"We have a road map". Whiteness, biopolitics, and the rise of technocratic philanthrocapitalism: the emergent neoliberal governance project of the Guatemalan oligarchy

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2013-12

Authors

Perera, Daniel Alejandro

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Abstract

Scholars have tended to frame the rise of neoliberal governance in Guatemala as primarily shaped by the tangled, often contradictory relations between three main actors: multilateral organizations and international financial institutions, the state, and individual and collective subjects of rights. This thesis intends to contribute to the literature by focusing on a social actor that is seldom investigated academically—especially ethnographically—despite the determinant role that it has historically played in the destiny of Guatemala, namely, the oligarchy: an elite group of Guatemalans who by virtue of class position, family networks, and membership in business associations have “ruled since the conquest.” An ethnographic appraisal of elite discourses, attitudes, and practices, as well as an attunement to the affective dimension of elite subjectivities, can generate a better understanding of how historical relations of domination and exclusion in Guatemala are currently being reconfigured.
Based on ethnographic research and a series of interviews with a dozen of its leading members in July and August of 2012, this thesis is an inquiry into the contemporary governance project of the Guatemalan oligarchy and the place that it allots to multiculturalism. In this sense, it has three main objectives: firstly, to characterize an increasingly coherent liberal discourse of national development, modernization, and corporate social responsibility emanating from the economic elite’s private foundations, think tanks and business associations. Secondly, it summarily compares this discourse to the general observable trends of capitalist accumulation around new dynamic “axes”: megaprojects (the construction of major infrastructure such as roads and highways, bridges, airports, seaports; as well as call centers, corporate tourism, malls, technological corridors, hydroelectric power plants); the agroindustrial production of mega-monocrops for agrofuels (sugarcane and African oil palm), and; extraction and commercialization of natural resources (minerals, oil, cement), as documented by other analysts. Finally, it examines the current status of multiculturalism and the ascendancy of whiteness within this emergent material and discursive landscape. I have termed this emergent model of neoliberal governance “technocratic philanthrocapitalism.”

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