“For an authentic democracy, #IAm132”: contested democratic imaginaries in the Mexican student movement, #YoSoy132
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 03:09 authored by Ella Dixon
#YoSoy132 erupted unexpectedly during Mexico’s 2012 presidential elections in the face of the imminent return of the ex-hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power. Faced with this threat to Mexico’s weakly consolidated democracy and with the candidate’s neoliberal reforms package, this volatile student movement temporarily united sections of a deeply divided student body. Given the entrenched class antagonisms that divide public and private universities in Mexico, surprisingly little critical attention has been paid to the forging of these political solidarities. Instead the literature has emphasised the aesthetic self-consciousness and innovative use of new communication technologies as mechanisms for contesting power and alternatives for participation. Such accounts sideline socio-economic and historical factors in favour of cultural and communicative analyses of the movement’s politics, overlooking factors that mediate access and influence. This thesis grounds the ongoing significance of #YoSoy132 within a history of democratising struggles in Mexico. Drawing on 21 semi-structured interviews, I explore participant reflections two years on, at the movement’s epicentre: Mexico City. Investigating the play of competing democratic imaginaries within the movement, I argue that a new political style enabled #YoSoy132 to temporarily transcend class-based divisions and to generate an inclusive and voluntaristic association, which was both energising and self-limiting. In parallel, I analyse how politically-minded public university students revived historic aspirations for popular sovereignty, channelling the movement towards an antagonistic politics and testing the limits of student unity. Finally, tensions between electoral and anti-systemic politics underscored a vital and necessary confrontation between world views in a generational debate on Mexico’s future. Rescuing these tensions, analysing their underlying assumptions and placing them into dialogue with one another revives the transversal spirit of the movement, reveals hitherto under-examined instances of power and privilege, and tempers premature celebrations of its rupturing status.