Contentious Lives

Two Argentine Women, Two Protests, and the Quest for Recognition

Contentious Lives

Latin America Otherwise

More about this series

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 19 illus. Published: April 2003

Author: Javier Auyero

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone

Contentious Lives examines the ways popular protests are experienced and remembered, individually and collectively, by those who participate in them. Javier Auyero focuses on the roles of two young women, Nana and Laura, in uprisings in Argentina (the two-day protest in the northwestern city of Santiago del Estero in 1993 and the six-day road blockade in the southern oil towns of Cutral-co and Plaza Huincul in 1996) and the roles of the protests in their lives. Laura was the spokesperson of the picketers in Cutral-co and Plaza Huincul; Nana was an activist in the 1993 protests. In addition to exploring the effects of these episodes on their lives, Auyero considers how each woman's experiences shaped what she said and did during the uprisings, and later, the ways she recalled the events. While the protests were responses to the consequences of political corruption and structural adjustment policies, they were also, as Nana’s and Laura’s stories reveal, quests for recognition, respect, and dignity.

Auyero reconstructs Nana’s and Laura’s biographies through oral histories and diaries. Drawing on interviews with many other protesters, newspaper articles, judicial records, government reports, and video footage, he provides sociological and historical context for their stories. The women’s accounts reveal the frustrations of lives overwhelmed by gender domination, the deprivations brought about by hyper-unemployment and the withering of the welfare component of the state, and the achievements and costs of collective action. Balancing attention to large-scale political and economic processes with acknowledgment of the plurality of meanings emanating from personal experiences, Contentious Lives is an insightful, penetrating, and timely contribution to discussions of popular resistance and the combined effects of globalization, neoliberal economic policies, and political corruption in Argentina and elsewhere.


Contentious Lives is a contribution to discussions of popular resistance and the combined effects of globalization, neoliberal economic policies, and political corruption in Argentina and elsewhere.” — Frauensolidarität

"Contentious Lives raises important questions about the intentions, perceptions, and emergent political identities of "average" participants in social movements. The study reminds us of the personal trajectories that lead people to become involved in political protests, as well as the very intimate issues that shape their experience and understanding of that participation. . . . Ultimately, Auyero's subjects' narratives reinforce the idea that the collective, relational identities produced in the search for personal dignity and recognition are premised on gendered notions of both agency and politics." — Monica Dehart, Comparative Studies in Society and History

"[A] careful biographical reconstruction. . . . This book contributes both to an understanding of the search for recognition within broader experiences of collective action in the 1990s Argentina and to this critical debate." — Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Latin American Politics and Society

"Another original and compelling book." — David Rock, Latin American Research Review

"[D]eft, assured and refreshingly modest. . . . Contentious Lives is an act of recovery that succeeds in linking private experience to public acts, and in the process retrieves a social history which is as much about the struggle for justice as it is about the search for recognition." — Maxine Molyneux, Journal of Latin American Studies

"[T]he primary research underpinning this book is both impressive and well explained, making the piece an excellent tool for anyone preparing to undertake fieldwork. . . . This research is outstanding not only because of its thoroughness, but also because of the author's self-consciousness. . . . [I]t is a great read." — Tina Hilgers, The Latin Americanist

"[V]ery informative. . . . I recommend Contentious Lives to anybody who wishes to understand the lived experience of collective revolt and its relationship with the biography of their participants." — Pablo Vila, American Journal of Sociology

"Auyero . . . provides considerable insights into Peronism as a complex social phenomenon. . . . [A] welcome addition to the literature." — Ronaldo Munck, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Auyero chose to facilitate and participate in a broader relational and collaborative dialogue, the existence of which helped the veterans of the uprisings to embrace a proud, present collective identity rooted in an "epic" interpretation of their past protest (p. 186). Whatever role Auyero played in facilitating his subjects' quest for recognition, their individual and collective contentious assertions of their right to respect (given the contexts in which they were living) bespoke enormous reserves of dignity. Auyero teaches us something about this dignity and these contentious assertions, in telling the stories of Laura and Nana and the insurgencies in which they took part." — Emmett Schaefer, Contemporary Sociology

"Auyero has written another original and compelling book, which deserves to become widely known among students and scholars. . . . The quality of the book stems from its imaginative use of multivariate sources. . . . Auyero successfully exploits his advantage of working on contemporary and not historical events to create an extraordinarily rich narrative." — David Rock, Biography

"Auyero makes these women speak for themselves in a fashion that is not only significant for our understanding of the two contentious episodes in Argentina, but for themselves." — Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Mobilization

"Auyero's book offers valuable insight into how individual lives matter, even when social scientists focus on collective actions." — Margarita Del Olmo, Hispanic American Historical Review

"Beware, this book might completely change your world view. It confronts injustices in a violent home and community, and tells of a powerful people who managed to overcome." — Altar Magazine

"Javier Auyero has written a moving account of two women who become active in movements protesting the consequences of neoliberal reform in small towns in Argentina in the mid-1990s." — Jane S. Jaquette, International Feminist Journal of Politics

"Javier Auyero is a master story-teller and accomplished ethnographer. . . . There is much on the table here for students and scholars of contentious politics, ethnography, gender, class, and neoliberalism as experienced by its victims in Latin America. . . . The extent to which Auyero draws out the life details and exhaustive self-reflections of his two main subjects is remarkable. And from this, . . . a rather understated part of the book emerges and proves to be one of its greatest strengths." — Jeffery R. Webber, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"This analysis of the dynamics of popular protest and gender comes largely from the point of view of the participants. Based on an impressive amount of field research and factual detail, it is an important book that provides evidence on the effects of globalization on society. Auyero's work is without doubt a major contribution to the study of contemporary Argentina." — Georgette Magassy Dorn, The Americas

Contentious Lives dares to present the lives of two women who lived hard times but at a certain moment plunged into popular movements and then had to bear the consequences of their participation, to make sense of what they had done, and to fashion new relations with other people. The two women have entrusted Javier Auyero with stories few others would want to see in print: stories of suffering, indiscretion, indecision, bitterness, regret, and passion.” — Charles Tilly, Columbia University

”Javier Auyero proves that you can go home again—and that with the proper experience elsewhere you can see more than you would have noticed if you had never left. Returning to his native Argentina as a sympathetic, well trained observer of political conflict, he shows us how intense personal lives and passionate political participation connect with each other. Auyero tells stories of Argentinian political and economic crises from an entirely fresh perspective.” — Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Javier Auyero is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is the author of Poor People's Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita (Duke University Press), winner of the 2001 Best Book award from the New England Council of Latin American Studies (neclas) and a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award.

Table of Contents Back to Top
5. The Lived 1993: The Coming and Making of the Explosion 115

6. The Lived Sixteenth: The Feast and the Remains of the Riot 137

7. Nana’s Life: “Thirty-six Years of Crap” 153

8. Contested Memories 172

Conclusions: Ethnography and Recognition 191

Appendix. On Fieldwork, Theory, and the Question of Biography 201

Notes 209

References 217

Index 229

About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: On the Intersection of Individual and Collective Biographies and Protest 1

Part I. The Picketer 15

1. The Day before the Pueblada: A Town on the Edge 29

2. Laura’s Life: “How Did I Fall So Far?” 48

3. Being-in-the-Road: Insurgent Identities 60

4. After the Road: Contentious Legacies 89

Part II. The Queen of the Riot 101
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3115-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3128-5
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