discourses which allow activists to “hold two things at once” will help the reproductive justice movement gain supporters and affect change.
Holly Okonkwo is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of California, Riverside program in Anthropology. She is currently working on finishing her dissertation and at tended the meetings to present aspects of this work as part of the session: Ethnography ad Discourse in the Socialization of School Subjectivities. Her talk entitled “She Builds Robots: African American Women Transforming the Grid of Science and Technology” traces the discursive origins and implications of notions of what it means to be a scientist, utilizing the narratives of self-identified African and African American women computer scientists.
Kamal Arora is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. She presented a paper and chaired a session entitled Matters of Faith: Feminist Anthropological Explorations of Religion and Gender. Her talk entitled “Sikh Women in New Delhi’s ‘Widow Colony’: On Affective Religious Practice, Memory, and Violent Spatiotemporal Junctures,”examines contemporary gendered religious practice and memory among Sikh widows in New Delhi, India. Specifically, she considers how religious practices have shaped memories of communal violence directed towards the Sikh community in 1984.
Luciane Rocha is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology/African Diaspora Program at University of Texas at Austin. This year she presented a paper as part of the session: Sorrow as Artifact: Black Radical Mothering in Times of Terror. Her talk entitled, “Tray-matic Resistance: Black Mothers and Emotions in the African Diaspora”, analyzes the ways in which black women who have experienced the loss of a family member transform individual mourning into political strategy to achieve social change and racial equity.
My dissertation, “Journey to the East: Pilgrimage, Politics, and Gender at Postclassic Yucatan” tackles two misconceptions regarding gender in Maya prehistory. It deconstructs the public versus private narrative in Maya archaeology by examining women’s very public participation in the religious and political institutions of Postclassic (A.D. 900-1519) Maya society. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, archaeological interpretations from Postclassic Yucatan reinforce this misconception regarding the separation of public and private spheres of gendered activity by pointing out that Maya women labored in the home while Maya men were the leaders, farmers, politicians, and priests who interacted in public society. Such perspectives of past societies continue to misrepresent history by offering up examples of early civilizations independently developing the same division of labor that justify current political realities associating public space with men and private space with women (Pyburn 2004). When the separation between the public and private spheres of life for women becomes naturalized, the human rights of women in contemporary patriarchal societies are not protected in the home (Arditti 2009).
The second misconception regarding gender in Maya prehistory is that women shared a universal experience of womanhood. My dissertation looks at the intersection of gender, religion, and class through ethonohistoric, iconographic, and archaeological evidence. It analyzes representations of gender between state sponsored art and household figurines in Yucatan following the work of Brumfiel (1996), Cohodas (2002) and Joyce (2000) who examined Mesoamerican resistance to gender ideologies and how they were contested by different social groups. My dissertation also examines the representations of gender ideologies in the religious art, literature and architecture of the Postclassic, deconstructs representations of gender presented in the 16th century colonial documents, and presents a feminist perspective regarding the east coast of Yucatan’s material assemblages. By taking an intersectional approach to gender, religion, and class in the Maya Postclassic period, I hope to demonstrate the relevance of feminist archaeological narratives to the practice of anthropology.
This paper explores the enrollment of transnational human rights advocacy in the project of white empire by examining the differential gendering of media images of violated New Guinean bodies. It traces continuities between histories of colonial sexual fantasy and contemporary media stagings of sexualized suffering to show how human rights advocacy draws on racist and sexist tropes. As transnational advocacy discourse articulates with global mass media practices, the division of New Guinea between two nation-states maps onto a contrasting focus on male victims in West Papua and female victims in Papua New Guinea. Dominant representations of the current political conjunctures on either side of the border reflect a symbolic “feminization” of West Papua through loss of political agency under Indonesian rule, while Papua New Guinea is represented as charged with an excess of masculine sexual energy. While human rights advocacy discourses and media practices draw on colonial fantasies to construct white imperial subjectivity, they erase the political projects of New Guinean collectivities. As media activists engage with dominant representations around violence and gender in West Papua and Papua New Guinea, their projects to restore dignity to New Guinean subjects are partly recaptured by a liberal imperialist discourse of the postcolonial state’s progress towards accountability. This discourse forecloses possibilities of transformative politics by reinscribing the colonially-inherited boundary that divides New Guinea and by effecting a gendered denial of Melanesian agency.
Advisors: Isabelle Onians and Katrina EdwardsIn the Tibetan refugee community of Dharamsala, India, I examined the overlapping nature of political and ethnic identity, and attitudes towards reproduction in general and abortion in particular. Through extensive interviews with Tibetan men and women, I gained insight into the ways that understandings of ‘Tibetan-ness’ are narrated, embodied and reproduced. For Tibetan refugees, ethnic identity is buttressed by a history of forced displacement and political violence that configures physical and cultural continuation as a central concern. The female body, in particular, accentuates an embodied collectivity, since a woman physically reproduces the community, literally and metaphorically ensuring its survival. Additionally, collective Buddhist ethics drive understandings of the spiritual and physical processes of reproduction, which influence personal views about reproductive intervention in the domain of a woman’s body. The interplay between Tibetan identity and reproductive health is further complicated by Tibetan refugees’ memories of “genocide.” Public reports of past and present human rights violations are mirrored in individual life stories, and are rife with references to the destruction of future lineages through forced abortion and sterilization. Public rhetoric and personal convictions about reproduction are directed towards this shared history of trauma, in which abortion figures as a violation of the Tibetan collectivity. However, my informants upheld a woman’s “freedom of choice,” expressing collective and personal religious ethics and political ideologies while narrating life stories. By analyzing these narratives, my work demonstrates the intertwined nature of Tibetan ethnic identity, the refugee experience, and reproductive decision-making.
“Zonbi, Zonbi” examines the spatial and cultural dimensions of gender, sexuality, economic class, and nation in pre- and post-earthquake Haiti. The paper analyzes various discourses about Haiti in relationship to the United States and to other Caribbean nations, and illuminates the material consequences of those discourses for gender and sexual minoritarian populations. This paper explores what is at stake for queer people (lesbian, gay, masisi, madivin, bisexual, homosexual, etc.) in different economic classes in the context of heteronormative performances of the nation and the structural inequalities of “natural” disaster.
“Zonbi, Zonbi” opens with multiple instances of government performativity, concentrated in the months before and after the earthquake, as exemplary of the structuring of sexualized discourses in the current context of U.S. imperialism in Haiti. Among other performances—e.g. Operation Pierre Pan and U.S. asylum cases in the Caribbean—the paper will pay particular attention to the ouster of Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis in 2009. Her ouster came only a year following her scandalous nomination—she was only officially recognized after a mandatory radio address to the nation in which she denied charges of lesbianism—and her eventual installation. These emerging narratives of the heteronormative nation (and their genealogies) are contextualized through ongoing ethnographic fieldwork (begun in 2009) in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora around the forms of (im)mobilities experienced by queer people enmeshed these politics of nations. “Zonbi, Zonbi” references and underscores the creative responses of Haitian gender and sexual minoritarian populations to these discourses.
The ground combat exclusion policy, which officially bars women from assignment into infantry, mechanized, and reconnaissance units, was established in 1993 to reflect the American public’s ideological concerns about the role of female soldiers in war. The policy was intended to limit women’s involvement to combat support units that were strategically located in areas far removed from danger. However, the reality of the ongoing War on Terror has made the exclusion policy obsolete because the differentiation of gender roles is irrelevant in asymmetrical wars with no established front lines. Over 255,000 women have deployed to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts and many of them have engaged enemies in counteroffensive scenarios.
I conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with female and male U.S. Army soldiers who experienced combat in the ongoing conflicts. Participants were asked to provide a ‘tour’ of their military life, deployment, and combat experiences in order to understand whether gender is a factor in those contexts. Most female soldiers asserted that gender is not an issue; everybody is a soldier, a seemingly genderless, mission-focused agent who is a product of their training. The testimony of many female and male soldiers indicated that working with women downrange challenged their outdated beliefs about women’s capabilities. Most participants also argued that soldiers’ qualifications, not their gender, should be the deciding factor in any military assignment. The results of this study have the potential for immediate application to policies regarding military assignments for women and can also be used to enhance future institutional changes.
“The Ordinariness of Violence: Central American Migration and the Struggle for Human Rights in Oaxaca.” In recent years, the state of Oaxaca has become one of the most feared regions for Central American migrants in transit to the United States. During the journey north, they are targeted by organized criminals, gangs, corrupt authorities, local residents and even other migrants who abuse, extort, exploit, kidnap, rape and murder. Such violence is not random but rather closely bound up with local industries that profit off vulnerability and the interpenetration of human and drug smuggling in Mexico. As the train route through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Veracruz has become the heart of much of this violence, increasing numbers of migrants choose to abandon the train and go through Oaxaca City on their way north. A network of migrant shelters has been critical to creating safer passage for migrants, offering humanitarian aid and working to expose the violations against them.
Inspired by the work of Michael Higgins who sought to make visible the ordinariness of marginalized groups and their struggles for social justice, this paper examines the lived experiences of undocumented migrants and shelter workers. I explore how violence operates and is reproduced at the local level, the complex social dynamics within migrant shelters and the social movement that has emerged in defense of migrant rights. In parallel with Higgins’ earlier work, migrants and everyday Oaxacans currently struggle to create social spaces of civility and tolerance to combat what has become ordinary violence in people’s lives.