Patients of the State

The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

Patients of the State

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 17 photographs, 1 figure Published: May 2012

Author: Javier Auyero

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone, Sociology

Patients of the State is a sociological account of the extended waiting that poor people seeking state social and administrative services must endure. It is based on ethnographic research in the waiting area of the main welfare office in Buenos Aires, in the line leading into the Argentine registration office where legal aliens apply for identification cards, and among people who live in a polluted shantytown on the capital’s outskirts, while waiting to be allocated better housing. Scrutinizing the mundane interactions between the poor and the state, as well as underprivileged people’s confusion and uncertainty about the administrative processes that affect them, Javier Auyero argues that while waiting, the poor learn the opposite of citizenship. They learn to be patients of the state. They absorb the message that they should be patient and keep waiting, because there is nothing else that they can do. Drawing attention to a significant everyday dynamic that has received little scholarly attention until now, Auyero considers not only how the poor experience these lengthy waits but also how making poor people wait works as a strategy of state control.


“Javier Auyero’s ethnographic study of lines and waiting rooms in Argentina analyzes the experience of submission to bureaucratic time and of waiting for the state to correspond beneficently as, “temporal processes in and through which political subordination is reproduced” (2). Auyero shows how waiting, or more precisely, making people wait, acts as a material and ideological tool for dominating underclass populations. Auyero’s great contribution is to lead readers to consider systematically the ways in which such power is inscribed, reproduced, and normalized.” — Adriana M. Garriga-L opez, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

"Patients of the State shines in providing empiricalevidence in support of the importance of waiting for understanding the ways in which power and domination are played out in practice in the relations between the urban poor and the front-line bureaucrats of the state.... [It] shines in providing empirical in support of the importance of waiting for understanding the ways in which power and domination are played out in practice in the relations between the urban poor and the front-line bureaucrats of the state."  — Marcela López Levy, Journal of Latin American Studies

Patients of the State is an insightful and long-overdue exploration of how the worst Latin American welfare programs reinforce powerlessness and subcitizenship even as they sporadically relieve economic misery. Vividly describing the phenomenally cavalier ways in which the governmental agencies of Buenos Aires waste poor people’s time and resources, Javier Auyero calls attention to the insidious violence of systems that sap political initiative and hobble complex and delicate urban survival strategies. With this study, he has once again opened new pathways for the study of contemporary Latin American poverty.” — Brodwyn Fischer, author of A Poverty of Rights: Citizenship and Inequality in Twentieth-Century Rio de Janeiro

“In this brilliant, insightful, and sensitive investigation, Javier Auyero brings careful ethnographic research to bear on the routine temporal experiences of people who seek help and social services from the state. In doing so, he shows us how the state constructs political dominance through the control of its citizens’ time and temporal experience. By making the urban poor wait for whatever they need, the state creates subordination and political resignation. Patients of the State will have a major impact on scholarly and public discourse; it helps us see what is happening to millions of people around the world.” — Michael G. Flaherty, author of The Textures of Time: Agency and Temporal Experience


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Javier Auyero is the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina: The Gray Zone of State Power and a co-author of Flammable: Environmental Suffering in an Argentine Shantytown. His books Contentious Lives: Two Argentine Women, Two Protests, and the Quest for Recognition and Poor People’s Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita are both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. Tempography: Waiting Now and Then 1

1. The Time of the Denizens 23

2. Urban Relegation and Forms of Regulation Poverty 36

3. Poor People's Waiting: Speeding Up Time, but Still Waiting 64

4. The Welfare Office 92

5. Periculum in Mora: Flammable Revisited 128

Conclusion 153

Epilogue 162

Methodological Appendix 165

Notes 169

Works Cited 175

Index 191
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5233-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5259-4
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