We can’t understand Venezuela today without understanding the barrios. Representing the Barrios provides an imaginary topography of the barrios of Caracas as both object of anxiety and historical subject, a space for radical politics and for the territorial remapping of political life more broadly. Moving effortlessly from literature to film to politics and back again, the book is ambitious, erudite, elegant, and essential.
Against a backdrop of rapid urbanization and the growth of a global economy powered by carbon, Rebecca Jarman argues that in Venezuela, urban poverty has become one of the most important resources in national culture and statecraft. Attracting the attentions of writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians from within and beyond the limits of Caracas, the barrios are fetishized in the cultural domain as sites of rampant sex, crime, revolution, disease, and violence. The appeal of the urban poor in entertainment is replicated in the policies of autocratic leaders who, operating within an extractivist matrix that prizes the acquisition of land and capital, have sought to expand their reach into these densely populated territories. Sometimes yielding to commodification, the barrios also have resisted exploitation by exceeding the terms of their representation in hegemonic culture and politics. Whether troubling the narratives that profit from poverty or undermining class-based stereotypes with experimental aesthetics, the barrio as a shifting set of coordinates consistently evades appropriations of disenfranchisement. Mapping the recurrent tensions, anxieties, conflicts, aspirations, and blind spots that characterize depictions of the barrios, Rebecca Jarman elaborates a dynamic cultural analysis of the history of poverty in the Venezuelan capital.
Jarman sheds urgent new light on one of Venezuela’s most important—and enigmatic—social actors: residents of Venezuela’s sprawling urban barrios. With equal parts theoretical sophistication, analytical insight, and narrative elegance, she digs deep into the country’s cultural landscape, finding in novels, chronicles, and film a subject that for over a century has at once been the source of elite angst and the nation’s potential redeemer, cast always either as threat or hero with little in between. Deftly walking us along that knife’s edge, Jarman does more than chart the literal and figurative fault lines of a country long polarized; she helps us imagine other possible landscapes.
The barrios of Caracas have played an outsized role in twenty-first-century Latin American politics. Before they were mythologized as the vanguard of a revolutionary movement, they were depicted as spaces of abject misery. In Representing the Barrios, Rebecca Jarman expertly traces the changing image of Venezuela’s urban popular sectors. This is a nuanced, insightful account of how the barrios were made to play the foil to Venezuela’s nation-building project; it is also an argument about why such representations continue to matter. An exceptional work of scholarship.
Rebecca Jarman is associate professor of Latin American studies at the University of Leeds. Her research is situated at the intersections between culture and history in contemporary Latin America, and examines the forces, aspirations, and tensions that forge places, communities, and shared imaginaries in postcolonial and decolonial environments.