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Meaningful Resistance
Market Reforms and the Roots of Social Protest in Latin America

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics

  • Date Published: May 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107562059

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About the Authors
  • Meaningful Resistance explores the origins and dynamics of resistance to markets through an examination of two social movements that emerged to voice and channel opposition to market reforms. Protests against water privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and rising corn prices in Mexico City, Mexico, offer a lens to analyze the mechanisms by which perceived, market-driven threats to material livelihood can prompt resistance. By exploring connections among marketization, local practices, and political protest, the book shows how the material and the ideational are inextricably linked in resistance to subsistence threats. When people perceive that markets have put subsistence at risk, material and symbolic worlds are both at stake; citizens take to the streets not only to defend their pocketbooks, but also their conceptions of community. The book advances contemporary scholarship by showing how attention to grievances in general, and subsistence resources in particular, can add explanatory leverage to analyses of contentious politics.

    • By providing an innovative approach to the study of social mobilization, the book expands current theoretical approaches providing new tools to scholars of popular protest
    • Gives scholars new ways to think about how and why grievances matter in social mobilization
    • Develops theoretical connections between market reforms, social mobilization, and subsistence to shed light on market-driven threats to subsistence
    Read more


    • Winner, 2017 Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements Charles Tilly Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award, American Sociological Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Too often, in the study of contention, the material and the cultural have been seen as incompatible forms of explanation. In this empirically rich, theoretically important book, Simmons shows how the material and ideational were fused to catalyze popular protests over water in Cochabamba and rising corn prices in Mexico. In doing so, she has made it much harder for scholars of contention to ignore the causal force of grievances or to depict material threats in strictly economic terms."
    Douglas McAdam, Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Stanford University

    "In Meaningful Resistance, Erica Simmons shows how cultural and symbolic meanings related to subsistence goods shape patterns of social resistance to market liberalization. Drawing from rich ethnographic research on social protests around water privatization in Bolivia and corn prices in Mexico, Simmons skilfully weaves together material grievances and cultural meanings to explain the origins and dynamics of protest mobilization. This book breaks new ground in its theoretical integration of cultural and structural approaches to the study of social movements, and it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how material grievances become politicized. This is an important book that deserves to be widely read."
    Kenneth M. Roberts, Cornell University

    'Not since Karl Polanyi and E.P. Thompson has a scholar so convincingly shown the connection between material life and popular politics. Simmons' examination of protests against neo-liberal attempts to privatize and utterly commodify water and maize is astute, subtle and carefully reasoned. A model of theoretically informed comparative analysis.' James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University, Connecticut

    'What a wonderful book! … In this theoretically powerful and empirically rich political ethnography of the water wars in Bolivia and the corn protests in Mexico, Simmons highlights that water and corn are culturally imbued with both material concerns and community meaning, without which one cannot understand and explain the cyclicality of protests that emerge in these two cases. The book will compel scholars to rethink what grievances are, how they are constituted, when they are tapped, and how people do so in light of market-driven threats to subsistence resources. By addressing constitutive and causal processes, Simmons has written a beautiful, landmark book about contentious politics that reveals how 'the politics of the everyday' intersect with and shape the politics of the extraordinary.' Debroah J. Yashar, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, New Jersey

    'In Meaningful Resistance, Erica Simmons directs our attention to the causal significance of grievances by examining the meaning actors ascribe to specific grievances, in this case threats to subsistence goods, and how this motivates actors toward certain actions at particular times and places. She demonstrates the power of meaning by comparing two indigenous social movements: opposition to water privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and opposition to rising tortilla prices in Mexico. This study reflects extensive field work in these two countries, including ethnographic observation, semi-structured and open-ended interviews, and historical research of primary sources.' Bradley W. Williams, Mobilization

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107562059
    • length: 230 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • contains: 17 b/w illus. 5 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Water in Cochabamba
    3. ¡El agua es nuestra, carajo! The origins of the Bolivian Water Wars
    4. Corn in Mexico
    5. Sin maíz no hay país: the Mexican tortillazo protests
    6. Conclusions.

  • Author

    Erica S. Simmons, University of Wisconsin, Madison
    Erica S. Simmons is a Lyons Family Faculty Scholar and Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her dissertation, on which the book is based, was awarded the Latin American Studies Association's 2013 Oxfam America Martin Diskin Dissertation Award. Her research has been funded by the Fulbright Commission and the Mellon Foundation, among others.


    • Winner, 2017 Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements Charles Tilly Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award, American Sociological Association

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