“How do we not go back to the factory?” Negotiating neoliberal conditions in a Latina-led transnational development organization in El Paso (Texas)

Anthony Michael Jimenez, University of Texas at El Paso


Background. As the structure of the global economy shifted the United States' manufacturing base South of the U.S-Mexico in the years up to and post-NAFTA, thousands of women of Mexican descent residing in El Paso (Texas) were displaced from their garment factory jobs and left without social, political and economic support. Subsequently, some of these women joined La Mujer Obrera, an organization committed to fostering community development for low-income women from both sides of the U.S-Mexico border. The organization faces difficulties in receiving economic aid from the local government, which is apparently due to their development model being incompatible with that of the city. Design. I utilize three components of Dorothy Smith's institutional ethnography: (1) in-depth interviews with 10 members of La Mujer Obrera and 6 city officials; (2) textual analyses of the documents reflecting La Mujer Obrera and the City of El Paso's development discourses and actions; and (3) participant observation. Results. Members of La Mujer Obrera and the City of El Paso establish two very different yet intersecting models of development based on holistic community empowerment and neoliberalism, respectively. While city officials' adherence to a neoliberal paradigm predisposes them to reject some of the organization's activities and aims, La Mujer Obrera's transnational orientation toward development opens up an alternative approach for thinking about gender, development and culture. Conclusion. Oriented by five feminist approaches toward development (Peet & Hartwick, 2009), this thesis makes four scholarly contributions: it (1) offers further critique of conventional models of development; (2) provides empirical evidence of gender subordination in neoliberal development discourse; (3) examines the relationship between certain texts (e.g., Empowerment Zone summary) and development discourse; and (4) presents a new paradigm for thinking about culture and its relevance in community development. With regard to (4), "culture as community capital" is introduced as a conceptual guide for converting heterogeneous intersections of oppression (Collins, 1991) into novel forms of symbolic capital. In terms of practical implications, this thesis provides development practitioners and policymakers a clear framework for understanding the importance and relevance of explicitly incorporating specific local-level needs and socio-demographic considerations (e.g., on gender and nationality) in development goals and discourse in order to foster comprehensive community growth.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Womens studies|Public policy|Gender studies|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Jimenez, Anthony Michael, "“How do we not go back to the factory?” Negotiating neoliberal conditions in a Latina-led transnational development organization in El Paso (Texas)" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1512619.