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  • The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia
  • Nancy Postero
The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia. By Daniel Goldstein. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Pp. 296. Illustrations. Map. Notes. Index. $74.95 cloth; $21.95 paper.

This is a beautifully written and thoughtful book. Set in Villa Pagador, an urban barrio in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Daniel Goldstein's ethnography brings together two very different aspects of community life: a barrio-wide religious festival honoring San Miguel and an attempted lynching of thieves. He argues that both are spectacular performances by community residents who have been marginalized and [End Page 301] excluded from full membership in the city and the nation. These ritual expressions of belonging act to render the actors visible to the state and call attention to the state's neglect of their rights as citizens.

Goldstein traces the history of the city of Cochabamba, intended by its planners to be a modernist "Garden City" with green areas and rational design. Villa Pagador was established by highland migrants from Oruro during the migration boom in the 1970s, which brought this modernist dream of urban order to an end. Seen as invaders and threats to the health of the original inhabitants, residents of this poor neighborhood were considered dangerous and their land titles deemed illegal. Goldstein describes the efforts of the residents to bring services (schools, water supply, and bus lines) to the barrio and to legalize their land titles. Central to these efforts, he claims, was the carefully constructed image of the barrio as an organized, collective, and collaborative "community" deserving of municipal attention. The fiesta of San Miguel is one site for the enactment of this image. Claiming the symbolic capital their native Oruro, widely thought of as the folklore capital of Bolivia, Pagadoreños transformed a local saint's festival into an Oruro-style carnaval, featuring "authentic" Orureño dances and music. These performances serve to counter racist notions of migrants by asserting their centrality to national Bolivian identity, while at the same time broadcasting their reputation as an orderly, hard-working, and modern community. This spectacular performance "educates the audience," says Goldstein, allowing Pagadoreños to make claims on the nation. Thus, through this ritual act, marginalized residents demand full citizenship and the rights that accompany it.

Then Goldstein turns to the difficult case of lynching. He analyzes an event in Villa Pagador in 1995, in which thieves were apprehended by a group of irate neighbors, attacked, and then set on fire. When police responded and rescued the culprits, they, too, were set upon. The crowd asserted that they were forced to take justice in their own hands. Goldstein thinks through this event carefully, describing the political and economic context in which the events occurred, the discourse about it in the media, and the way Pagadoreños framed the events themselves. The context is critical: under neoliberalism, Goldstein asserts, the state has lost the ability to regulate, order, and control society. Underpaid and inadequate policing makes poor residents vulnerable to predation by thieves and criminals. The result of this lack of state law enforcement is a sort of privatization of justice. But, this community violence should not be seen as simply a parallel system of justice. Goldstein argues instead that it is an extraordinary measure, a spectacular response decrying the state's neglect of basic civil rights of security and safety. This is clear from the way Pagadoreños characterize themselves, not as vigilantes but as a unified community of citizens defending itself when the state failed to do so. Through their carefully constructed performance, Pagadoreños paint themselves as citizens worthy of equal treatment.

This book will be of great interest to Bolivianists and to Latin American scholars in general, as it explores issues of interest across the continent, such as citizenship, social movements, and urban migration. Goldstein's well-documented ethnography [End Page 302] illustrates what exclusion means at the material and discursive level for those denied full membership in society. Then, it adds to this critique by showing how marginalized citizens can use the discourse of community, rituals of dance, and even lynching as performances in the "drama...


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pp. 301-303
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