Mexico: how can you achieve social change in a world of poverty and violence?


Mexico is known as a country that is plagued by drug-related violence and corrupt institutions. In September 2014, the forced disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students in Guerrero gained world wide attention. Merel de Buck’s PhD research focuses on the other side to Mexico. She is investigating people’s search for social change.

Control over social conditions

Subjected to conditions of poverty, extreme levels of violence and institutional marginalization, citizens in the rural regions of Guerrero increasingly use their creative capacities to acquire more control over the social conditions that shape their lives. Through a variety of practices in the fields of education, security and development, the farming communities are turned into temporal sites of social struggle. As a result, ordinary citizens become political engaged in the creation and transformation of the social order. 

The farmers are living in the margins of the state, surrounded by poverty and violence. What happens when they take over these margins?

Social movements

Merel de Buck studies the everyday popular experiences, public discourses and empirical reality of social contestation. The basis of her analysis lies in political anthropology. As such, her research contributes to conceptual debates on sovereignty, state, authority and culture.

Field of study

The field of study is the Costa Chica region, located along the south coast of the Mexican state Guerrero, extending south of Acapulco towards the Oaxacan boarder. The area hosts a mosaic of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups like mestizos, Afro-Mexicans and several indigenous peoples. This cultural heterogeneity mirrors the social movements active in the region. Merel de Buck is researching two related organisations:

  • The community police UPOEG (Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero):
    This is made up of independently organised citizens who guarantee safety in their communities by organising themselves according to indigenous principles (usos y costumbres).
  • The intercultural university UNISUR (Universidad de los Pueblos del Sur):
    Youngsters from marginalized, rural areas receive political and emancipatory education in this university.