In the name of the land : organization, transnationalism, and the culture of the state in a Mexican Ejido

M. Nuijten

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <p>This study is based on research carried out during several periods from mid 1991 to mid 1995 in the ejido La Canoa in Jalisco, western Mexico, and in several government agencies. The study focuses in particular on the period between the 1930s and 1992 when the Mexican agrarian law was fundamentally changed. The last chapters of the book discuss the change of the agrarian law in 1992.</p><p>The study shows how over the years organizing practices developed with respect to the access to ejido plots and the management of the ejido which differed from the prescriptions of the law. For example, the division of the arable plots, the selling of these plots, renting them out, or leaving them unused were all illegal practices which became common in ejidos throughout Mexico. It also became a common phenomenon that instead of the ejido assembly, in which all ejidatarios are represented, the head of the ejido, the commissioner, took decisions on his own. Likewise, the rules were also seldom applied in the resolution of land conflicts by the Ministry of Agrarian Reform (MAR). Land conflicts between ejidatarios and private land owners abound and many have never been resolved. In this study the conflict of the "lost land" is discussed. This concerns a conflict over land that officially belongs to the ejido La Canoa but which since the thirties has been in the hands of several private landholders.</p><p>In this book it its argued that the labeling of the above mentioned practices in a functionalist way as "disorganized" or "corrupt" forms part of modernist discourses of development and does not bring us any nearer to an understanding of these dynamics, nor to an insight into the precise role played by the official rules and formal institutions. It is argued that these practices are the result of active organizing by ejidatarios, as well as officials and other social actors. Furthermore, it is shown that in the myriad of activities which are labeled as "illegal", "disorganized", and "corrupt" we can also distinguish certain organizing patterns. For example, in chapter five it was shown that in the many "illegal" arrangements with ejido plots we can distinguish a certain pattern in the way these were organized and that in these arrangements other ejidatarios, officials of the MAR, the ejido commissioner, and the ejido assembly play specific roles.</p><p>In chapter six a different form of patterning of organizing practices has been discussed. There it was shown, among other things, that the executive committee of the ejido never renders accounts of their activities at public ejido meetings, but that alternative forms of accountability exist and other effective mechanisms by which the ejidatarios control their executive committee. Namely, through informal channels, gossips, and regional political networks. In this context the ejido meetings have turned into arenas for bickering and confrontation and have developed symbolic roles in distinguishing between "insiders" and "outsiders". At the same time the official ejido structure becomes important in the case of serious conflicts. Then the "formal game is played" together with the use of informal political pressures.</p><p>It is argued that this structuring of organizing practices in unexpected and often "invisible" ways always occurs around the management of resources, and in relation to institutional settings. This book sets out the way that all forms of organizing take place in wider force fields. A force field is defined as a field of power and struggle between different social actors around certain resources or problems and around which certain forms of dominance, contention, and resistance may develop, as well as certain regularities and forms of ordering. The assumption is that all forms of organizing, even the most "private" or "illegal" ones, develop within fields of power. In this view, the patterning of organizing processes which we may find are not the result of a common understanding or normative agreement, but of the forces at play within the field.</p><p>It has been shown that the development of forms of ordering in organizing practices is closely related to forms of exclusion of certain social categories. Different groups can be distinguished with differing roles, different access to resources, and differing rights. The concept of force field also helps us to analyze the precise role of the law and official procedures.</p><p>The assumptions is that multiple force fields exist which develop their own dynamic and have different specific implications for the people involved. This means that in relation to certain resources and problems ejidatarios may develop a high degree of autonomy, while around others they have little "room for manoeuvre". The organizing practices around the arable plots in the ejido led to much autonomy for the ejidatarios, though the law, the bureaucratic procedures and the officials were always present as a "distant threat". On the other hand, the bureaucracy has been much less present in relation to organizing in the common lands. Around the commons ejidatarios and landless villagers have great autonomy to act without interference from the state bureaucracy. While, around the arable land and the commons the ejidatarios have developed a high degree of autonomy, around the "lost land" they obviously operate in a force field in which they are relatively powerless. There we find ejidatarios in a hopeless fight against private landowners. Hence, we cannot talk in a generalized way about the structural position of ejidatarios vis-á-vis regional elites, or about the nature of their relation with the Mexican state. This differs according to the resources and problems at stake.</p><p>In this approach, social theorizing, reflexive talk, and story-telling by social actors are considered to be a central part of the organizing process. These dialogues reflect a continuous active engagement of social actors with the world around them. Furthermore, the creation and re-creation of stories are considered to be a way of ordering the world around us and of arriving at the best strategies to be followed in the organizing process. Organizing practices are always related to the production of meaning and in this book it has been shown how the organizing practices around different resources in specific force fields are accompanied by reflective talk, ideological notions, irony, and the production of multiple meanings through imagination and the work of interpretation. These dialogues reflect forms of struggle, contention, and resistance in relation to existing organizing practices and relations of power.</p><p>As has been shown in this book, ejidatarios have a complicated and contradictory relation with the Mexican state. The state was their ally in the fight against the hacendados during the period of agrarian reform and it has also been the provider of all kinds of services (schools, water, electricity). However, in other instances the state is viewed as a corrupt and violent enemy which is greatly feared and distrusted by the people. Hence, we have an image of the Mexican state as the protector and oppressor of the ejidatarios at the same time. Images of the state conjoin notions of evil with goodness. For that reason, the ejidatarios may be supportive and enthusiastic towards the Mexican President at one moment, and cynical and distrustful about his speeches at another moment. Or they can laugh about themselves being deceived by the democratic and liberalizing discourse of a president who later on proved to be one of the worst swindlers the country ever saw. The ejidatarios can be proud of being part of the Mexican nation-state project but at the same time they can criticize powerholders for their corruption and for their squeezing of the peasants.</p><p>I have argued that the continuous theorizing about power and politics in society not only concerns a rationalization of actions but also an investment in the "idea of the state", in other words, an investment in the belief of the existence of a center of control. This does not mean that practices of authority and control do not exist but that people tend to look for a coherence and logic which does not exist. These imaginations which are constitutive of the "culture of the state", are based upon experiences and are mediated by a series of governmental techniques and by the media, education, and movies. The "culture of the state" is central to the operation of the bureaucracy as a "hope-generating machine". The "hope-generating machine" gives the message that everything is possible, that cases are never closed, and that things will be different from now on. This permeates all aspects of life and triggers powerful responses. However, rather than producing a certain rationality and coherence, the bureaucratic machine generates enjoyments, pleasures, fears and expectations. Although people are never naive, during certain periods they can become inspired and enthusiastic about new programs and new openings that are offered to them. Yet, doubts never totally disappear.</p><p>It is also argued that in this context of a decentered "hope-generating machine" without a clear center and coherence, brokers do often not play a role in effectively connecting ejidatarios to "the state", but play a role in the imagination of state power. By suggesting that they are the "right connection" to higher levels and to the "center of control" brokers contribute to the "idea of the state". In the same way, by searching for the "right connection" which can help them to resolve their problems, ejidatarios invest in the "idea of the state". Ejidatarios and bureaucrats are implicated in the cultural representation of the state through processes of rationalization, speculation, the construction of fantasies, etc. but also through processes of fetishization, that is the attribution to certain objects such as maps and documents with special powers. In this complex of desire and fantasy, inscription is very important. People develop a fetishism around certain official documents, even when they cannot "read" these documents according to official standards.</p><p>The same can be said of bureaucrats who tend to reify the law, in spite of "knowing" that official procedures do not play a central role in the outcome of highly politicized land conflicts. In these processes, the "idea of the state" is objectivized and fixed in maps, documents, and other legal texts. Hence, see a "re-enchantment of governmental techniques" as they acquire symbolic meanings beyond their administrative functions.</p>
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    Award date21 Dec 1998
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789054859765
    Publication statusPublished - 1998


    • rural communities
    • agrarian reform
    • land reform
    • land ownership
    • land management
    • peasantry
    • farmers
    • migration
    • state government
    • culture
    • mexico
    • relations between people and state
    • bureaucracy
    • cum laude

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