LA_VI-Cropped LAVI

All photographs by Julie-Anne Boudreau, 2014 

Gentrification and Informality in ‘Extended’ Latin America: Mexico, the United States, Spain and Argentina

Research Committee 21 of the International Sociological Association is holding its 2016 annual meeting in Mexico City. For the occasion, we are updating the Virtual Issue assembled for the 2014 IJURR Editorial Board meeting, when board members travelled to Mexico City. Some classical contributions to Latin American critical urban studies, along with articles published after the launch of our first Virtual Issue on Latin America (edited by Jeremy Seekings in 2012), are collected here. The 2012 collection focuses on the Southern Cone of Latin America, featuring articles concerned with social justice and the distributional consequences of urban policies. This new update proposes a series of articles analysing the interrelation between gentrification and informal settlements. In putting these articles in conversation, we aim to challenge the idea that geographical regions are strictly bound. In many different ways, these articles show that Latin America is as lively in the United States and Spain as it is in Mexico or Argentina. The articles collected here, from classical contributions to comparative analysis and intertextual readings, speak to the multidirectional flows of critical urban theorizations.

El Comité de Investigación 21 de la Asociación Internacional de Sociología (RC21-ISA, por sus siglas en inglés) organiza su Reunión Anual de 2016 en la Ciudad de México. Para la ocasión, estamos actualizando aquí los datos de nuestra junta anual del Comité Editorial del IJURR de 2014, cuando los miembros de viajaron a la Ciudad de México. Algunos artículos clásicos, junto con los documentos publicados después del lanzamiento de nuestro primer número virtual en América Latina (organizado por Jeremy Seekings en 2012), se reúnen aquí. Ese primer conjunto de artículos se enfocó en el Cono Sur, con el tema de la justicia social los impactos sobre la distribución de la riqueza de las políticas urbanas. Este número actualizado difunde una serie de artículos que analizan la relación entre “gentrificación” y asentamientos informales. Al poner estos textos en diálogo entre sí, queremos cuestionar las fronteras divisorias entre las regiones geográficas. De muchas maneras distintas, estos artículos muestran que América Latina tiene una presencia tan viva en los Estados Unidos y España como en México o Argentina. Los trabajos presentados en este número, desde las contribuciones clásicas a los análisis comparativos y lecturas inter-textuales, hablan a favor del intercambios multidireccional de teoría urbana crítica.

Edited by:
Julie-Anne Boudreau (IJURR Editor)
Priscilla Connolly (former IJURR Corresponding Editor)
July 2016


For its 2014 Editorial Board meeting, IJURR board members travelled to Mexico City. For the occasion, we are assembling here articles published after the launch of our first Virtual Issue on Latin America (edited by Jeremy Seekings in 2012). The first set of articles focused on the Southern Cone of Latin America, encompassing articles concerned with social justice and the distributional consequences of urban policies.

This ‘update’ proposes a series of articles analysing the interrelation between gentrification and informal settlements. In putting these articles in conversation, we aim to challenge the idea that geographical regions are strictly bound. In many different ways, these articles show that Latin America is as lively in the United States and Spain as it is in Mexico or Argentina. While, for instance, Martinez’s paper on urban squatting in Spain was not written with Latin America in mind, we argue here that reading it in relation to Wigle’s analysis of the ambiguous legalization of informal settlements in Mexico can shed light on similar processes and inspire creative theory-building. Both authors explore how negotiation with the state unfolds and its impacts on political agency. They emphasize the ambiguous frontier between institutionalization/regulation and contestation. In their article on Little Havana in Miami, Feldman and Jolivet explore the political processes nurturing and resisting gentrification. They show how ‘Cuban-ness’ and ‘Latin-ness’ play out in the personification of political power. Read in conjunction with Lombard’s analysis of neighborhood politics in Xalapa, Mexico, one can highlight how tensions between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, elite and grassroots politics unfold in contexts with various ‘cultures of activism and participation’ and neoliberalization processes.

In other words, the selection of articles are gesturing towards intertextuality, inviting readers to comparison of what was not initially meant to be compared. IJURR has been pioneering comparative urbanism since its beginnings in the 1970s (see the Virtual Issue assembled by Jennifer Robinson). Such intertextual comparison will hopefully help in going beyond the dichotomization of ‘North’ and ‘South’. It will also highlight how Latin American urban theory has been influencing critical urban studies beyond the confines of the region. This is the core of Janoschka, Sequera and Salinas’ argument in their article comparing gentrification processes in Spain, Latin America and in the Anglophone world. Similarly, in her piece about slum tourism in Mazatlan, Mexico, Durr shows how this ‘growing business worldwide … is a new form of encounter between the global South and the global North’ (p. 706). Using Buenos Aires as his empirical case, Minuchin develops a theory of ‘material politics’. He explains the constitution of urban imaginaries through the circulation and valorization of concrete ideas.

The articles by Wigle and Lombard follow a long tradition of Latin American research on ‘informality’ stretching back to the 1960s. Critical urban studies in this region have been inspired by the successive debates on the subject: from the differences between José Nun and Anibal Quijano regarding the political relevance of the ‘marginados’, to Emilio Pradilla’s fierce criticism of Turner’s advocacy of ‘self-help housing’, right through to the ongoing polemic about the goods and the bads of ‘regularization’ of informal settlements, ‘protagonized’ by scholars such as Ann Varley, Edesio Fernandes and Antonio Azuela, among many others. By the mid-1980s, if not before, it was well understood from these debates that informality is an integral part ⎯ not just an unfortunate effect ⎯ of the way global capitalism unfolds in Latin America and that so-called ‘irregular practices’ are just as relevant in the exercise of state power as formal institutions and norms. The earlier article by Michael Ball and Priscilla Connolly, included here, shows how the traditional maestro system is embedded in the Mexican construction industry. The colonial roots of informality, the dual- or multi-regulatory systems and the historical reproduction of differential property relations were also explored decades ago and the findings could make an important contribution to current debates in English on the topic. Antonio Azuela’s analysis of the complexities of property rights in irregular settlements invites a rejection of the simplistic legal-illegal binomial. The close proximity of women’s activities to anything classified as ‘informal’ was also firmly established by the early 1980s by researchers such as Caroline Moser and others (see Connolly, 1985).

Critical Latin American scholarship, for the most part, has also been acutely self-conscious of its role in society and source of legitimation. For two decades, the Marxist paradigm dominated. From the mid-1980s onwards, however, successive debates on the whys and the wherefores of Latin American urban research have accompanied an increasing diversification of theoretical and disciplinary approaches in the fields of anthropology, urban political ecology, radical spatial theory and cultural studies. The classic article by Duhau recently translated for IJURR is the second of at least four articles published between 1988 and 2013 which follow the evolution of these reflections on the role of Latin American critical urban studies in an ever more connected global academe. The increasing pressure on university scholars to publish in international journals has had mixed effects on the nature and direction of this research. Undoubtedly there has been a tightening of standards and an increased awareness of the international relevance of intellectual production. At the same time, however, the need to engage interlocutors outside the national and regional forums has induced a tendency to limit theoretical dialogue exclusively to big-name North American and European writers, leading to a susceptibility for references to locally-produced academic texts being limited to empirical evidence that prove theories or models derived from elsewhere. Indeed, the newly intensified pressure to publish in highly ranked international journals has encouraged non-English-speaking authors to engage with hegemonic (Anglophone) theories in order to be able to go through the English-speaking dominated review process. This has undermined genuine insights based on localized research and theory-building. Hopefully, this free issue of IJURR will contribute to redressing this imbalance.

Julie-Anne Boudreau
(IJURR Editor)
Priscilla Connolly
(Former IJURR Corresponding Editor)
October 2014


Connolly, P. 1985. ’The politics of the informal sector: a critique’, in Nanneke Redclift and Enzo Mingione (eds.) Beyond employment: household, gender and subsistence. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pp. 55–91.

Intertextual Readings

The ‘Graying’ of ‘Green’ Zones: Spatial Governance and Irregular Settlement in Xochimilco, Mexico City
Jill Wigle (2014)

How Do Squatters Deal with the State? Legalization and Anomalous Institutionalization in Madrid
Miguel A. Martínez (2014)

Back to Little Havana: Controlling Gentrification in the Heart of Cuban Miami
Marcos Feldman, Violaine Jolivet (2014)

Citizen Participation in Urban Governance in the Context of Democratization: Evidence from Low‐Income Neighbourhoods in Mexico
Melanie Lombard (2012)

Comparative Urbanism

Unsettling Neoliberal Rationalities: Engaged Ethnography and the Meanings of Responsibility in the Dominican Republic and Mexico
Bj⊘rn Sletto and Anja Nygren (2015)

Gentrification in Spain and Latin America — a Critical Dialogue
Michael Janoschka, Jorge Sequera, Luis Salinas (2013)

Urban Poverty, Spatial Representation and Mobility: Touring a Slum in Mexico
Eveline Durr (2012)

Material Politics: Concrete Imaginations and the Architectural Definition of Urban Life in Le Corbusier’s Master Plan for Buenos Aires
Leandro Minuchin (2012)

Classical Contributions of Latin American Critical Urban Studies

Social Sciences and Urban Studies: Goodbye to Paradigms?
Emilio Duhau 

Capital accumulation in the Mexican construction industry, 1930-82
Michael Ball and Priscilla Connolly (1987)

Low income settlements and the law in Mexico City
Antonio Azuela (1987)