Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





John F. Collins

Committee Members

Jeff Maskovsky

Julie Skurski

Naomi Schiller

Alejandro Velasco (outside reader)

Subject Categories

Human Geography | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies and Planning


right to the city, urban revolution, community politics, 21st century socialism, Venezuela, Bolivarian Revolution


“Building the Revolution: Ideology, Affect and Gender in Bolivarian Caracas,” examines the Bolivarian Revolution (1998-present) as a heterogenous shifting political process, and terrain of struggle in which a multiplicity of actors disputed the meanings and direction of socialism in Venezuela. During three years of ethnographic and archival research in Caracas (between 2014 and 2017) I researched one of the many Campamentos de Pioneros (Pioneer Camps) that was part of the Movimiento de Pobladores y Pobladoras de Venezuela (Venezuela’s Settlers’ Movement). The pioneers sought to “rescue” and occupy centrally located land in the national capital in order to build housing for impoverished and peripheral urban residents, as part of a program of self-government (autogestión). They received significant state support and recognition for these efforts during the presidencies of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), and his successor Nicolás Maduro (2013–). In part as a result, and rather than viewing the urban settlers as working against the state as “invaders” and law-breaking citizens, this study focuses on how this social movement was co-produced through interactions with the self-proclaimed revolutionary state. It focuses on how the Pioneers movement appropriated official Bolivarian and Chavista discourse as members participated in the construction of the goals and meanings of the Bolivarian Revolution. By means of this interaction the movement and its members produced new ideas about urban citizenship in a changing social, political and economic context. Through this ethnographic account, I show how in their efforts to make the idea of the revolution concrete, activists and residents of Pioneer Camps encountered and generated multiple challenges, contradictory outcomes, unintended consequences and new political possibilities.

Housing activists faced the push and pull of opposing forces as they attempted to represent and embody an emerging revolutionary people (pueblo) and a new morality, while at the same time responding to immediate demands for housing and assistance in their interactions with the revolutionary government. I argue that in their attempts to reconcile these opposing forces, activists in Caracas engaged in everyday ideological and spatial battles and constructed “affective infrastructures” in the process of building houses and communities while claiming a space within revolutionary politics. In the land occupations, or Pioneer Camps, the result was a hybrid configuration of urban citizenship, that brought together conflicting tendencies, including: 1) a future aspiration for self-government or self-determination alongside deepening dependence on the petro-state to sustain housing initiatives; 2) the emergence of new laws that empowered communities to access urban land together with their continued reliance on political backing through political patronage in order to protect new land seizures in a polarized political landscape; 3) the promotion of relations of solidarity, care and cooperation among neighbors, associated with the tradition of autoconstrucción (self-building) in squatter settlements or barrios, together with labor regimes aimed at disciplining the stigmatized and racialized barrio dwellers so as to produce more disciplined modern citizens. Thus, housing activists were located in a space in-between neoliberal and “post-neoliberal” imaginings of the future of Venezuela.

In building the affective infrastructures so much a part of the urban politics analyzed here, race, gender and class intersected in surprising ways. On one hand, Black and mestiza working-class women, who were most harshly affected by the effects of neoliberal restructuring in the 1990s, represented the majority of participants and leaders in the land occupations I studied. In this way, the Bolivarian Revolution created opportunities for the legibility and legitimation of working-class women’s leadership and consciousness in “right to the city” movements and efforts to overturn spatial ideologies based on class and racial hierarchies. On the other hand, the Bolivarian Revolution also ushered grassroots women into highly feminized spheres of social reproduction which created opportunities to foster inequalities associated with the concentration of women’s work in the domestic sphere. Thus, the responsibility to develop relationships based on collective care, solidarity, and support in emerging “socialist” communities –and produce new revolutionary subjects– fell differentially along racial and gender lines and relied heavily on impoverished women’s invisible care and community work, creating opportunities for overexploitation.

As ideological ascriptions, affective dispositions and care work were differentially distributed among Pioneer Camp members, women who carried the burden of representation held complex subject positions. My study examines in-depth the changing positions of a charismatic female Afro-Venezuelan barrio leader who was one of my interlocutors at the camp where I focused my research. She developed patron-client relations with less powerful members of the camp as a result of her access to state resources and influential power brokers within the Bolivarian government. These power differentials created schisms within the camp and consolidated existing forms of power and authority, leaving impoverished women increasingly dependent on the state and its representatives at the local level in order to access services and assistance. In order to fund its expanding social programs, the Bolivarian project deepened its reliance on petroleum export revenues and increasing foreign debt. In 2014, when I began fieldwork for this project, a crisis in social reproduction began to unfold due to a variety of factors, including a vertiginous drop in international oil prices; this crisis, again, disproportionately affected low-income women. Attending to the contradictory life-sustaining and life threatening forces that shaped the unfolding of this revolutionary experiment, my study reveals the paradoxical forms of agency, and multiple challenges and unintended consequences activists faced as they attempted to materialize their vision of a socialist and revolutionary future while working with –rather than against– the national petro-state.

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