Inhabiting the City: Citizenship and Democracy in Caracas

by Giles Burgess Harrison-Conwill

Institution: Duke University
Year: 2010
Keywords: Anthropology, Cultural; Latin American Studies; Caracas; Citizenship; Democracy; Venezuela
Record ID: 1866095
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10161/2404


This dissertation, Inhabiting the City: Citizenship and Democracy in Caracas, asks how multiple modalities of citizenship arise in order to facilitate working-class and middle-class strategies to negotiate formal and informal structures of rights and obligations among individuals, local communities, and the nation-state. By examining mobile and locally fixed practices in multiple sites of Caracas, Venezuela, this work explores the ways that individuals assert claims to political and social rights that are bound to particular spaces of the city. Based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in one middle-class and two working class communities, this dissertation explores the discursive formation of citizenships that are based on divergent conceptions of democracy. Although the notions of this mode of political organization are based on understandings of equality in the capital's working-class communities, many middle-class ideas are quite different. In more affluent communities, democratic ideals grounded in equality do not take into account popular notions of meritocracy that reinforce class hierarchy. Although many individuals in Caracas work to produce democratic spaces throughout the city, exclusions persist – and some go largely unnoticed. Finally, I argue that the modes of belonging that many residents employ to negotiate spaces of citizenship vary according to factors such as race, class, gender, age, and geographic location. By analyzing citizenship in a city space that is as divided as Caracas – especially along class lines – I argue that studies of citizenship require attention to cultural transformations that are tied to social, geographic, and political relationships in local spaces. To conceive of the citizen as an individual with ties to the nation-state is too broad a scope to begin understanding the nuances of social and political belonging that ensure active participation within contemporary societies.