Cultural practices and rough sociality in Mexico’s midsize cities: Tijuana, Puebla, and Monterrey

Cultural practices and rough sociality in Mexico’s midsize cities: Tijuana, Puebla, and Monterrey


Written by:

Leandro Rodriguez-Medina, María Emilia Ismael Simental, Alberto Javier López Cuenca, Anne Kristiina Kurjenoja

First Published:

20 Jul 2021, 11:18 am


Cultural practices and rough sociality in Mexico’s midsize cities: Tijuana, Puebla, and Monterrey



The idea that culture is used to shape urban change is not new. For decades now, urban research, as well as parts of cultural studies and sociology, have been reporting on the transformations that cities have faced in order to become more attractive to transnational capital and to certain socio-economic sectors. Such processes have had positive effects, such as the formation of public-private networks that contribute to the creation of innovative knowledge, and negative effects, such as gentrification and the suburbanisation of the most vulnerable sectors. Cities have thus seen an increase in inequality that explains largely the emergence of enclave urbanism.


The case studies for understanding this phenomenon have been the large and powerful global cities, such as New York, London or Berlin, where state, market and civil society are closely entangled. What has been less studied, however, has been the kind of sociality that cultural projects, especially when developed by civil society, manage to produce. In this sense, a focus on countries where institutionality is rather weak and, consequently, some social relations can be “opened up” for greater scrutiny is particularly useful.


To address this point, we have researched three Mexican mid-sized cities: Puebla, Tijuana, and Monterrey between 1984 and 2017. Sociality produced by cultural dynamics, sponsored either by the public (cultural policy) or the private sector (cultural market), is generally characterised by a focus on social order, the construction of local identity, a hygienic view of public space, and disempowerment of local actors. Differing from these views, our research has found a new form of sociality that we call ‘rough sociality’, produced by cultural agents from civil society. This sociality is conflictive, ephemeral, spatially bounded, and affective, which has implications not only for the cultural work but, most importantly, for the social relations and the being/doing-togetherness that such work may enact and reproduce


Because rough sociality challenges institutionalised practices (e.g. State-funded institutions or private-owned galleries’ exhibitions), the cities have not responded to it homogeneously. While in Monterrey the weight of the private sector in the economy has affected the patronage of the arts and culture, Puebla has developed a State-centered cultural policy that focuses on patrimonialism and, more recently, commodification and touristification. Tijuana, on the contrary, is the city where rough sociality can be better observed. Lacking a strong tradition of cultural policies led by the city and an entrepreneur sector committed to urban transformation by the proliferation of their business, in Tijuana the interstices are clearer and the cultural agents know that they must rely on themselves for survival.


Cultural agents and projects are not always openly oppositional to tendencies such as gentrification and commodification, as social movements and some progressive political parties have historically been. Instead, they open spaces for negotiations between worlds: the current one and the one produced in/from the projects they engage in. In the end, these new spaces, be they private, self-managed or public, are spheres of controversy around what has been called the right to the city. Within those micro-spaces in which conflict is productive, ephemerality is opportunity, and affection is caring, rough sociality could enact, as a socio-cultural experiment, ethically/politically/socially microcosms of justice.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.