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Patients of the State

The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

Javier Auyero

Publication Year: 2012

Patients of the State is a sociological account of the extended waiting that poor people seeking state social and administrative services must endure. It is based on ethnographic research in the waiting area of the main welfare office in Buenos Aires, in the line leading into the Argentine registration office where legal aliens apply for identification cards, and among people who live in a polluted shantytown on the capital’s outskirts, while waiting to be allocated better housing. Scrutinizing the mundane interactions between the poor and the state, as well as underprivileged people’s confusion and uncertainty about the administrative processes that affect them, Javier Auyero argues that while waiting, the poor learn the opposite of citizenship. They learn to be patients of the state. They absorb the message that they should be patient and keep waiting, because there is nothing else that they can do. Drawing attention to a significant everyday dynamic that has received little scholarly attention until now, Auyero considers not only how the poor experience these lengthy waits but also how making poor people wait works as a strategy of state control.

Published by: Duke University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Unbeknownst to my colleague Débora Swistun, this book was first conceived in a conversation with her. Thank you, Débora, for planting the seed. Once I began thinking about waiting, I needed a site to conduct the research...

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Introduction: Tempography: Waiting Now and Then

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pp. 1-22

‘‘I’ve been after my pension for five years now . . . people at the municipal once said they lost my documents. They made me wait for a long time; they refused to see me. They gave me the run around.’’ Silvia spent half an hour describing to me in detail all...

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1. The Time of the Denizens

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pp. 23-35

‘‘Shit’’ is the last word in Gabriel García Márquez’s short and moving novel No One Writes to the Colonel (1979). The colonel, awaiting the outcome of an upcoming cockfight, is replying to his wife who impatiently wants to know what...

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2. Urban Relegation and Forms of Regulating Poverty

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pp. 36-63

Three decades of neoliberal economic policy have generated massive dislocations and collective suffering in Argentina. Although many of the economic changes brought about by the military dictatorship of 1976–1983 had neoliberal...

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3. Poor People’s Waiting: Speeding Up Time, but Still Waiting

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pp. 64-91

A blazing fire that began in the early morning hours of February 8, 2007, destroyed the homes of three hundred families in Villa Cartón (Cardboard Shantytown), located beneath Highway 7 in the city of Buenos Aires. According to newspaper reports...

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4. The Welfare Office

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pp. 92-127

According to official documents of the city government of Buenos Aires (Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires 2008), there are twelve different programs administered at the central welfare once. However, most of the people...

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5. Periculum in mora: Flammable Revisited

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pp. 128-152

The case of Gladys and her neighbors is sadly familiar. Engaging in a version of ‘‘popular epidemiology’’ (Brown and Mikkelsen 1990), Gladys has been creating a map that records sickness and death (see fig. 6). Cases of leukemia...

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pp. 153-161

The complex relationship between subordinated groups and the state has been the subject of detailed scrutiny in both historical and ethnographic research...

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pp. 162-163

On March 2010, I visited the two elementary schools where my research collaborator Flavia Bellomi works as a teacher (see chapter 2). The two schools are located fifteen blocks apart in the area known as Cuartel Noveno...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 165-168

The ethnographic fieldwork for this project was composed of four continuous months of observations and informal interviews on the outside of the Registro Nacional de las Personas (renaper) and twelve months, divided in two periods...


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pp. 169-173

Works Cited

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pp. 175-198


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pp. 191-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780822395287
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822352594

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 17 photographs
Publication Year: 2012