Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Affect and the Dialectics of Uncertainty: Governing a Paraguayan Frontier Town

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Affect and the Dialectics of Uncertainty: Governing a Paraguayan Frontier Town

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article discusses the affective politics enabling urban development in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, a young frontier boomtown where the volume of the extralegal transborder trade once exceeded the GDP of the entire nation. Against stereotypes of the city as lawless, I demonstrate how governing practices work through affect and emotion. I argue that local strategies of governing have temporal and spatial dimensions that produce an affective field of uncertainty for hawkers and street vendors. Paradoxically, the legal and spatial ambiguities that produce uncertainty as a disciplining structure of feeling are also the grounds from which vendors make claims to urban space. Yet vendors develop their own registers of need and entitlement through a politics of affective interconnection. This paper contributes to debates on the government of precarity and to geographical studies on emotion and affect by exploring how this dialectics of uncertainty enables exclusionary urban development.

Keywords

Affect, planning practice, governance, uncertainty, informality, street vending

Introduction

This article considers the affective politics of uncertainty for precarious street traders working in one of the largest extralegal border economies in the Americas. I demonstrate how municipal practices of spatial management accentuate lived uncertainties for street traders who claim urban space to make a living. The border trade has long been organized through logics of negotiability. In the street market the emotional valences of uncertainty become part and parcel of an understudied modality of rule. Yet, the legal and spatial ambiguities that produce uncertainty as a structure of feeling for street vendors are also the grounds from which vendors make claims to urban space. I call this dynamic the dialectics of uncertainty, using the term dialectic to indicate a generative tension between interrelated, conflicting forces. However, street vendors engage their own affective politics, practices of constrained agency that underscore the contingencies of municipal enforcement practice.

The vibrant border trade defining Ciudad del Este, Paraguay circulates consumer goods to the growing Brazilian middle class through a range of extralegal, illicit and informal economic and spatial practices. While the city is stereotyped as a space of lawlessness (Brown, 2009) in fact, local state actors artfully govern through historically specific repertories of regulation (Tucker, 2015). Twenty thousand small-scale vendors, hawkers, and taxi drivers compete with elite traders for Brazilian buyers who re-sell consumer goods in other South American cities. Since the late 1970s, elites and the urban poor alike appropriated public space along Ruta 7, the main thoroughfare leading to the International Friendship Bridge crossing into Brazil. Claims to city space, concentrated in eight square blocks, enable actors to participate in the frontier economy. Today, established networks of large-scale importer/exporters, contrabandistas and small-scale urban entrepreneurs work the border trade. The ability of rural migrants and poor Paraguayans to profit from these globalized commodity flows leads some to cite the city as an example of globalization from below (Mathews and Ribeiro, 2012; Rabossi, 2008), even as the gains of the border trade are unevenly divided. Diaspora Chinese, Lebanese, and Korean businessmen own stores or discount shopping galleries, some the size of city blocks. In contrast, small- scale Paraguayan entrepreneurs work from the streets. The border trade shapes the region (Beliveau and Montenegro, 2010) and deprives Paraguayan state coffers of significant tax revenue (Masi, 2006; Ruiz Diaz, 2011).

For this article, I draw from 15 months of participant observation of everyday regulatory encounters between the urban poor and municipal state actors, conducted between 2011 and 2015. Through these relations, political authority is performed, reiterated, and contested. …

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