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CR: The New Centennial Review 5.1 (2005) 255-292

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Ciudadana X

Gender Violence and the Denationalization of Women's Rights in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Cuánto falta en México para el pleno ejercicio de la democracia? . . . La clase gobernante desprecia lo que ve o cree ver: masas ingobernables por irredimibles, masas indóciles y sumisas, masas regidas por el complicado matrimonio entre la obedencia y el relajo. En el otro extremo, quienes ejercen la democracia desde abajo y sin pedir permiso, amplían sus derechos ejerciéndolos.1
—Carlos Monsiváis, Entrada Libre (1987)
From the beginning the paradox involved in the declaration of inalienable human rights was that it reckoned with an "abstract" human being who seemed to exist nowhere . . .
—Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, is not New York, Tokyo, Paris, or even Mexico City. Nevertheless, it shares with these global cities all the markers of a denationalized metropolitan space where new forms of sociality emerge with the migration of people, goods, and capital across [End Page 255] national borders (Sassen 2001).2 Since the establishment of the Border Industrialization Program in 1965, the city has contributed a vast supply of labor and resources to the reformation of industrial and financial capital. The information technologies that support the "global cultural economy" are made en masse in the city's maquiladoras by workers for whom consumption is only slightly less compulsory than their high levels of productivity (Appadurai 1996, 29). Decades before the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico experimented with political projects that would suspend national sovereignty in the border space in favor of attracting foreign exchange.3 Following the crises of the mid-1980s, Mexico's neo-liberal program of economic privatization and deregulation entailed the wholesale conversion of the northern border into a platform for cheap labor and out-migration. The integration of world markets, the expansion of transnational corporate power, and the concurrent displacements of peoples from southern Mexico have, in their turn, produced urban forms in Ciudad Juárez bearing the distinct signature of globalization's restructuring of the nation-state.

This article examines the troubling status of poor migrant women as political actors in the denationalized space of Ciudad Juárez. Subaltern women's labors have served the state as a stabilizing force amidst the economic and political crises of the neo-liberal regime in ways that both promote and delimit new forms of female agency in the border region. The acute rise in armed social conflict in Juárez, much of it targeted at young women and girls, requires that we examine how the denationalized subjectivity that has occupied recent scholarship on globalization and citizenship is itself produced through state failure and state violence. The impunity of violent crime necessarily devalues both citizenship and citizens: it produces a climate where sociality is defined less by national belonging than by the more atomizing force of collective fear.4 If globalization has in fact encouraged the disarticulation of citizenship rights from membership to a single national community, as many analysts maintain, it is nevertheless unclear whether subaltern Mexican women can make substantive claims to the global civil society that the Juárez industries have helped to produce. [End Page 256]

Recent scholarship on citizenship contends that changes in the nation-state that result from several aspects of globalization "significantly alter those conditions that in the past fed the articulation between citizenship and the nation-state" (Sassen 2003, 41).5 Saskia Sassen writes that the processes of market integration, coupled with the expansion of the international human rights regime, enabled the "deterritorializing of citizenship practices and identities," just as they "have directly and indirectly altered particular features of the institution of citizenship" (42). Although scholars hold no clear consensus on what constitutes the precise substance of denationalized citizenship, the term enjoys currency both as an expression of an "aspirational claim" to new forms...


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