How the Other Half Continues to Live: A Rhetorical, Nuanced Redefining of the Colonia Phenomenon

James Michael Nielsen, University of Texas at El Paso


“Colonias” is a colloquial term used along the U.S.-Mexico border to simply mean informal housing practices. This thesis uses critical discourse analysis theory to analyze the way the media, government, and law theorists perceive and legitimize the colonia phenomenon through discursive texts, leading to a discussion of hegemonic oppression and racism spelled out in a rhetoric of the colonias section. This thesis also details the history of the colonias with a focus particularly on El Paso County, Texas, looking primarily at the law-based history of this phenomenon. The critical discourse analysis (CDA) conducted was influenced by rhetorical theory, particularly Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, Michel Foucault’s hegemonic panopticon, and Maxine Greene’s imagination theory. The CDA conducted also relies primarily on Norman Fairclough’s texts on the theory. The analysis found hegemonic oppression through discourse and the illegalization of a method of living created by the poor as a viable mode of informal living. The primary results of the research revealed that the complexity of the dynamic term “colonia” with its various definitions will continue to be discussed among the media, government officials, and (law) scholars. Most of this thesis argues the inefficiency of the term “colonia” and even describes it as racist. By calling these settlements “colonias,” lawmakers continue to treat them as such. Scholars of informal housing practices state adamantly that the colonia phenomenon is not a temporary, aberrational, or wholly unique housing practice.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Nielsen, James Michael, "How the Other Half Continues to Live: A Rhetorical, Nuanced Redefining of the Colonia Phenomenon" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10277235.