The Efficiency of Exclusion: Gated Communities, Informality and Social Mobilization in Mexico City

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:30 AM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Frank MUELLER , Free University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Ramiro SEGURA , Anthropology, National Research Council (CONICET), La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina
This paper analyzes the double-edged meaning of informality at the intersection of urban inequalities, landed property, and power in urban Latin America. Our study of the Zona Poniente in the fragmented western periphery of Mexico City allows us to identify situations of social interaction in which the narrative use of informality is central to social and cultural distinction. We find that the standard story – and normatively disparaging construction – of urban informality exercised by marginalized urban poor people must be complemented by an analysis of upper class elite practices, particularly in private-sector real estate development. The real estate development industry occupies a critical place, materially and symbolically, in structuring the urbanization in which wealthy private interests employ the attribute of informality to stave off “Third World” settlements and enable a “First World” lifestyle in gated communities.  In the discourses and practices of neighborhood organizations, public planning authorities and real estate developers the referent “informality” takes on defensive and exclusionary functions and serves as referent for social mobilization against the perceived informality of the local elite.

Fieldwork in this peripheral, fragmented and contrasting area provides insights into the link between informality and confinement on various levels. Firstly, the self-enclosing of the urban elite in “gated communities” is a result of informal modes of negotiation between public authorities, neighborhood organizations and real estate developers. Secondly, the spread of such First-World urbanism has negative effects on social and physical mobility of the dis-enfranchised urban population living in deprived islands surrounded by the defensive walls of gated communities. Thirdly, our fieldwork allowed us to identify diverse types of interactions between those private urban developments and surrounding marginalized settlements. These interactions, ranging from conflict to alliances, suggest to question the hypothesis of a generalized confinement.