First Advisor

Nathan McClintock

Term of Graduation

Summer 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Markets -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) -- History, Food habits -- Mexico -- Oaxaca (State) – History, Indigenous people -- Food, Nahuas -- Food, Ethnoarchaeology



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 355 pages)


This dissertation research investigates the paradoxical survival of Indigenous markets in the context of state-sponsored development strategies that privilege multinational retailers and rebrand Mexican cities as modern and globally competitive. I examine how Indigenous markets have survived the supermarketization (and, more precisely, Walmartization) of food retail that has taken hold in Mexico. Better known by their Nahuatl name tianguis, open-air Indigenous markets held in streets and public plazas predate the arrival of the first conquistadors and remain common across Mesoamerica today. My examination of tianguis in native language texts, colonial narratives, popular art, and mid-20th century newspapers demonstrates that while they once constituted the unquestioned, central source of urban food provisioning in Mexico, the state and local elites began to depict them as antithetical to the modern city in the 1970s. Over the last few decades, policy at all levels of government has marginalized the tianguis, instead enticing corporate retailers with liberalized foreign direct investment, free trade agreements, and municipal concessions. Yet, while such policy has ushered in a new era of supermarket dominance across the global South, the tianguis of Mexico have shown surprising resilience.

Complementing my archival and document analysis, I draw on three years of ethnographic research of Oaxacan tianguis (including participant observation, interviews, auto-driven photo elicitation, focus groups, and spatial analysis) to argue that tianguis endure for three main reasons. First, they reproduce local culture rooted in attachment to Indigenous foodways and a sense of food sovereignty. Second, the primary labor arrangement on which the tianguis is based -- non-wage, pooled family labor that relies on household-level self-exploitation -- explains how tianguis stay competitive with heavily capitalized corporate retailers. Third, fierce vendor activism stakes out long-lasting claims to streets and plazas. I argue that this activism can be understood in two opposing ways. On one hand, it constitutes a form of insurgent spatial planning, redistributing urban space from the uses prescribed by modernist planners (leisure and traffic flow) to meet the daily material needs of subaltern groups. On the other, vendors' organizations commodify public space in ways that benefit market leaders and some public officials, and creates a hierarchy among tianguis vendors.

Broadly, the study contributes to the project of postcolonial urbanism, de-centering urban theory from its traditional basis in Euro-American experiences, and highlighting Indigenous productions of urban space. It contributes to the literature on agri-food retail restructuring by offering a perspective from the global South that nuances narratives of the effects of neoliberal globalization on food systems through deeper historicization and contextualization. It also adds a food systems perspective to the project of comparative and postcolonial urbanism while advancing existing theory on urban informality by providing detailed historical and contemporary accounts of collective vendor strategies in the face of often contradictory public policy and practice. Finally, by positioning tianguis within the framework of dispossession, racialization and resistance central to scholarship on Indigenous foodways, this study foregrounds a central feature of urban Indigenous food systems in Mexico yet to be examined under this lens.


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