Materializing (in)securities: Urban Terrain, Paperwork, and Housing in Downtown Bogota

Published In

Anthropological Quarterly

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2020


In Bogotá, city planners and residents struggle over downtown renewal by mobilizing security frameworks linked to Colombia's history of political and criminal violence. Urban spaces appear as terrains of military strategy, bureaucratic artifacts as weapons of (para)state violence, and housing transformations as incarnations of rural land grabbing and displacement. Far from being only metaphorical reverberations of the country's pervasive imagery of warfare, such discursive maneuvers are practical enactments that become intimately entangled with the constitution of urban materialities. Everyday performances of security activate the physical qualities of urban forms and things, endowing them with significance both as sources of insecurity and as vehicles of securitization. While recent scholarship has explored the ways in which urban infrastructure and materiality mediate urban politics, conflicts over Bogotá's renewal highlight the relational dynamics between social actors' discursive performances and urban materialities. At stake here is what I conceptualize as ongoing and tentative processes of materialization. As urban actors assemble, calibrate, and deploy repertoires of (in)security, they actively contribute to the material shaping of urban worlds. Tracing such security performances and their attendant materialities usefully refocuses attention on human action and [End Page 1491] political accountability within complex social-material assemblages. It reveals the ways in which contests over authority and belonging are enacted by a range of urban actors, mediated through specific histories, and sedimented in urban forms.


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