Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Neoliberalism Worsened Violence in Argentine Slums

August 26, 2011

The most tangible, nefarious consequences of neoliberalism in Argentina are found in the swelling slums of its capital city, according to Javier Auyero, professor of sociology at the University of Texas in Austin. 

“Three decades of neoliberal policy in Argentina have generated massive dislocation and economic sufferings,” said Auyero during a talk last spring at the institute titled ‘In Harm’s Way at the Urban Margins.’

As a consequence, inhabitants of Buenos Aires’ informal settlements are increasingly at risk of violence, he argued. 

“What you have is a de-pacification of daily life,” Auyero said. “The rampant daily violence of today is lived as something unprecedented,” he added, citing a doubling of crime rates over the past 15 years.

Auyero zoomed in on an array of violence, ranging from environmental degradation to sexual assault, and focused on how children experience this violence.

In one drawing he displayed, a child sketched two men shooting each other as a police car drives by in the far background. A photograph he showed provided further glimpses into the place of violence in the slums: ‘between bullets I was born and among thugs I was raised,’ reads a graffiti scrawl on a bathroom stall.

“Despite the fact that garbage, like violence, is part of what Foucault would call the order of things and that children are routinely exposed to it, their voices convey no signs of desensitization to it,” Auyero said.

Targeting the roots of this violence is complex, Auyero stressed, but neoliberalism, coupled with a growth of police involvement in the drug trade, is chiefly to blame.

“The police used to be implicated in prostitutes and gambling. Now (they’re implicated in) drugs too,” he said. “Police inaction can also be bought.

“And if you cannot control who exerts violence,” he stressed. “Then everyone can exert violence.”

His talk was part of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Lecture Series.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Alexandra Ulmer ’11