Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile

Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile

Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile

Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile

Synopsis

Chile is widely known as the first experiment in neoliberalism in Latin America, carried out and made possible through state violence. Since the beginning of the transition in 1990, the state has pursued a national project of reconciliation construed as debts owed to the population. The state owed a "social debt" to the poor accrued through inequalities generated by economic liberalization, while society owed a "moral debt" to the victims of human rights violations. Life in Debt invites us into lives and world of a poor urban neighborhood in Santiago. Tracing relations and lives between 1999 and 2010, Clara Han explores how the moral and political subjects imagined and asserted by poverty and mental health policies and reparations for human rights violations are refracted through relational modes and their boundaries. Attending to intimate scenes and neighborhood life, Han reveals the force of relations in the making of selves in a world in which unstable work patterns, illness, and pervasive economic indebtedness are aspects of everyday life. Lucidly written, Life in Debt provides a unique meditation on both the past inhabiting actual life conditions but also on the difficulties of obligation and achievements of responsiveness.

Excerpt

We waited. in La Pincoya, the lights were cut to the sector and bonfires crackled on the main street, Recoleta. On September 11, poblaciones (poor urban neighborhoods) commemorate the golpe del estado (the coup d’état) that in 1973 brought down the government of the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende and ushered in a seventeen-year dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet. It was 2005, and there was euphoria and expectation in the air, the atmosphere both celebratory and tense. Women helped children put garbage—wood, an old armchair, plastic bins—in a bonfire pile to be ignited with paraffin. Neighbors stood outside closed storefronts, greeting one another with a mixture of festivity and fear. People knew what to expect, as one woman said precisely: “At around midnight, the municipality will cut the lights to the sector. An hour later, the police will come up Recoleta [La Pincoya’s main street], and then we will protest. and then the police will go up Recoleta [starting from the beginning of the población and moving farther into it], and then we will chase them down, and then they will come up again, and then we will chase them down again.”

A choreographed dance of bullets, tear gas, Molotov cocktails, stones, and water canons was to pass through the stage of Recoleta that night. in anticipation, some young men with covered faces were preparing Molotov cocktails to throw at the police. I was in the street with my comadre Ruby, who lived in the sector with her husband, Héctor, a former militant, and their three children. Ruby handed me a . . .

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