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Political Landscapes of Buenos Aires: Neoliberalism and the Struggles for Alternatives

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Term Offered: 
Approximate Dates of Instruction: 
June 24, 2019 to August 23, 2019

Co-sponsored by the Department of Geography—coursework counts towards the Geography major/minor.

This program will provide students the opportunity to undertake a deep theoretical and empirical analysis of the interplay between the enforcement of neoliberal measures and civil society's actions of resistance in an urban setting in the so-called Third World.
The program will be directed by Ph.D. Mónica Farías (Institute of Geography, University of Buenos Aires) and Ph.C. Elizabeth Shoffner (University of Washington), both geographers with ample experience researching and participating in activism in urban settings in Argentina. In order to make the most of this program, it is recommended that students take Geography 377 "Urban Political Geography" in the Winter or Spring. Before departure, we will offer a seminar covering  key concepts foundational to the study of urban space, as well as an introduction to economic neoliberalism and neoliberal governance.

The goal of this program is to understand urban space as an evolving, complex and contested landscape shaped by––and with the power to shape–neoliberal measures and policies: a landscape crisscrossed by a multiplicity of social and political movements that contest and question the legitimacy of the social, economic and political neoliberal agenda. Over the last four decades, Buenos Aires - and Argentina as a whole - has experienced successive rounds of socioeconomic reforms that have greatly impacted not only the materiality of the city, but also the balance of power between different actors and the kind of contestations taking place around what kind of city Buenos Aires should be, and for whom. These dynamics make Buenos Aires an ideal site for students to immerse themselves in the consequences of neoliberalism and its critiques.

The program will focus on four distinguishing moments in the political economy of Buenos Aires in the last four decades. The first is the mid 1970s, with the establishment of a de facto military regime, which attempted to shift the balance of power in Welfarist Argentina through financial restructuration and the installation of a regime of terror. Students will learn about this period by visiting spaces of memory, such as former clandestine detention centers, and spaces of activism located throughout the city. The second key moment is the 1990s under the two consecutive presidencies of Carlos Menem, when the bulk of the neoliberal reforms were implemented (privatizations, flexibilization of labor, deregulation of the economy, shrinking of the state) and Buenos Aires experienced a sharp increase in income inequality. Fractured between the haves and haves-not, the city's landscape changed dramatically, with the simultaneous proliferation of gated communities and spaces of conspicuous consumption occurring alongside a surge of protests by students, the unemployed and the retired, among others. Students will visit archetypical sites that exemplify this period, such as shopping malls, Puerto Madero (a former port sold to private developers who recycled the infrastructure for offices, restaurants, private colleges, and luxurious apartment towers) and IMPA, one of the first and most important recuperated factories in the country.  The socioeconomic crisis of 2001 and 2002 comprises the third moment, when a prolonged economic recession, acute financial crisis, and a profound political disenchantment led to the popular rebellion of the 19th and 20th of December. The city experienced a temporary blurring of material and social borders and the realignment of political forces, all of which provided the room for alternative politics to erupt and create spaces of collective innovation for social change. Students will have the chance to engage with some of the organizations that emerged at the time, in particular one popular assembly where the director of the program conducted her PhD research. Lastly, the program will focus on the recent return to, and intensification of, neoliberal policies in Buenos Aires under the administration of first Mauricio Macri (now president of Argentina) and then Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. The business-oriented political agenda of their party, PRO, has deepened ongoing processes of fragmentation and exclusion, leading to a profound crisis in housing and public services. Students will have the chance to witness first-hand the widespread organizing against PRO's exclusionary politics and to connect with organizations that seek to combat their negative effects (LGBTQ and feminist organizations, indigenous groups, popular assemblies, etc.). Through these organizations, students will become acquainted with alternative ways of imagining social, economic, cultural, and political relationships, as embedded in counter-narratives of belonging which are equally capable of shaping urban space.

Throughout the study abroad students will be required to keep a journal to reflect on their experiences; these journal entries will form the basis for group discussions. Regular lectures will take place in this organization’s building and students will be encouraged to take part in the soup kitchen on Sundays.

Learn more on the program website.

  • CHID 472A: The Political Economy of "Modern" Argentina (5 credits I&S)
  • CHID 472B: Contemporary Social Movements in Argentina (5 credits I&S)
  • CHID 472C: Independent Project (5 credits I&S)
Fulfills Requirements: 
CHID Cultural and Historical Engagement
CHID Power & Difference
I&S Credit
Total Program Fees: 

*Note that the fees stated above do not include some additional costs, including, but not limited to: airfare, Study Abroad Insurance ($2/day), and personal spending money. Remember that these costs will differ by program. Be sure to read our Fees, Financing, and Withdrawal information for details about the fee structure and payment schedule.