In the Name of El Pueblo

Place, Community, and the Politics of History in Yucatán

In the Name of El Pueblo

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 33 photographs, 3 maps, 6 figures Published: July 2010

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

The term “el pueblo” is used throughout Latin America, referring alternately to small towns, to community, or to “the people” as a political entity. In this vivid anthropological and historical analysis of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, Paul K. Eiss explores the multiple meanings of el pueblo and the power of the concept to unite the diverse claims made in its name. Eiss focuses on working-class indigenous and mestizo populations, examining how those groups negotiated the meaning of el pueblo among themselves and in their interactions with outsiders, including landowners, activists, and government officials. Combining extensive archival and ethnographic research, he describes how residents of the region have laid claim to el pueblo in varied ways, as exemplified in communal narratives recorded in archival documents, in the performance of plays and religious processions, and in struggles over land, politics, and the built environment. Eiss demonstrates that while el pueblo is used throughout the hemisphere, the term is given meaning and power through the ways it is imagined and constructed in local contexts. Moreover, he reveals el pueblo to be a concept that is as historical as it is political. It is in the name of el pueblo—rather than class, race, or nation—that inhabitants of northwestern Yucatán stake their deepest claims not only to social or political rights, but over history itself.


“In a world of multisited, global ethnographies Eiss’s book reminds us of the value of deeply historical and ethnographic framings of the present. Enriched by contemporary social theory, In the Name of El Pueblo draws on the margins of the archive and the plurality and variety of forms of archives. Its recognition of dispossession rather than possession as a ground for ‘el pueblo,’ reminds readers that the most important forces in social life may not be found only in what appears to be fully present. For readers who have worked on similar issues in Mexico, this book beautifully captures the grounded and yet ephemeral sense of el pueblo.” — JoAnn Martin, PoLAR

“This work demonstrates a keen philosophical sensibility as it scrutinizes the complex undercurrents below the various struggles that indigenous Maya, non-indigenous townspeople, landowners, merchants, rebels, and government officials have each undertaken in the name of el pueblo. . . . Eiss’s work self-consciously seeks to avoid the mistake that many political philosophers make by turning el pueblo into an abstraction." — Alexander V. Stehn, Pluralist

"Eiss combines historical and anthropological data, methods, and approaches (microhistory, ethnography, and the history of the present) to explore the concept [of el pueblo] as realized in the Hunucmá region located in the northwest of Mexico's Yucatán peninsula. . . Following Michel Foucault, he does not consider communal identifications as stable but holds that present and previous modes of communal and collective identification may be radically different." — Wolfgang Gabbert, American Historical Review

"This work is a beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched micro-history that mines a rich vein of documentary and material sources, including theatrical performances, deer hunts, engravings on shotguns, religious celebrations, local histories and a treasure trove of petitions, land claims, and judicial records . . . . In the early 1970s, the late Mexican historian Luis González y González encouraged his graduate students to research and write compelling narratives of rural communities. I am confident he had arresting interdisciplinary studies like this book in mind when he issued that call." — Allen Wells, The Americas

"With his excellent writing, Eiss has given scholars an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. … [T]his strong work provides a scholarly readership with a smart and well-written analysis of the long term struggles that formed an indigenous pueblo. Instructors will find the book an excellent choice for upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses. Ultimately, it is fortunate that Eiss managed to drag forth this deer from the Yucatecan wilds." — Stephen Neufeld, Itinerario

“[A] probing history of communities and debates about community in the Hunucmá region of northwest Yucatán. In revealing episodes, the study extends from the mid-nineteenth century to contemporary times. The analysis is innovative in important ways, notably by revealing communities’ often conflictive participations in key local and regional developments and by exploring their often contested constructions of their own historical understandings.” — John Tutino, A Contracorriente

“[Eiss] shows how el pueblo, and history more generally, happen as people conventionalize events in telling about them before, during, and sometimes long after the fact. That Eiss succeeds in this attests to his skills as both ethnographer and historian. . . . Historians will find here the rich makings of history, anthropologists an adroit dissolving of ethnicity, culture, and community into the flow of time.” — John M. Watanabe, Hispanic American Historical Review

“I find Eiss’s work thoughtful and engaging, a much-needed antidote to the official histories of Yucatán as well as the ahistorical ethnographies of an earlier era.” — Ron Loewe, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Paul Eiss has delivered a new, epic work of social history/ethnography concerning an especially turbulent region of the Yucatan Peninsula. . . . All told, this is a masterful work that will merit the attention of Latin Americanists for many years to come.” — Paul Sullivan, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“Seamlessly blending archival research into the late colonial and national periods . . . with fieldwork in the region, Eiss demonstrates that rural Maya speakers were not ahistorical, but kept and interpreted a record of their past, from the pre-Columbian period to the present. . . . In the Name of El Pueblo provides an accessible, narrative-driven introduction to these genres that will work well in a classroom setting. Students will enjoy the Hunucmá district’s vividly depicted landscapes, stories, and personalities; scholars will find Eiss’s research and interdisciplinary approach solid; and researchers of Yucatán will find themselves feeling nostalgic for the countryside and the archives of the peninsula.” — Mark Lentz, Ethnohistory

"Combining the intimate sense of place that distinguished the work of Mexico’s celebrated micro-historian Luis González with ‘magically real’ prose touches reminiscent of Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Eiss has produced a study that is both meticulously researched and terribly engrossing . . . . Few younger scholars have the temerity to bring together critical problems that have rarely been viewed within the same conceptual frame—let alone examine them over several centuries and across two disciplines. I would place Eiss on an eclectic list of innovative practitioners who have worked at the confluence of ethnography and social/cultural history—a list that would include Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Florencia Mallon, Daniel Nugent, Patricia Pessar, and Robin Derby.” — Gil Joseph, EIAL

In the Name of El Pueblo is a must-read for Mexicanists. It offers a masterful, detailed bottom-up view of history. It lays to rest once and for all the idea that Maya peasants remained quiescent and passive until revolutionary generals arrived in 1915 to overturn the old order. It clarifies the different visions of villagers and revolutionary leaders, traces the travails of a revolutionary order in decline, and shows the pitfalls and problems attending the agrarian reform process, a process that continues to define rural land tenure in Mexico.” — Terry Rugeley, author of Rebellion Now and Forever: Mayas, Hispanics, and Caste War Violence in Yucatán, 1800–1880

“Few regions of Mexico have elicited as sophisticated a dialogue between history and anthropology as Yucatán has of late. With this book, Paul K. Eiss positions himself at the crest of this new wave of interdisciplinary scholarship. Daunting in its chronological scope and breadth of research and analysis, distinguished by a meticulously crafted and often haunting narrative, and pioneering in its interwoven understanding of community, popular politics, state formation, indigenous identity, and historical memory, this book sets a new standard for the production of Mexican social histories and ethnographies. In the Name of El Pueblo is a splendid achievement, not least for the probing questions it raises about the nature of history itself.” — Gilbert M. Joseph, Farnam Professor of History and International Studies, Yale University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul K. Eiss is Associate Professor of Anthropology and History and the Director of the Center for the Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. From Archive to Ashes 1

I. Dispossession

1. The Last Cacique: The Archival Landscapes of Kah, Comun, and Pueblo 19

2. Kings of the Forest: Civilization, Savagery, and the Annals of History 45

3. Hunucma's Zapata: Objects of Insurgency and Auguries of Liberation 77

II. Repossession

4. The Redemption: Subjects of Revolution and Objects of Governance 105

5. The General and the Beast: Murder, Martyrdom, and the Bones of el Pueblo 131

6. The President's Dead Hand: Surveys, Maps, and the Measure of el Pueblo 158

III. Recognition

7. The War of the Eggs: Tragedy, Redemption, and the Carnivalesque 189

8. By the Virgin's Grace: The Archival Landscapes of Miracle, Money, and Memory 218

9. Poet, Prophet, and Politician: Forgetting and Remembering Hunucma 244

Conclusion. "No"-Place 270

Appendix 277

Notes 281

Glossary 309

Bibliography 313

Index 327

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Winner, 2012 Latin American Studies Association Mexico Section Best Book in the Social Sciences Award

Winner, The Mexican History Book Prize, presented by the Conference on Latin American History

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4727-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4711-8
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