In this thesis I decided to explain the re-functionalization of a socio-political organization regimen in a municipality located in the mixteca highlands of Oaxaca. I identified a series of events and conflicts that have been occurring since at least 15 years, and are related to the particular ways of organizing the social and political local life, known as customary law (Sistema de Usos y Costumbres-SUC). This local context is been affected by the migration to the Mexican-North American border, the incoming of federal and state financial resources as an outcome of the decentralization process, the legal recognition of the customary law in the Oaxacan Constitution, and the weakening of the influence and power of the PRI in the state. All together had form a temporal juncture since the middle 1990’s that has testified the fragmentation of the local political field. To explain this process and the relations between the different phenomena, fields of relations, actors and events is my general concern in this thesis.
The present work goes by explaining how the re-functionalization of the SUC occurs because the local political field fragmented since new emergent actors organized the people in groups around particular interests and political activism, pushing changes in the local ‚traditional‛ customs. But they also achieved to reinterpreted them to mobilize the affections and passions of the population. Also, the uses of certain discourses, practices of organization and ritualized spaces and events have been their means to achieve their goals. This have provoked the appearance of a hectic environment –specially in electoral periods- that expresses the transformations that this regime has been experienced in relation to the effects of more broader phenomena. My intention is to explain a process of change of this regimen of customary law in which new and different ways of doing politics can be observed, as well as the constitution of new local subjectivities. This happens also re-functionalizing pre-existing forms of social organization.
What I observed is that in the last years this organization regimen it’s been rationalized by new actors –emerging or previously excluded- who use discourses and practices coming out of this system –manipulating them and reinterpreting them- to participate in the new disputes and competitions for the local power, the municipal administration and the possession of ‚la costumbre‛ (the custom). These disputes take place in a fragmented and divided political field, appealing to the ‚pueblo‛ (the people) as a social entity unified and legitimate. These competitions occur between new actors grouped around leaders from political parties and social organizations, who had the capacity of destabilise the former status quo and subvert the control of the elite linked to the PRI.
Taking into account this temporal juncture, the effects of broader phenomena and what I observed during my fieldwork, I grouped my doubts and interests in these research aspects:
To expose the ways of doing politics within the process of re-functionalization of the SUC;
To show that politics has been done through the use (political, moral, ideological) of ‚la costumbre‛;
To expose the importance of the use of the discourse of ‚el pueblo‛ (as social entity) in the political struggles, and what it is expressing and meaning to who appeal to it;
To show how these ways of doing politics manifest the construction of subjectivities in a socio-political organization regime in a process of transformation.
What I present in this thesis is an extended case study (Mitchell, 2006 ). This is characterized by presenting fieldwork material organized in a time sequence (normally a long period of time) in which the same actor are involved in a series of situations and events in which their positions are redefine. Also is possible, through an extended case study, to illustrate how the ways of doing politics have been changed and how the actors involved have adapted the ideological dimension of the SUC in the context of competition, disputes and struggles for the local power. The choice of presenting the material in this way allows me to expose the analysis of a series of successive events in a period of 15 years.
I chose to do this through the analysis of discourses, practices and rituals spaces. I paid attention to the communal and public events such as assemblies and meetings but also I recur to many open and personalized interviews.
In the introduction of the thesis I expose the research problem and the way I constructed it. Also I draw on my theoretical approach, concepts and ideas about politics and the way I understand it for the purpose of this work. Also I explain the methodological path I constructed in order to develop my four main concerns.
In the second chapter I introduce the municipality of San Miguel Tlacotepec. I explain the history of the Customary Law system and its relation to Mexican politics (local and regional) and with the system of unique party. I include the particularities of this system in the ways of organized socially and politically the town. Also I explain the local institutions, its hierarchies and the role they play in the organization of the communitarian life in general. And the role domestic and international migration has been playing locally. The main goal of this chapter is to set the socio-historical context that prevails without to many and important changes for many years. Is in this context in which the firsts transformations were brewing.
I refer about these innovations in chapter 3. I illustrate the first important changes experienced in the field of the local politics. I explain how the fragmentation starts through the appearance of new actors that emerge from the experience of migration and return. They also participated in regional events that disrupt the regional politics, such as the developing of social organizations opponent to the PRI. In this context, the resources from the municipal decentralization program and the civil positions turned a coveted booty making the municipal elections the first big arena of confrontation and struggle between the new actors. I explain as well how the communal assemblies are consolidate as the legitimate organ of decision making and the new and different discourses start to emerge playing an important role in the disputes for the local power. As I expose this context from the middle of the 1990’s, I show how the trajectories of the actors developed and how new subjectivities appear in the process of reconfigure the local politics.
In chapter four I present an ethnography that show the importance of the antagonism among leaders y and organized groups as a central element to constitute the political field. I expose the kind of practices and discourses that participate –through the new leaders, activists, audience in the assemblies and confronted groups- in the dispute for ‚la costumbre‛ and how the idea of ‚el pueblo‛ was constituted -among the people who participate- and was used as a referent in the political conflict and also as a reaction to the fragmentation of the life in common. These changes also show the linkage –promote by the decentralization process- between the municipality and extra-communitarian institutions. This linkage is been reinforce through the influence the different actors have in those institutions and in the official decisions they take affecting the local dynamics of the municipality.
In chapter five the ethnography refers to the municipal election of 2007. I show the whole process of organization from the pre-electoral environment to the final resolution of the post-electoral conflict. This example is been used to demonstrate how the dispute, confrontation, personal interests and passions influenced the participation of the audience to that event. Is possible as well to observe how appealing to the customary law worked to promote personal interests, channelled the antagonism for this not to turn violence, and constitute an ideological resource that could keep the ‚pueblo‛ united in spite of division.
In chapter six I expose what apparently is a tense relation between the parish and the municipal authority. This relation occurs between the representatives of these local institutions and expresses, beyond the domestic affair, the kind of new relationship they have since the weakening of the local elite closed to the PRI and the rise of new actors who criticized the civil-religious relation. Through the ethnography of a disagreement about the use of the local chapel, my main interest is to show how the field of relationships and confrontations between these two institutions is an arena in which the representatives dispute the use of the discourse of ‚la costumbre‛ and its possession in order to win moral authority and prestige. This occurs through the strategic and instrumental use of certain rituals (from its organization to its accomplishment) and symbols, expressing the renew ways of doing politics in the changing context of the customary law system.
Chapter seven contains my final conclusions based on my findings, presented throughout these pages, and their relations to the ideas and notions that guided my reflections. This work deals with the new ways of doing politics in the light of a particular socio-political system of organization and the changes that migration, municipal decentralization, the legal recognition of the SUC and the reconfiguration of the regional political scenario brought to SMT’s politics. I show this process interpreting the re-functionalization of this system and its rationalization made by the actors who participate in the different spaces of the fragmented local political field. The observance of this process and the outcomes allow me to place this work in two different debates but related to each other: the effects of the transnational organizations en the origin communities and the possibility of the emerging of a democracy of ‚el pueblo‛ facing the ravages of a democratic unease that affects the Mexican politics in general.
To draw on the first of these debates, I argue how the transnational politics has been subordinate to the local and regional politics. In this case these two reinforce –through the leaders relations and influence- the links between the municipality and the extra-local institutions without promoting a transnational governance. The leaders arrived from the experience of transnational and domestic migration invested their experiences to reinforce their presence and influence in the local and regional political fields. This was achieved through the political used of different discourses, one of those completely new that brought the inhabitants of SMT around common concerns. This, I proposed, was expressed in a new way of politics –with the advent of a new kind of subjectivity- in which interests and concerns are shared, but also anxiety, unease and uncertainty. Even though there are some signs to discern a future panorama with place for the emergence and discussion of a ‚democracy of el pueblo‛.