Poor People′s Politics

Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita

Poor People′s Politics

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 1 table, 2 figures Published: January 2001

Author: Javier Auyero

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone, Sociology

“Political clientelism” is a term used to characterize the contemporary relationships between political elites and the poor in Latin America in which goods and services are traded for political favors. Javier Auyero critically deploys the notion in Poor People’s Politics to analyze the political practices of the Peronist Party among shantytown dwellers in contemporary Argentina.
Looking closely at the slum-dwellers’ informal problem-solving networks, which are necessary for material survival, and the different meanings of Peronism within these networks, Auyero presents the first ethnography of urban clientelism ever carried out in Argentina. Revealing a deep familiarity with the lives of the urban poor in Villa Paraíso, a stigmatized and destitute shantytown of Buenos Aires, Auyero demonstrates the ways in which local politicians present their vital favors to the poor and how the poor perceive and evaluate these favors. Having penetrated the networks, he describes how they are structured, what is traded, and the particular way in which women facilitate these transactions. Moreover, Auyero proposes that the act of granting favors or giving food in return for votes gives the politicians’ acts a performative and symbolic meaning that flavors the relation between problem-solver and problem-holder, while also creating quite different versions of contemporary Peronism. Along the way, Auyero is careful to situate the emergence and consolidation of clientelism in historic, cultural, and economic contexts.
Poor People’s Politics reexamines the relationship between politics and the destitute in Latin America, showing how deeply embedded politics are in the lives of those who do not mobilize in the usual sense of the word but who are far from passive. It will appeal to a wide range of students and scholars of Latin American studies, sociology, anthropology, political science, history, and cultural studies.


“[A] thought-provoking and informative book. . . . Auyero succeeds in effectively portraying the everyday lives of the inhabitants of Villa Paraíso and the various strategies they employ to survive the frequent ups and downs and uncertainties of the Argentine economy.” — Richard J. Walter, American Historical Review

“[Auyero] argues convincingly that the patron-client relationship is neither static nor a formal exchange of goods for votes in elections. He offers a lucid analysis of how gender roles are an active part of this process. Although Evita represents a uniquely Argentinean model, Auyero’s observations still provide thought for why nations with very patriarchal societies elect women as their leaders. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book explains a great deal about how the poor live and survive on a daily basis, something that for all our insight remains a mystery to most of the academic community. Highly recommended . . . .” — J. Rosenthal, Choice

“Alongside studies by anthropologists … and other social scientists … this book gives valuable insight into how people at the margins of their society survive the current, harsh economic climate of Argentina.” — Arnd Schneider, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“While the book provides a number of insights about how Peronist networks function in day-to-day practice, it also provides a compelling account of their importance to the poor in contemporary Argentina . . . . [R]ich in detail . . . . [E]xposes the way the actors themselves perceive the roles they play in maintaining political networks, thereby granting them (especially the clients) far more agency than do traditional studies of political clientelism. In this sense, [Auyero] is also able to give a fuller and more nuanced account of the continuing support for Peronism among the poor than do studies based on electoral results or survey data.” — Susan Franceschet, Canadian Journal of Sociology

"[A]n empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated monograph . . . . Poor People’s Politics is a breath of fresh air. Standard texts on clientelism and Latin American politics are very much top-down, focusing on macro-level relations and institutions. Auyero provides rare insight into the inner workings of a system that almost everyone talks about, but few people really know. I plan on using it in my courses on Latin America political development. I also plan to use it in my course on social science methodology. And, finally, I also will use it in my course on social theory; such is its breadth and versatility. In fact, I’m even thinking of sending it to my mum!" — Robert Gay, Theory and Society

"Pioneering ethnographic study. . . . A well-organized ethnography of a shantytown in greater Buenos Aires, the book fills a gap in the literature of urban clientelism. . . . This book contains a wealth of material and ideas." — Virginia W. Leonard, Journal of Third World Studies

"[T]his book amply demonstrates how ethnography can contribute to the understanding of problems more typically considered the domains of political science and more commonly examined from the perspective of state institutions or through public opinion polls. . . . [T]his book serves as a fine example of how ethnography can illuminate political problems and practices. The author interweaves theoretical discussions with the ethnographic materials in each chapter, achieving a nice balance of ethnographic description and engagement with various literatures. He also provides sufficient contextual material to make the book accessible to someone new to Argentina or political clientalism. Students in upper-level undergraduate or graduate courses would benefit from reading this book, and I think they would enjoy it as well. Given the current Argentine crisis, Auyero’s study is particularly timely." — Lindsay Dubois, American Ethnologist

"Auyero has written an excellent book. He shows us how Peronist politics are practiced in an extremely poor neighborhood and why Peronism will likely remain the party of choice for many because it offers help with day-to-day problems. Most importantly, the author demonstrates the complexity of clientelistic relationships." — Joel Horowitz, New Mexico Historical Review

"Auyero provides a lively and balanced account that is full of new insights. The conclusions he reaches and the observations he makes about the networks and their representations . . . are still relevant and valid. . . . [A] theoretically well-informed study." — Marcus Klein, Iberoamericana

"Auyero's extensive fieldwork enables him to describe in unrivalled detail the functioning of patronage and clientage among the impoverished." — David Rock, Latin American Research Review

“At the level of most political science literature on urban poverty and clientelism, this work is genuinely pathbreaking. Combining the best of ‘thick description’ ethnography with a sense of more global processes at work in a society, Auyero uses the most up-to-date analytical frameworks to interrogate an object of study that has rarely—if ever—been so addressed. This is a book to be reckoned with over the next few years and beyond.” — Daniel James, author of Doña María’s Story: Life History, Memory, and Political Identity

“Other people write about patronage politics as a form of organization, as a scourge to eradicate, or as a necessary evil on the way to full democracy. Javier Auyero writes about it as a raucous, improvised, crucial way of surviving poverty and inequality. Reporting perceptive first-hand observations in playful, energetic prose, Auyero illuminates poor people’s politics in Argentina and elsewhere.” — Charles Tilly, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Javier Auyero is Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Who Is Who in the Peronist Network xiii

Introduction: The Day of the Rally

Complaining about T-shirts on Peron's Birthday 1

1. "They Were Mostly Poor People"

Poverty and Inequality in Contemporary Buenos Aires 29

2. "Most of Them Were Coming from Villa Paraiso"

History and Lived Experiences of Shantytown Dwellers 45

3. "They Knew Matilde"

The Problem-Solving Network 80

4. "We Will Fight Forever, We Are Peronists"

Eva Peron as a Public Performance 119

5. The "Clientelist" Viewpoint

How Shantytown Dwellers Perceive and Evaluate Political Clientelism 152

6. "They Were All Peronists"

The Remnants of the Populist Heresy 182


Problem Solving through Political Mediation as a Structure of Feeling 205


Last Rally 215

Notes 219

Bibliography 237

Index 255
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, C. Wright Mills Award

Winner, NELCAS Best Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2621-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2627-4
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