Conforming Disconformity: “Mestizaje”, Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism.

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In “Conforming Disconformity,” Alonso offers a critical look at how terms such as “hybridization”, “creolization” and “mestizaje” are used in contemporary scholarship. By tracing the genealogies of these terms, as they were used in the discourses of 20th century state intellectuals in Mexico, Alonso shows how the Mexican State has promoted notions of nationalism and mestizaje through the conforming of disconformity. The 'conforming of disconformity' refers to “bringing...conflicting elements into harmony” through the offering of a visible, yet regulated, hybridity. Through an analysis of the National Museum of Anthropology, as well as El Zocalo – Mexico City’s main plaza – Alonso illustrates that the regulated hybridity in the notion of mestizaje has often been promoted through “aesthetic statism” – the organization of public spaces to foster and support particular perceptions and constructions of nationalism.

This regulated hybridity, however, has often silenced indigenous voices, given a selective and partial valuation of particular aspects of indigenous history, and disregarded contemporary indigenous communities. Thus, by illuminating the genealogies of these terms, Alonso reminds us that the use of terms like “hybridization” and “mestizaje” may “unmask some ethnoracialisms…but mask others,” carrying with them histories that may influence current scholarship.

ilya ginzburg, "Cathedral at El Zocalo." November 11, 2004 via Flickr.

Editors' Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published other essays on nationalism and space. These essays include Arlene Dávila’s “Latinizing Culture: Art, Museums, and the Politics of U.S. Multicultural Encompassment” (1999), Federico Neiburg and Marcio Goldman’s “Anthropology and Politics in Studies of National Character” (1998), Akhil Gupta’s “The Song of the Nonaligned World: Transnational Identities and the Reinscription of Space in Late Capitalism” (1992), Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson’s “Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference” (1992), Iris Jean-Klein’s “Nationalism and Resistance: The Two Faces of Everyday Activism in Palestine during the Intifada” (2001), Suzana Sawyer’s “Bobbittizing Texaco: Dis-Membering Corporate Capital and Re-Membering the Nation in Ecuador” (2002), Dorothee Schneider’s “"I Know All about Emma Lazarus": Nationalism and Its Contradictions in Congressional Rhetoric of Immigration Restriction”  (1998), and Liisa Malkki’s “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity Among Scholars and Refugees” (1992).

Cultural Anthropology has published other essays on Mexico. These essays include Laura A. Lewis’ “Of Ships and Saints: History, Memory, and Place in the Making of Moreno Mexican Identity” (2001), James H. McDonald’s “Whose History? Whose Voice? Myth and Resistance in the Rise of the New Left in Mexico” (1993), Alejandro Lugo’s “Cultural Production and Reproduction in Ciudad Juárez , Mexico: Tropes at Play among Maquiladora Workers” (1990), Peter S. Cahn’s “Consuming Class: Multilevel Marketers in Neoliberal Mexico” (2008), and Elizabeth Emma Ferry’s “Inalienable Commodities: The Production and Circulation of Silver and Patrimony in a Mexican Mining Cooperative” (2002).

Cultural Anthropology has published other essays on Latin America and indignity. These essays include Sonia E. Alvarez, Arturo Arias and Charles R. Hale’s “Re-visioning Latin American Studies” (2011), Orin Starn’s “Here Come the Anthros (Again): The Strange Marriage of Anthropology and Native America” (2011), Lesley Gill’s “Creating Citizens, Making Men: The Military and Masculinity in Bolivia” (1997), and Michael Hathaway’s “The Emergence of Indigeneity: Public Intellectuals and an Indigenous Space in Southwest China” (2010).

About the Author

Ana Maria Alonso is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1988 and has since published numerous articles on ‘space and place’, ‘mestizaje’ and ‘public culture’ in both Mexico and the United States, as well as a book entitled Thread of Blood: Gender, Colonialism and Revolution in Mexico’s Northern Frontier (1995).

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. What are some other possible examples of ‘aesthetic statism’ in Mexico? In Latin America? In other countries around the world?

2. How can authoritative nationalist projects be ‘made strange’ or denaturalized enough for analysis?

3. Can the authoritative nationalist project of ‘conforming disconformity’ be understood as successful/generally accepted?

4. Are there other attempts at ‘conforming disconformity’ in projects of nationalism in other countries?

5. What are some other terms, often used in contemporary scholarship, that may have genealogies which could influence the message they are conveying?

6. Can we still employ terms such as “hybridity”, “creolization” and “mestizaje” in productive ways?

one_dead_president, "Templo Mayor in El Zocalo." November 11, 2004 via Flickr.

* CliNKer *, "El Zocalo Government Palace." November 11, 2004 via flickr.

kudumomo, "National Museum of Anthropology." November 11, 2004 via Flickr.


El Zocalo in Mexico City; ‘Disconformity’ incorporated into one space and representative of the 'official' nationalist project.

Raising the flag in El Zocalo; Nationalist Symbolism in El Zocalo

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