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Abstract

This dissertation argues that a new kind of society has emerged in Mexico. The product of the political economic tendency toward complementing and, indeed, replacing labor wages with credit as a means to welfare, this new social formation can be aptly understood as the debtfare society. Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, decades of depreciating wages and de-industrialization came to necessitate and justify the implementation of a new development paradigm based on financial inclusion, or the dismantling of legal and market barriers that had kept formal credit out of reach of the country’s poor. Tracing the consequences of Mexico’s historic 2001 housing reform, the dissertation uncovers the social worlds that emerge from the mass extension of mortgage finance to millions of low-income households. To do this, it takes its reader into the streets and homes of Hacienda Santa Fe, a macro-housing complex that is home to approximately 100,000 people in the new urban periphery of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. In Hacienda Santa Fe, people have come to thoroughly depend on credit to scrap together a living as they attempt to imagine a future for themselves and their descendants. Designed, built, and peopled in direct consequence of Mexico’s 2001 housing reform, Hacienda Santa Fe is a place whose existence cannot be explained without accounting for the ideology and might of financial inclusion policy and its underlying interests. The houses, streets, and boulevards of this enormous housing complex were designed alongside new forms of mortgage credit, now engineered to be inclusive and readily accessible. As mortgage loans were extended to people who – due to their scarce, unstable, and often informal labor earnings – had been previously ineligible for mortgage credit, Hacienda Santa Fe took shape. In four chapters, this dissertation analyzes the debtfare society from four angles: its history, rooted in the informal settlement of yore; the constitution of home and property relations under financial inclusion; politics and the material conditions for the practice of political ideals grounded in inclusion, and shifting kinship relations and gender roles, with an emphasis on the position that women hold in the debtfare society. Weaving together ethnographic analysis of the present with sociological and anthropological depictions of the recent past, the dissertation traces change and continuity in the urban periphery of Mexico. What emerges is, indeed, a portrait of a reformed society. The debtfare society, however, is not the society of pristine and stable private property, civilized politics, and personal consumer freedom that its architects imagined. Rather, it is the society of lynchings, vigilantism, and fear; imperfect homeowners, mounting debt, and contingent claims to ownership; opportunistic politics marked by old and new forms of clientelist subjection, and atomized households ridden by economic dearth and anxiety, existential angst, and domestic violence.

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