Challenging neoliberal territorialities: disputed lives, bodies and land

Reception: December 16, 2019

Acceptance: March 26, 2020

Incarnate territories. Extractivism, communalism and gender in the P'urhépecha plateau

Veronica Velazquez, 2019 Jorge Alonso Chair, Guadalajara, 293 pp.

Wn the last 30 years we have witnessed how neoliberal governance accentuates differences in order to control and commodify life and nature, making them productive for a global capitalism. Although we are witnessing an intensification of the times and spaces of domination, dispossession and exploitation, what we are dealing with is a renewal of colonial forms of oppression and accumulation sustained by continuous and resurgent racism and sexism. In this way, we live in a constant battle for control and appropriation of lives, bodies and territories, where we observe the interweaving of these colonial forms with extractive neoliberal dynamics. Indigenous women with low economic resources are thus the ones who experience one of the cruelest faces of this capitalist system projected in the image of modernity / coloniality. However, while they suffer the increase in violence, dispossession, conflicts and inequalities, we also observe how they not only manage to survive, but also that some open new spaces for political participation that challenge ethnic, gender and class hierarchies and promote other ways of relating to the territory and nature. This is where the relevance of Verónica Velázquez's work is situated.

Your book Incarnate territories. Extractivism, communalism and gender in the P'urhépecha plateau, winner of the 2019 Jorge Alonso Chair Prize, from a perspective inspired by anthropology, critical geography and feminism, shows us how capitalism has affected the daily lives of P'urhépecha women in Zirosto and Cherán (Michoacán) by favoring the violence and accentuate the precariousness of bodies, lives and lands. Through a committed and ethical ethnography, this young anthropologist shares with us her experiences and learnings from working with them in the avocado fields in Zirosto, in the berries in Los Reyes, and in the Cherán forest nursery. With a detailed narration, it immerses us in what it means to live and work as a woman in these spaces made under a capitalist, racist and patriarchal logic. His work shows the creativity and commitment that we must have in our investigative work, while exposing the fear, violence and daily risks that we experience in a Mexico increasingly torn by the war against drugs. In saying this, the author points us towards something that has been pointed out in the discussions about extractivism, and that is the close articulation that exists in Latin America between drug trafficking, accumulation by dispossession and the advance of violence. Here not only land disputes between different local, national and transnational subjects, but also the lives and bodies of women like those in the P'urhépecha plateau.

Silvia Federici (2004) invites us not to lose sight of the continuity that has occurred in these forms in which capitalism has unfolded and today manifests itself in acute violence against women. Along these lines, Verónica points to certain parallels with previous development models, while showing how the oppressions suffered historically enhance the vulnerability of the bodies of P'urhépecha women. Access, tenure and management of land, “masculine” activities, thus mark the current way in which women are integrated or not into the labor market and community life. For the author, what these women experience is, following Gladys Tzul Tzul (2016), a differentiated inclusion in the communal fabric, since the use of the land is transmitted patrilineally. At the same time, the kaxumbekua (Honorability), he points out, has functioned as a control device to maintain the subordination of women to patriarchal logic. The author tells us in this way different practices such as bride theft and patrivirilocal residence as forms that have kept the gender order unaltered and perpetuated violence against women. Likewise, men, by monopolizing the management of communal government and public spaces, have silenced the voice of women, while they have maintained control and surveillance of their bodies and have relegated them to the private / domestic space. Perhaps, for me, here, lies the weakness of the book, as it leaves us waiting for a deeper analysis framed in the discussions of the overlap between the modern and the colonial.

However, Verónica's work shows us great contributions to understanding the consequences of the transformations that are taking place in the region. One of the biggest changes can be observed in how, following the logic of the market and gender hierarchies, the traditional agricultural system is being eliminated to make way for the agro-export industry. It points out that transnational companies dictate what, how and for whom to produce. This has led to changes in the rhythms of life to follow the times of production and the ways of life that favor foreign capital. Not only this, but, as analyzed based on the work of Judith Butler, the bodies of women now laborers are precarious, violated and discarded. He tells us, for example, how diseases in Zirosto have arisen due to the contamination suffered by their bodies in the agribusiness of the berries. For them, skin cancer, lupus and children with congenital malformations are becoming everyday. What happens with them is not something exceptional, but rather that throughout the country it has been shown how some bodies are not worth within this economic-political system. Such is the case in the communities of Mezcala and San Pedro Itzicán (Jalisco), where contaminated water has been identified as the cause of children dying from kidney failure (Jacobo Contreras, 2018). However, the government has preferred to divert its gaze from the industries that dispose of their waste in the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin, since many economic and political interests are at stake. Development entails costs and collateral damage, and these deaths are only considered in these terms by the power networks.

Along the same lines, Verónica, subscribing to the perspective of intersectionality elaborated by feminists of color, shows us how agribusiness uses different social classifications to perpetuate precarious employment conditions, while increasing violence and insecurities in their lives. women. It uses the notion of “differentiated body” to understand how neoliberal territorialities empower and intersect the different oppressions embodied in the bodies of these workers, to generate greater profits and favor certain local and international sectors. It is a mechanism to perpetuate and accentuate domination for the benefit of transnational capital that brings with it the transformation of the local economy and natural landscapes, the dispersion and fragmentation of the population and the precariousness of women's lives. What happens with P'urhépecha women is not exclusive; In fact, indigenous day laborers in the San Quintín valley exhibit a similar situation, where violence, precariousness, low wages and marginalization have become part of their daily lives (Niño Contreras et al., 2016). Verónica's work thus helps us to understand the consequences of this extractivist model in our country, which are not only seen in the personal and work environment but also in the community, where tensions and stigmatization towards women grow.

However, the author identifies that different territorialities converge on the P'urhépecha plateau; In other words, there are different spatial responses to the processes of dispossession. In Zirosto, on the one hand, they are inserted into the agro-export model following neoliberal spatial logics and capitalist accumulation; on the other hand, in Cheran there is a procuring of the common good, of use value from an ethnoecological perspective. Without losing notion of the contradictions, ambiguities and internal problems that these communities face, he points out that different configurations of communalism are in the making, but he wonders if these emerging communalisms are really an alternative to capitalist geographies. Here it is essential to understand the role that women play in its configuration. Undoubtedly, there are different ways of being a woman in the P'urhépecha plateau, but it is important to point out the progress that some of them make to create more inclusive community policies. One of the great contributions of the book is, in this sense, the hope that weaves through the lives of three women leaders in Cheran, who in different ways are challenging gender hierarchies to make their way into the public space, while claiming their ethnicity , their knowledge and practices related to the defense of the territory.

It is thanks to them that Verónica discerns the creation of a counter-hegemonic territoriality where public participation is expanded, community forests are reconstituted, environmental sustainability is sought, community ties are strengthened, inclusive and collective meanings of life and justice are provided and they claim an ancestral / sacred and ethnic territoriality together with their symbolic-identity load. Incarnate territoriesIn this way, it contributes to a conceptualization of the space-territory beyond the masculine and capitalist visions. For Verónica, there are other ways of relating to the territory, of feel it, as Arturo Escobar would say, where local knowledge is revalued and articulated with the care of life and nature. Extractivism has written about the territories and bodies the ideals of a predatory neoliberal development that today threatens indigenous communities with its expansion, through the implementation of a series of megaprojects; Fortunately, works like Verónica's, from the margins, feed our reflection and search for collective alternatives to slow down the momentum of neoliberal territorialities.


Federici, Silvia (2004). Caliban and the Witch. Nueva York: Autonomedia.

Jacobo Contreras, Manuel Alejandro (2018). “La justicia simulada: persistencia de enfermos renales”, en Inés Durán Matute y Rocío Moreno (ed.), Voces del México de abajo. Reflexiones en torno a la propuesta del cig. Guadalajara: Cátedra Jorge Alonso, pp. 251-260. Recuperado de, consultado el 16 de julio de 2020.

Niño Contreras, Lya Margarita, José Moreno Mena y Amalia Tello Torralba (2016). “La Casa de la Mujer Indígena en San Quintín: experiencia de creación, obstáculos y retos”, Diario de Campo, núm. 12, pp. 7-16. Recuperado de, consultado el 16 de julio de 2020.

Tzul Tzul, Gladys (2016). Sistemas de gobierno comunal indígena: mujeres y tramas de parentesco en Chuimeq’ena’. Guatemala: Editorial Maya Wuj.

Inés Durán Matute She has a PhD in Social Sciences from the University of Sydney, Australia. He did a postdoctoral stay at the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (ciesas), West headquarters and another at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California Los Angeles (ucla). Currently, he is working as a postdoctoral fellow at the International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Germany and at the Postgraduate Degree in Sociology, Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. It works from an activist position in support of the national struggle of indigenous peoples in the defense of their territories, identity, history, rights and ways of life. His recent publications include Indigenous peoples and geographies of power. Mezcala's Narratives on Neoliberal Governance (2019) and “Indigeneity as a transnational battlefield: disputes over meanings, spaces and peoples”, Globalizations (2020). orcid: 0000-0001-8430-6223.


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