Patronage for revolutionaries: the politics of community organising in a Venezuelan barrio

Greatorex, Harry (2016) Patronage for revolutionaries: the politics of community organising in a Venezuelan barrio. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

The political success of Hugo Chávez and Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution has
relied on the promise of both emancipation and improved terms of patronage for
the urban poor. This thesis takes a journey through barrio Pueblo Nuevo, the oldest
informal township in Mérida city, to consider the tension between these ways of
thinking about the relationship between people and government as a context for
community organising.

Different kinds of evidence are presented from fieldwork conducted between 2013
and 2014, when Mérida made international headlines as violent protests erupted
and the middle-class neighbourhoods around Pueblo Nuevo barricaded themselves
against the state. Observations from community meetings in and around the barrio
show how different groups position themselves strategically in relation to political
parties and city authorities. Experiences from nine months volunteer teaching
work is used to explore the participatory methodology of the barrio’s famous ‘little
school’ - the Fundación Cayapa education collective – and its work to reduce gang
violence. Experiences of living and participating in Pueblo Nuevo and of building
relationships with key community members are drawn on to explore perceptions
of the lawlessness and political radicalism of Venezuela’s barrio populations.
Interviews with activists, residents and local officials are used to map the
intellectual landscape of the barrio, identifying different overlapping folk concepts
about the urban poor – including as ghetto thugs and as social revolutionaries – and
connecting these to notions about government and democracy.
These connected areas of analysis are used to bring together the existing
scholarship around Venezuela’s experience of Chavismo – as a public narrative, as
a set of institutions and policies and as the context for barrio organising. The thesis
contributes to these existing areas of literature by challenging the representation
of Bolivarianism as a break from the pre-Chávez political era. Historical evidence is
presented to connect the contemporary experience of Pueblo Nuevo with the
history of the barrio as Mérida’s first so-called “land invasion” following ruralurban
migration during the mid-Twentieth Century. Important continuities are
identified with the pre-Chávez era in the strategies of community groups, their
administration by partisan city authorities and within the Bolivarian public
narrative of class warfare and popular empowerment. The thesis argues that
community organising in Pueblo Nuevo is shaped by the inherited tension between
processes of social emancipation and patronage and their premises in competing
folk concepts about the urban poor.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of International Development
Depositing User: Katie Miller
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2017 12:30
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2017 12:30
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/64220
DOI:

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