Academic journal article Social Justice

A Failure of Normalization: Transnational Migration, Crime, and Popular Justice in the Contemporary Neoliberal Mexican Social Formation

Academic journal article Social Justice

A Failure of Normalization: Transnational Migration, Crime, and Popular Justice in the Contemporary Neoliberal Mexican Social Formation

Article excerpt

Introduction [1]

AN EFFORT TO BRING INTO A SINGLE FIELD OF VISION TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION, crime, and popular justice may appear strange. I hope to show, however, that these categorically different activities can, in fact, be related to one another as distinct responses to economic and political fields of power reconfigured through Mexico's deepening incorporation into international capitalism. None involves organized resistance or presents a viable alternative around which progressive political movements might coalesce. Yet these responses problematize rule -- even as they (temporarily) prop it up -- because they appear in many circumstances to be the products of subject identities that reject the state's claims to rest its authority on a purported social contract. Delinquency involves a rejection of law, lynching reflects a breakdown in the institutionalized justice system, and transnational migration challenges the state's sovereign control of territory, especially when economic and political decisions affecting relations in rural Mexican communities are made by transmigrants in New York City or California (see Smith, 1999).

Social Fields of Power

Pierre Bourdieu's idea of social fields provides a useful point of departure. For Bourdieu, social fields are relatively bounded social domains, composed of "positions" endowed with differing amounts of "capital" (economic, cultural, and symbolic). The positions' occupants struggle to augment their capital or to change the field's rules or boundaries in their favor (Bourdieu, 1990). According to Bourdieu, the strategies that actors employ are produced by "generative schemes" or "durable dispositions," which he calls habitus, representing the mental form of the structured fields in which the actors themselves were shaped. He notes that habitus is "a model for the production of practices and a system of models for the perception and appreciation of practices. And in both cases its operations express the social position in which it was constructed" (Ibid.: 131). By definition, social fields are complex and positions multiple, meaning that the habitus of social actors occupying those positions vary, even if the overall domination of one group gives it more latitude in structuring the field to its advantage and thus shaping the durable dispositions of the field's other occupants. In a somewhat different context, William Roseberry (1994: 360-361) referenced this when he defined hegemony as the manner in which "the words, images, symbols, forms, organizations, institutions, and movements used by subordinate populations to talk about, understand, confront, accommodate themselves to, or resist their domination are shaped by the process of domination itself." Roseberry opined that, "What hegemony constructs...is not a shared ideology but a common meaningful and material framework for living through, talking about, and acting upon social orders characterized by domination."

In his empirical work Bourdieu explores in great detail the positions, dispositions, and rules affecting struggles in specific French intellectual, religious, and educational social fields. As Bourdieu is well aware, though, social fields are not isolated but intertwined in local, regional, national, and international complexes. Neither are they of equal salience in shaping the contours of a society or the globe. To take one example, Bourdieu maintains that writers and artists who are dominant in the field of cultural production "are dominated in their relations with those who hold political and economic power" (1990: 145). To analyze fields dynamically and in interaction with one another, we can incorporate Bourdieu's perspective within the global vision of Eric Wolf (1982) and Sidney Mintz (1985). Wolf and Mintz treat social fields as multiple, overlapping, mutually affecting, and, at particular historical moments, hierarchically ordered. Their perspective is particularly important now that most local and national economies and cultures have become more open and vulnerable to outside influences because of quick, massive movements of commodities, capital, and, to a lesser degree, people (Harvey, 1989). …

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