Decentering the Regime

Ethnicity, Radicalism, and Democracy in Juchitán, Mexico

Decentering the Regime

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 12 photographs, 1 map Published: November 1997

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Politics > Political Science

Since 1989 an indigenous political movement—the Coalition of Workers, Peasants, and Students of the Isthmus (COCEI)—has governed the southern Mexican city of Juchitán. In Decentering the Regime, Jeffrey W. Rubin examines this Zapotec Indian movement and shows how COCEI forged an unprecedented political and cultural path—overcoming oppression in the 1970s to achieve democracy in the 1990s. Rubin traces the history and rise to power of this grassroots movement, and describes a Juchitán that exists in substantial autonomy from the central Mexican government and Mexican nationalism—thereby debunking the notion that a state- and regime-centered approach to power can explain the politics of domination and resistance in Mexico.
Employing an interdisciplinary approach, Rubin shows that the Juchitecos’ ability to organize and sustain a radical political movement grew out of a century-long history of negotiation of political rule. He argues that factors outside the realm of formal politics—such as ethnicity, language, gender, and religion—play an important part in the dynamics of regional political struggles and relationships of power. While offering a detailed view of the Zapotec community and its interactions, Rubin reconceptualizes democracy by considering the question of how meaningful autonomy, self-government, cultural expression, and material well-being can be forged out of violence and repression.


“[C]ontributes to important theoretical debates about resistance and domination, the nature of the state, and processes of identity construction. Furthermore, it adds knowledge to political debates about the future of the national Mexican project, which is presently confronted by participants in indigenous and peasant movements who reject a homogenous Mexico as they struggle for the construction of a new, multicultural, and ethnically plural state.” — Aida Hernandez-Castillo, American Ethnologist

“In Decentering the Regime, Jeffrey Rubin gives a nuanced account about how and why local conditions shape politics in a country such as Mexico, where a single political party has ruled for more than half a century. He focuses on Juchitán, the first locale in Mexico where the Left won power electorally against all odds, given the PRI’s (Industrial Revolutionary party) national political hegemony. . . Though grounded in a case study, Rubin provides a frame for demystifying the state and democracy as commonly understood.” — Susan Eckstein, Political Science Quarterly

“Jeffrey W. Rubin has woven together a compelling postcolonial treatment of a leftist, grass-roots movement in southern Mexico during the 1970s and 1980s.” — Heather Fowler-Salamini, American Historical Review

“Rubin gracefully deploys many of the most powerful interdisciplinary insights from cultural studies. He blends a narrative political history of regional conflicts and coalitions with original archival research on public discourse and rich ethnography of lived local politics. . . Decentering the Regime is a powerful tool for analyzing the emergence of social actors, but explaining their impact also requires ‘unpacking’ the state’s diverse levels, branches, and factions.” — Jonathan Fox, Latin American Research Review

"Juchitán, an ethnically Zapotec Indian town in southern Mexico, has long been remarkable for its political radicalism in defense of local autonomy. In a most stimulating and challenging way, Jeffrey Rubin traces the historical trajectory of such intransigence and reaches several illuminating conclusions. . . Rubin has certainly proved himself to be a keen participant-observer and a thoughtful, original analyst who can clearly state his case." — The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"Decentering the Regime reveals a creative, unorthodox political scientist at work. Rubin integrates trenchant cultural and ethnohistorical analysis into his examination of local, regional, and national politics. In the process, his work takes its place on the cutting edge of research not only on Mexican politics and Latin American social movements, but also on broader, post-structural discussions of hegemony and the contested relationship between state formation and popular culture." — Gilbert M. Joseph, Yale University


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Jeffrey W. Rubin is Associate Professor of History and Research Associate at Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University.

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Winner, 1997 New England Council of Latin American Studies Best Book Award

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2063-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2050-0
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