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Susana Vargas-Cervantes | Performing Mexicanidad: Mujercitos and Hombrecitas on the instersections of sex/gender, class/race-ethnicity and criminality in Mexico

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My doctoral project focuses on the photographic images of Mujercitos arrested while having private parties in Mexico City and featured in a true crime magazine, namely Alarma!  I examine how these photographs participate in the larger national imaginary of non-normative sexualities in Mexico through an analysis of how and which specific modes of being identified are at play.  Moreover, this analysis maps the zones of tensions between Anglo North American theories of performative gender/sex and their Latin American counterpart, focusing on Mexico.       

Considering that the core of my analysis is centered on photographs of Mujercitos, my main objective is to look at photographs and so-called “true crime” periodicals. Drawing from the canonical work of Judith Butler on performativity, that is, the practice by which genders are constituted as “materially intelligible,” disavowing as “abject” those that do not “maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice and desire” (Butler, 1993:17), I intend to map how these relations of coherence and continuity are different in the context of Mexico. As Robert McKee Irwin (2003) has pointed out, in Mexico the rhetoric of race and class frequently intersects with that of gender in complicated ways. These complicated ways, I argue, point to a different relation of coherence between gender, sex, and sexual orientation, desire and practice, than that which is found in Anglo North America. I contend that, in Mexico, subjectivation and subject identification are not primarily defined through sex/gender but, rather, through class, as economic survival is a determinant necessity in a post-colonized context.

Chapter Outline

Chapter 1: Semantic fields of Latin American sexualities

How is the same term used in the scholarship of the United States, Canada and Mexico? What kind of scholarship is produced in Anglo North America versus Latin America through the different conceptualizations of gender and sexuality studies?  How is the translation of these terms culturally adapted in Latin America; what is the baggage that these terms carry with them?

In Chapter 2: Coming out in theory:  performative gender/sexual identities across the Americas

I explore the zone of tension derived from the main theoretical inquiry of my dissertation, which claims that Anglo North American theories of performative gender and sex focus on sexual identification and desire and practice to the exclusion of class and ethnicity. How are gender, sex, sexual orientation, desire and practice in a different relation of coherence and continuity than in Anglo North America, as described through the work of Judith Butler? Which bodies are then illegible (abject), following this different relation of coherence and continuity? How are different levels of gender/sex identification established in the Americas? How are identity and practice culturally understood differently in Mexico than in Anglo North America? At which level do identities take place through the embodiment of performance subjectivity in specific social sites?

Chapter 3: History of peripheral sexualities (sub)cultures in Mexico

This chapter will historically contextualized Mexico in the constitution of sexuality-based movements differentiating them from Canada and the United States. How is the intertwining of the academy and activism in Mexico different than in Canada and the United States?

Chapter 4: Crime-oriented visual culture in Mexico

This chapter analyses the history of photojournalism in Mexico in specific genres, in nota roja and in visual culture magazines as traced in the literature review.

Chapter 5: Alarma! El que ríe al último ríe mejor : Mujercitos in Nota Roja

This chapter represents the case study of my theoretical inquiries. How do these photographs, as well as the text, work in relation to the rest of the crime-oriented photographs in the periodical? Who took the majority of photographs of Mujercitos? What are their official crimes? This chapter will look at the intersection between criminality, affect and discourses in Mexicanidad. Furthermore, I will do a geography of criminalization (since the private addresses of the arrested Mujercitos are published) in order to look not only at the geography of crime but with specific attention to the economical and social geography of these places. From the preliminary research, it seems that none of the Mujercitos lived in middle or upper class neighborhoods.