Tracing Social Disappearance and Mapping Social Mobilization in Authoritarian North America, Mexico City, Mexico


Tracing Social Disappearance and Mapping Social Mobilization in Authoritarian North America, Mexico City, Mexico


Research Question

Through what governmental techniques is punitive neoliberalism maintained in central Mexico, and what is the resulting shape of social disappearance? How and to what effect for community organization do participants in contemporary justice movements construct solidarity against these governmental techniques?


A growing body of research in political geography, political sociology, and area studies identifies converging processes of punitive neoliberal governance in Mexico and the US. Mass incarceration, racialized exposure to premature death, feminicidio, and desaparición forzada – such instances of what we call “social disappearance” across North America are underwritten by social hatred and by tendencies towards legal suspension as a technique of government in both countries.

Against social disappearance, participants in transnational waves of protest are producing innovative forms of solidarity and vinculación (linkage). As organizers in Mexico and the US articulate demands and develop political forms that facilitate linkage, solidarity is also being thematized in social movement studies. But with few exceptions, social movement studies has focused on national or sub-national scales, even as movements against punitive neoliberal governance are responding to transnational processes of restructuring that are often naturalized at the local scale by the very residents most affected by the “punitive turn.”

This CGS-funded research in central Mexico is part of an emerging collaboration with Dr. Oliver Hernández Lara (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México). In the face of converging processes of punitive neoliberal governance across North America, Oliver and I propose to 1) identify social-spatial processes of “social disappearance” in Mexico and the US, and 2) generate strategic insights for asserting justice claims and pursuing reparation of social disappearance.

Methods Used

This project adopts a methodological distinction between “tracing” and “mapping.” Where a tracing of social disappearance alone follows the logic of that which is being reproduced (in this case, a punitive logic of government), we follow Deleuze and Guattari to propose placing this tracing “back on the map.” Mapping social mobilization “moves” with social justice movements, allowing that participants in these movements are transforming themselves and thereby challenging the givens of governable order. We therefore describe our archival and ethnographic methodology as transductive: an extrapolation from practices and ideas already taking place, which stand as a virtual object (here, the construction of solidarity or linkage by participants in contemporary social movements).


In the short term, this research will lead to a co-authored article with Dr. Hernández Lara on geographies of social disappearance and social mobilization in Mexico and the US. In the medium term, the research will also provide a strong foundation from which to competitively apply for larger quantities of external research funding for research about punitive governance and emancipatory politics in transnational context.

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Geography | Political Theory

Tracing Social Disappearance and Mapping Social Mobilization in Authoritarian North America, Mexico City, Mexico


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