For Social Emergencies “We Are 9-1-1”: How Journalists Perform the State in an Argentine Border Town

This article focuses on Puerto Iguazú, an Argentine town bordering Brazil and Paraguay, where the local media create a patchwork of substitute social services that form the basis of governance. More than 1,200 kilometers away from the federal capital, Iguazú was historically neglected by the central government: water shortages, power cuts, natural gas and fuel scarcity, impassable roads, and squatter settlements contributed to infrastructural collapses in a territorial periphery. Local news coverage has been consistently critical of the failing state in Iguazú, treating governmental neglect as social emergency, which requires an urgent media intervention. Through their routine news itineraries and agendas, social solidarity, and assistance campaigns, Iguazú journalists have taken on certain pragmatic functions ordinarily understood to be the task of the government. In reference to Foucault’s theory of capillary power, I call this locally embedded performance of the state, separate from official policies and projects, capillary governance. I pay special attention to the role of infrastructure, showing how different infrastructural networks—from power and water supply to communications technologies—interconnect, at times enabling and other times disabling the work of journalists. Merging anthropology of journalism with political anthropology, this article analyzes media practices on a remote border, where official governmental policies and actions are tentative and uneven, showing how Iguazú journalists take on the role of state actors.