El Colegio de Michoacán, AC
XLI Colloquium on Regional Anthropology and History
Strangers in their Own Land
Rural societies in Times of Neoliberalism: Scenarios in transition
October 2-4, 2019
Auditorium, El Colegio de Michoacán
Coordinators:    María del Carmen Ventura
J. Luis Seefoó
Esteban Barragán


For this Colloquium we invite scholars, activists and government officials to debate the future of rural societies as they face an economic development model that has accentuated processes of appropriation and dispossession of biocultural patrimonies in Mexico, in the broader context of Latin America, since the second half of the 20th century.

Today, Mexico’s rural landscapes are scenes of confrontation among diverse life-worlds and distinct forms of accumulation. The privatization and commercialization of nature and cultures characterize neoliberal policies as global financial institutions, international organisms and transnational companies, in connivance with national governments and political-economic elites, apply a range of structural measures –modifying juridical frameworks to legalize dispossessions, conditioning infrastructure investments to facilitate resource extraction and introducing rapacious economic policies– and demand others to prevent, contain and even criminalize social protest.

This predatory, exclusive “development” model has widened the gap of economic and social inequality, increased migration and the abandonment of traditional production systems, and intensified violence, the loss of alimentary sovereignty, and forced displacements. These processes lead to the erosion of traditional cultures and local production systems while disarticulating relations, be they community, affective or symbolic, especially in rural areas where many inhabitants become, or are made to feel like, strangers in their own land1.

Mega-projects that exploit natural and cultural resources constitute one new face of this economic system. Mining, energy (hydraulic, thermoelectric, geothermal, solar, aeolic) tourism and property development projects, as well as dams, deviations, fracking and the intensive exploitation of forests, agriculture and fisheries, among others, destroy ecosystems and compromise their capacity to recover, while also putting at risk the preservation of the rationalities, knowledge, and forms of material, spiritual and affective life of those who inhabit the countryside. Here, both the actors and their responses are diverse; running from defenselessness and negotiation to resistance organized to maintain territorial patrimonies.

1 Expression from the song La maldición de la Malinche, Gabino Palomares, 1975.

Wednesday, October 2

9:00-9:45 Welcome, invitation and official aperture of the Colloquium by the Colegio’s authorities.

9:45-10:20 Awarding of the “Luis González y González” Prize for the best B.A. Thesis in Social Science and Humanities for 2019 (LADIPA)

10:30-11:30 Keynote speaker: Guillermo de la Peña (CIESAS Occidente)

Coffee break: 11:30-12:00

12:00-14:00 Table 1: Balance of the agrarian counter-reform

Coordinator: Carmen Ventura

Speakers present angles of analysis to make a balance of the implications of the juridical reforms in agrarian matters ratified in 1992, when some scholars foretold the return of the latifundio and the concentration of large territories in a few hands, as happened in the early 20th century. But this has not occurred, as just over half of Mexico’s national territory is still in the hands of nearly five million agrarian subjects, members of ejidos and communities. Other analysts, based on a series of juridical arguments, sustain that social property no longer exists. Between these two postures we find studies that explain local and regional processes of appropriation and interpretation of the legal framework, as well as diverse responses to government programs, that are elucidated as results of complex historical processes of specific formations.

14:00-16:30 Lunch

16:30-18:30 Table 2: Megaprojects and diverse responses by rural societies

Coordinator: Carmen Ventura

This Table presents discussions of the structural reforms that legalize and facilitate the implementation of so-called ‘mega-projects’, which entail risks for ecosystems and the continuity of certain cultures. Papers analyze the distinct mechanisms of appropriation and dispossession, their social and environmental implications, and tensions among distinct juridical frameworks (related to agriculture, mining, indigenous peoples and ecology, among other elements), as well as the diversity of organizational processes at the local and regional levels in response to the implementation of mega-projects. Also examined are government actions that protect these initiatives and provide assurances to investors, while simultaneously deactivating, containing and criminalizing resistance.

Thursday, October 3

9:00-11:00 Table 3: Patrimonialization projects

Coordinator: Sergio Zendejas

Instead of focusing on certain objects, places or practices as patrimony, this Table invites participants to present pronouncements for their recognition, vindication and conservation –or not– as a fundamental part of what collectivities cannot afford to lose for that would entail the risk of ceasing to be what some have argued they “have always been”, “are” and struggle to “continue being”. These vindications, together with proposals to protect and use them, to live and produce them, and to re-create and conserve them, tend to form part of highly-complex processes that entail multiple disputes, not only agreements. Patrimony: according to whom… in what sense… and to benefit whom? Protection: how… by whom… and following norms established by whom? These questions have led to conflict because is in play is the mutual formation of patrimonial entities and collective subjects in whose name some claim rights over them. Hence, also in play is the conflictive and significant social production of conditions and lifeways, including multiple vindications of identities, territories, institutions, hierarchies, modalities of social organization and landholding, access to and the use and usufruct of land, and “memories”, and distinct types of knowledge, among others.

Coffee break: 11:00-11:30

11:30-13:30 Table 4: Other ways of being a peasant

Coordinator: J. Luis Seefoó

Mexico’s coasts are settings for schemes of private and government investment (in real estate, tourism, fisheries) that transform the natural and social environments. In some cases, transnational hotel developments mask dispossessions of land and water with environmental discourses; in others job creation and capturing foreign currency suffice. Thus, in rural-urban connections in coastal areas, the unstoppable conversion of dreams into dollars has practically transformed the ancestral existence of fishers –peasants– artisans, regional political action, and the knowhow of these people, now in danger of extinction, into the subjects of many papers given in this Colloquium.

14:00-16:30 Lunch

16:30:18:30 Table 5: Discourses on sustainability: from alimentary sovereignty to sustainable intensification

Coordinator: Nicola Keilbach

Legitimation of conventional agriculture has reached an important critical mass, as numerous initiatives seek to respond to the hegemonic discourse of monocrop cultivation using agrochemicals controlled by supranational corporations that transforms small producers into laborers in their own fields. Organic production, fair trade, local and territorial denominations of origin, agro-ecology and alimentary sovereignty capture some of the reactions that seek to create a just sustainable alimentary system. Meanwhile, supporters of conventional agriculture made up discourses based on concepts like ‘ecological modernization’ and ‘sustainable intensification’. In this regard, Mexico’s current agricultural policy calls for an agriculture of knowledge guided by the axis of agro-ecological production.

During this Table we plan to hear different voices and critically discuss distinct proposals related to sustainability and governance in Mexico’s agro-alimentary sector.

Friday, October 4

9:00:10:00 Keynote Speaker: Luis Hernández Navarro, columnist, newspaper La Jornada

10:00-12:00 Table 6: Life’s dilemmas in rural Mexico: return migration in changing contexts

Coordinator: Gustavo López Castro

Moderator: Philippe Schafhausser (Colmich)

Return migration continues to be an important topic for both migration studies and analyses of social life in rural towns and communities in Mexico. Processes of depredation and extraction that exacerbate economic inequality and, therefore, social inequality as well, and that have expelled (Saskia Sassen) large population contingents –from the countryside, especially– continue apace in Mexico, but these processes have also made it difficult to fully reincorporate return migrants whose numbers have increased steadily since at least 2007. This return migration applies additional pressure on access to resources and work in already-depressed regions.

In this sense, return migration has catalyzed social, cultural and economic changes and re-accommodations in the lives of thousands of families and individuals in rural localities. This Table analyzes these changes and contextualizes them in broader economic and social processes.

12:00-12:30 Coffee break

12:30-14:30 Table 7 Experiences of social suffering in scenarios of rural life

Coordinators: Miguel Hernández M. and Víctor Ortiz A.

To suffer, from the Latin süfférre, is a verb that denotes experiencing, undergoing, tolerating or bearing physical, emotional or psychological pain, and the action of resisting it and struggling to find the meaning of these situations in culture or religion. A focus on the social dimension of suffering leads to the place where the fields of subjective experience and normative systems intersect and, by exercising bio-power, burden individuals with the obligation “to care for themselves” as they deal with their lives marked by dilemmas, contradictions and challenges of an ever more unassailable, virtual and fleeting modernity. The aim of this Table is to propose an approach to the complex phenomenon of social suffering among women and men who experience it in their rural settings with consequences that generate situations in which the threshold of emotional pain has risen to a point where overcoming it constitutes a true challenge.

14:30-15:30 Final Reflections

15:30 Closing ceremony