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Fires on the Border

Fires on the Border: The Passionate Politics of Labor Organizing on the Mexican Frontera

Rosemary Hennessy
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Fires on the Border
    Book Description:

    The history of themaquiladorashas been punctuated by workers' organized resistance to abysmal working and living conditions. Over years of involvement in such movements, Rosemary Hennessy was struck by an elusive but significant feature of these struggles: the extent to which organizing is driven by attachments of affection and antagonism, belief, betrayal, and identification.

    What precisely is the "affective" dimension of organizing for justice? Are affects and emotions the same? And how can their value be calculated?Fires on the Bordertakes up these questions of labor and community organizing-its "affect-culture"-on Mexico's northern border from the early 1970s to the present day. Through these campaigns, Hennessy illuminates the attachments and identifications that motivate people to act on behalf of one another and that bind them to a common cause. The book's unsettling, even jarring, narratives bring together empirical and ethnographic accounts-of specific campaigns, the untold stories of gay and lesbian organizers, love and utopian longing-in concert with materialist theories of affect and the critical good sense of Mexican organizers.

    Teasing out the integration of affect-culture in economic relations and cultural processes, Hennessy provides evidence that sexuality and gender as strong affect attractors are incorporated in the harvesting of surplus labor. At the same time, workers' testimonies confirm that the capacities for bonding and affective attachment, far from being entirely at the service of capital, are at the very heart of social movements devoted to sustaining life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4009-0
    Subjects: Business, History, Population Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxvi)

    Maquiladorasare Mexican factories where workers assemble products for export. Established in the mid-1960s as the Border Industrialization Program, the maquiladoras—ormaquilas, as they are called—have assured companies a huge return on investment, but they have also offered Mexican workers a poisoned promise: poverty wages in exchange for a life cut short. The history of the maquiladoras has been punctuated by workers’ organized resistance to their working and living conditions. In the factory towns of Mexico’s northern border (orfrontera), organizing propels the accomplishment of short-term goals and animates longer-term aspirations.¹ Short-term goals often begin with rights to...

  5. I. History, Affect, Representation

    • 1 Labor Organizing in Mexico’s Entangled Economies
      (pp. 3-36)

      The history of organizing in the maquiladoras is rooted in the dawning of neoliberal capitalism and accompanies the restructuring of two economic sectors, one legal and the other extralegal, in the last half of the twentieth century. Manufacturing and the drug business are not usually thought together, nor is the return of free-market capitalism in the late twentieth century generally understood in terms of their intersection. But today, everyone living on the Mexican side of the border knows the economy they inhabit is controlled by the maquiladoras and the drug cartels, whose interests range over a web of overlapping investments...

    • 2 The Materiality of Affect
      (pp. 37-68)

      Over the past decade or so, scholarship on affect has proliferated to the point that the trend some call the “affective turn” is already being considered passé.¹ Why all of this attention to affect? One answer is history. In the past fifty years, as capitalism has profoundly invaded the human organism and harnessed the productive powers of life, the human capacity for affect has been raided by the global media, advertising, entertainment, care, and service industries as a lucrative vehicle for profit making. It is fair to say that affects and their expression in cultural scripts are capital’s last colony....

    • 3 Bearing Witness
      (pp. 69-96)

      To be an organizer or an ally in an organizing campaign is to bear witness. Both thebearingand thewitnessingopen you to a new position in history as you assume responsibility to others and carry their message to the wider community. The “bearing” part of the phrase “bearing witness” suggests layers of meaning that are aptly conveyed in the Spanish wordcargo, loosely translated as “charge” or “responsibility.” Taking up thecargoof involvement in organizing entails assuming responsibility in the sense of providing for others, and it also carries the sense of taking on duties that are...

  6. II. Sex, Labor, Movement

    • 4 Open Secrets
      (pp. 99-124)

      The open secret is a familiar figure in gay culture and sexuality studies, conjuring an epistemology in which knowing becomes not knowing.¹ For the French philosopher Michel Foucault, the open secret is a silence that permeates and gives shape to the requirement to speak about some things, a discretion that accompanies a preoccupation.² It refers to a cultural environment in which much is known but unrecognized. In her bookGhostly Matters, the sociologist Avery Gordon points to another manifestation of open secrets: the failures of established knowledge to convey the dense site “where history and subjectivity make social life.”³ The...

    • 5 The Value of a Second Skin
      (pp. 125-150)

      This chapter discusses the problem of value or, more specifically, the ways surplus value depends upon cultural value. I consider what it means to think of the cultural value adhering to social identities as a second skin that gets folded into the labor power workers exchange for a wage and is reproduced at home. Throughout this analysis the narratives of homosexual maquiladora workers who were leaders in campaigns for better wages and working conditions offer insights that flesh out an understanding of the process of abjection that identity formation entails. They shed light on the lived and contested value of...

    • 6 Feeling Bodies, Jeans, Justice
      (pp. 151-176)

      Though “neoliberalism” may not be the name that springs to mind when most people characterize the social changes of the past four decades, those who have lived its losses know all too well what it means. This chapter considers neoliberalism’s impact on the regulation of life, including affects as biocultural mediators of sexual identity’s second skins. The manufacturing and marketing of blue jeans as a garment that became quite literally the second skin of the working class is a part of this history. After discussing neoliberal biopolitics and sexualities, I turn to the story of the multinational blue jeans manufacturer...

    • 7 The North–South Encuentros
      (pp. 177-202)

      Ingrupos de base(small grassroots communities) across Mexico’s north and south, women are taking leadership positions, and both men and women are recasting the culture of daily life.¹ Out of struggles that vary in their short-term goals but share a long-term vision of alternative possibilities, new political subjects are emerging.² Woven into these efforts to build sustainable alternatives for supporting life are adjustments to gender norms. They are a measure of the accomplishments of autonomous community organizing and a component of the cross-regional network building that is reimagining the fundamental basis of the modern nation. In this chapter I...

  7. III. The Utopian Question

    • 8 Love in the Common
      (pp. 205-226)

      What does love have to do with labor and community organizing in Mexico or elsewhere? The question seems preposterous, even untimely, yet we know that affective capacities are a part of the dynamic process by which political identities are formed and that they bind people to one another and, sometimes, to a common cause. Like sexuality—and often entangled with it—love is a historical discourse that is suffused with affect. It names an emotion freighted with norms that shape desire and direct attachments to objects, relations, and pleasures. As such, it can enhance or undermine individual or collective well-being....

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 227-230)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 231-258)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-280)
  11. Index
    (pp. 281-301)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 302-302)