Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

Winter 1-1-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Bret D Gustafson


The use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media in the Arab Spring, #Occupy Wall Street, and Mexico's #YoSoy132 student movement have all generated excitement about the new uses of digital technology in organized social movements. This dissertation concerns itself with media and social transformation, but recognizes that even as media content can have a deep impact on society and culture, it is ultimately human beings who create and use technology off screen for our own purposes. This dissertation focuses ethnographically on one social movement, the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra: The Peoples' Front in Defense of Land) of San Salvador Atenco on the outskirts of Mexico City, and their relationships with a range of national and international filmmakers. Through examining the daily practices of producing and distributing social documentary films, I show how people used media as an ethical and political practice to purposefully shape and transform face-to-face human relationships. I argue that filmmaking and distributing was one set of practices through which people attempted to cultivate a collectivist disposition called compañerismo, and through which they could build partial autonomies from the state and corporate capitalism. I argue that the historical shift from `resistance' political practices to `autonomy' practices represents a significant departure for contemporary transnational social movements, and signifies a trend away from a Marxist tradition of organizing and toward greater articulation with anarchist thinking and organizing. The cultivation of compañerismo is part of this shift and is indicative of a partial relocation of objectives away from institutional, legal, and policy changes and toward personal and collective transformations of self. I argue that the intersection between cultural production and self production is a crucial locus for examining how social movements help to bring about elusive social and cultural changes that exist outside the grasp of legal and institutional frameworks. These arguments build from and contribute to three large bodies of anthropological research: a political anthropology interested in social movements, a visual anthropology interested in media production, and a broad theoretical anthropological interest in transformations of self, society, and culture through practice.


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