Urban economies and spatial governmentalities in the world heritage city of Antigua, Guatemala

Little, W. E.

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Little, W. E. (2015). Urban economies and spatial governmentalities in the world heritage city of Antigua, Guatemala. Economic Anthropology, 2(1), 42–62. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/10.1002/sea2.12017

Governmentality , Guatemala , Heritage , Street Economies , Tourism

As one of 725 UNESCO World Heritage Properties, Antigua, Guatemala, is subject to local international regulations related to building codes and how streets and public places are occupied. These regulations are discussed within the theoretical framework of spatial governmentality to explore that relationship between governance and Maya street vendors’ economic practices. I situate the scholarly discussion of spatial governmentality within a specific economic context by highlighting how street economies are affected by what Foucault calls the “era of ‘governmentality,’” especially in an ethnographic context. In this article, I argue that horizontal and vertical forms of governmentality affect the economic practices of street vendors within Antigua’s sociopolitically constructed spaces. Understanding how spatial governmentalities work in a particular place helps explain why street economies persist and why new ones emerge. In Antigua’s case, a new mobile form of street vending emerged because of newly implemented municipal regulations and policing priorities.

Main finding
The author finds that the use and control of the city streets, by vendors and the city respectively, were informed by their distinct understanding of urban regulations, enforcement, and tourist practices. Regulations, laws, and policies aimed at controlling street vendors opened up creative ways for this marginalized economic practice to survive. For example, smoking ordinances shifted many tourists to the street to smoke thus providing vendors with potential buyers. Additionally, municipal focus on architectural code violations and traffic problems shifted enforcer's attention away from the vendors while vendors also employed more covert selling tactics to evade tourism police.

Description of method used in the article
The author used a framework of spatial governmentality to study the dialectical relationship between universal ideologies and the local pragmatics (e.g. of economic practices of Mayan street vendors). This dialectical relationship was argued to emerge from a logics of governance.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Economic Transactions
Field Observations
Physical types
Geographic locations