Private, Parochial, and Public Realms in Santiago, Chile's Retail Sector

Joel Stillerman

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Stillerman, J. (1). Private, Parochial, and Public Realms in Santiago, Chile's Retail Sector. City and Community, 5(3), 293–317.

accessibility , appropriation , liberalization , market , policy , privatization , Public realm , relationships , Santiago , segregation , tactics

Recent scholarship contends that the rise of shopping malls, gated communities, and gentrification as well as citizens' withdrawal to the private realm have eroded public life in U.S. and Latin American cities. Malls' suburban location and security policies exclude the poor and restrict free speech; residents and fences in gated communities exclude outsiders; and police and businesses in downtowns and high-rent districts limit poor people's access to public areas. I expand this discussion with an analysis of the accessibility of Santiago, Chile's retail areas, the social relationships present there, and marginalized groups' informal resistance to their exclusion. The city's distinct segregation pattern, transit system, and state-licensed street markets permit greater contact between rich and poor and foster vital public spaces. I adapt Lofland's typology of fleeting, quasi-primary, and intimate secondary relations in public to examine social interactions in street markets, flea markets, and shopping malls. The distinct mix of relationships within these markets reflects the characteristics of users, varying degrees of accessibility to diverse populations, and state policies toward markets. Marginalized groups' informal resistance is pervasive in each setting. In contrast to the dominant view that public space is declining in contemporary cities, Santiago residents are not universally reclusive, antisocial, or reluctant to engage in cross-class public encounters, and the city retains vital public areas. The findings demonstrate that our understanding of public space is incomplete without an awareness of social relationships and informal resistance alongside structural constraints to the accessibility of urban locales.

Main finding
Santiago, Chile’s system of residential segregation, state policies regarding retail, labor market characteristics, and transit infrastructure allows interaction between classes in many retail centers. Meaningful relationships develop in malls and street and flea markets. These relationships range from ‘private realm bubbles’ to trust-based relationships with some emotional investment. Many residents seek out encounters between classes in the public realm for the opportunity to participate and enjoy the material pleasures and benefits. The poor actively stake their claim in retail areas, irritating public and private authorities. In this way, the poor are not passive victims of security guards in the spaces they carve out.

Description of method used in the article
The researchers conducted one hundred hours of participant and nonparticipant observation. These observations were conducted in flea, wholesale, outdoor street markets, shopping malls, supermarkets, an immigrant garment district, and in meetings of the Chilean Street Market Vendors’ association. Twenty four formal interviews were conducted with merchants, vendors, marketing professionals, and scholars. Additionally, researchers reviewed newspaper articles, government studies and data, marketing studies and NGO reports to supplement the ethnographic and interview-based research.

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