‘Paper Work' – Uncovering Corporal ‘Labour of Presence' of Peri-Urban Settlers in Mexico City.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 16:30
Location: Hörsaal 13 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Christian VON WISSEL, Goldsmiths, Centre for Urban and Community Research, University of London, United Kingdom, History and Theory of Architecture and the City, TU Braunschweig, Germany
This paper explores how social, material and administrative existence is ‘made’ through the living body in the peri-urban realm of Mexico City. In particular, it looks at the corporal effort that colonists of an informal settlement make in order to gain and sustain their membership in the social movement Antorcha Nacional, a movement that supports and organises the claims for housing and social urban integration of Mexico’s poor.

Settlers and prospect members of the Antorcha settlement are bound to attend regular meetings as well as to actively participate in the political struggle of the organisation. Only by demonstrating their commitment they can sustain their claims on a piece of land to build their future. Yet their participation in these events is registered on what reveals itself as highly ephemeral, loose pieces of paper in the hands of a few leaders and coordinators of the organisation. Making it onto these lists, and staying on them, is an essential activity – arguably even more important than participating in the event itself – that is accomplished, to a great extend, precisely through the physical ‘labour’ of ‘making presence’.

It was visual ethnography that allowed uncovering and analysing the dynamics and order of the interactions of such bodily ‘paper work’ taking place and time before and after each event of the organisation. Hence, this paper argues, that audio-visual methods are particularly helpful for revealing and understanding the role and agency of the body in material social practice. This is to say, that visual methods are highly effective also beyond the study of visual narratives, symbols and processes of visualisation: they provide responsive techniques for research on the living body and its agency in relation to society and the city.