The Violence of Abstract Space: Contested Regional Developments in Southern Mexico


  • Thanks to Greig Charnock, Paul Chatterton, Stuart Shields, Guido Starosta and five anonymous IJURR referees for very helpful comments on earlier drafts. Any mistakes are of course my own. A version of this article was presented at the 2010 annual conference of the Society of Latin American Studies, Bristol, UK. I acknowledge the financial support of the Economic and Social Research Council in funding much of the research presented here. Many thanks also to Ioanna Tantanasi and Nicholas Scarle for creating the map — again, I am solely responsible for any flaws in its accuracy.


The article proposes a reinterpretation of Henri Lefebvre's concept of abstract space, emphasizing the significance of the ‘violence of abstraction’ within the concept itself, and within the concrete process of the capitalist production of space. This interpretation of abstract space is developed through the case of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) as an ‘actually existing’ abstract space. Launched in 2001 and abandoned in 2008, the PPP was a regional development programme for southern Mexico and Central America, which aimed to transform this region from a peripheral zone of peasant agriculture and social unrest into a modernized node of the global economy through the construction of infrastructure networks and the restructuring of economic activity. Focusing on southern Mexico, I explore the symbolic, structural and direct forms of violence embodied in the PPP: its abstraction from the lived spaces of the region; its incorporation of the region into global circuits of capital; and its repression of a network of place-based resistances.