Waiting for power: affection, ethics and politics in the everyday life of popular Chile
Briceño, Pablo Agustin
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Based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in población ‘La Victoria’, a working-class neighbourhood in the city of Santiago, this research describes the everyday lives of its inhabitants (pobladores) in the context of contemporary neoliberal Chile. Although the pobladores’ movement had animated Chilean politics since the 1950s, also becoming the main actor in the struggle against the dictatorship, after the return to democracy in 1990 pobladores disappeared from the political arena. Most researchers have proposed that the political absence of pobladores must be understood as an effect of neoliberal modernization – a set of policies implemented during dictatorship and maintained by successive democratic governments after 1990. Their main argument is that a major cultural transformation in Chile has degraded social ties producing a consumeristic, individualistic and depoliticized society. Instead, I propose that pobladores from La Victoria have, despite the transformations, preserved a form of conviviality based on strong affective bonds with kin, friends and neighbours – alongside equally sentimental separations and divisions from others. I argue that, due to their pervasiveness and importance in pobladores’ lives, social relationships are the main agents in the articulation of pobladores’ ethical frameworks guiding their decisions and actions in life. Pobladores’ affective social relationships have allowed them not only to mitigate the side effects of the current neoliberal model, but also to accept, adapt and contest specific aspects of it. In this sense, life in the población has a heterogeneous grammar, a way in which social relations are articulated and disarticulated, activated and de-activated, connecting personal lives to collective processes. This grammar of strong affective ties, terrible betrayals and deep but changing separations and divisions is what I call the ‘politics of the everyday life’. This politics of everyday life lies behind apparently very different historical processes, such as the pobladores’ struggle against dictatorship in the 1980s and their post-1990 absence from the political arena. I contend that what characterizes the current context is not a lack of politics or a ‘depoliticization’ but a particular way in which certain pobladores, known as ‘políticos’ – those interested in collective action in order to produce change in the world – are articulated with or disarticulated from other pobladores in the politics of everyday life in the población.