Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marc Edelman

Committee Members

Mandana Limbert

Julie Skurski

Elizabeth Ferry

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


Land, property, oil, national sovereignty, legibility, privatization


Pemex has been a symbol of Mexican nationalism and a steward of the nation’s oil patrimony for more than 75 years, but few scholars have studied the messy ways in which oil extraction has played out in rural communities. This dissertation does that, while also analyzing the way in which various forms of property—national patrimony, private property, and communal property—are articulated in three dimensions (3D) in an ejido (communal agrarian community) in northern Veracruz. Horizontally, land has shifted from being collectively owned and managed to being divided into individually held plots which are not always recognized. Meanwhile, a web of Pemex infrastructure—most of it underground—permeates the ejido and prevents surface inhabitants from obtaining private title to their land. Mexico’s Constitution separates ownership of the subsoil from the land’s surface. However, erosion, excavations, leaks, and explosions blur the boundary between these property layers. Further complicating matters, Mexico began leasing layers of the subsoil to private corporations after the 2013 Energy Reform, thus increasing the number of “owners” of a single plot at different depths. Based on over 18 months of archival research, participant observation, and interviews at oil industry conferences and the ejido Emiliano Zapata, this ethnography analyzes the complex ways in which horizontal and vertical property claims intersect.

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