Inclán Valadez, María Cristina
The 'Casas GEO' movement: an ethnography of a new housing experience in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science.
Through an ethnographic approach, this thesis looks at a new housing form and what is claimed to be a new urban way of life in Mexico’s neoliberal era. The study looks in detail at residents of a single housing project in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and explores how this group has struggled to construct itself as a new cultural category or what I call the Casas GEO movement. The research is guided by a series of questions: why and how did the Casas GEO movement emerge; how do residents experience a new housing project in everyday life; and, what meanings do they communicate through these everyday practices? Specifically, the research engages with recent literatures on new middle classes and approaches that consider ‘class’ as a process that grows out of cultural and “classificatory practices” (Bourdieu, 1984). The research builds on these literatures in a number of ways. First, it conceptualises the housing project as a mutable place, produced through daily interaction and a varied coexistence. Second, it understands the residential space as the arena for the emergence of a new cultural category created in everyday life through specific claims, values and symbols expressed in the urban landscape. The thesis shows how the developer, the GEO company, attempted to construct a set of individual values and codes of behaviour for residents, as an imperative to make the site liveable. But, it considers also how residents use their houses differently from the developers’ intentions through strategies of re-appropriation and personalisation in order to communicate ideas of distinction and ‘good’ taste. Importantly, residents had to deal with a range of inconsistencies, flaws and drawbacks in the project’s realisation that challenged representations of the ‘good’ city, social progress and modernity. The research shows how these failings influence people’s lives, especially their aspirations and sense of identity. My claim is that in the making of the Casas GEO movement people negotiate a cultural formation and produce a new space that allows ways of imagining, aspiring to, and modes for taking part in a modern ‘urban’ life. Yet, the making of the movement also exposes the fragility of a housing project that claims to be the formula for upward mobility of lower-income groups in Mexico.
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