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MEXTEARS Report Summary

Project ID: 302181
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - MEXTEARS (Tears in Mexico: A Cultural History of Emotions and Motivations)

Tears in Mexico: Emotions and Motivations

“Tears in Mexico: Emotions and Motivations” opens new perspectives on the study of Mexican history and culture by bringing analytical approaches from research in the field of the emotions to bear on key questions concerning the configuration of the social compact. By focusing on emotional bonds across time, it brings fresh thinking to our understanding of the multidirectional traffic in emotions in the colonial period, and major political and social phenomena of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, and their relationship to narratives of ethnicity, class, gender, violence, and change. The primary output is a book, provisionally titled The Crying Game in Mexico: 1520 to 2012, which aims to broaden the field of Mexican cultural history, where familiar conceptions of the past are enriched when explored with an eye to emotion. At the same time, through its focus on the Mexican experience, the book aims to make a major contribution to the history of the emotions, where there is an urgent need to expand the field beyond its largely European and US purview.

The project engages with some of the most persistent questions to have preoccupied students of Mexico of different periods concerning the social compact: its formation, its maintenance, and its ever present potential for dissolution. These questions have been formulated by Joseph and Nugent in the following terms: “Why have Mexico’s embattled power-holders repeatedly called upon campesinos, and why have the latter so often followed? Perhaps more important, what were the terms of engagement between the very different social groups involved, and how were those terms negotiated? These [...] remain the most tantalizing questions with which social historians of Mexico grapple.” On the whole, the explanatory frameworks put forward have tended to be economic, social, political and cultural, the latter broadly construed. And yet, unlike methodological developments in other geographical spheres, the emotions have not received the attention they merit as a motivating force in shaping social interactions in the Mexican context. My project is concerned less with why groups are fastened together, than with how, where the emotions act as an important gelling agent in the process. As sociologist Sara Ahmed has argued, the emotions are “sticky” – they glue people together; they also act as a repellent, pushing people apart.

Given the ambitious chronological span of the book – 1520-2012 -- the analysis centres on epiphenomenal moments of public weeping by key historical figures as a means of framing and containing its exploration of the social compact. To borrow Thomas Dixon’s term, some of these “lachrymose miniatures” have become etched in the national imagination. Fleeing from the Mexicas (or Aztecs) in 1520, before his subsequent triumph, Hernán Cortés is said to have sat down beneath a cypress tree to weep on what came to be known as the Night of Sorrows. Pancho Villa wept into a giant handkerchief for the still and moving cameras in a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Madero in December 1914. On 1 September 1982, José López Portillo wept in front of the national assembly and TV cameras in his final state-of-the-nation address in which he announced the nationalization of the banking system. Others are less familiar. In the early republican period, Santa Anna’s auto-obituary, penned on losing his leg, was read out from broadsheets in the capital, “causing Mexican citizens to weep;” Santa Anna was also said to have wept when the leg was returned to him in his old age by a devotee. Additionally, they have the potential to surprise us. Contrary to the austere and self-contained image we have inherited of Porfirio Díaz, he was known by his detractors as the “Llorón de Icamole,” (Cry Baby of Icamole) owing to his defeat in the Battle of Icamole on 20 May 1876, during the turbulent years of the Restored Republic (1867-76). He, too, publicly broke down in tears, to be lampooned in political cartoons and journalistic satires published by the independent press. Finally, in a TV “spot” that broadcast in June 2012 during the presidential elections, the easy-on-the-eye candidate for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), Enrique Peña Nieto, welled up. Timed to coincide with fathers' day, in the spot he recalled the father who missed out on the pride of witnessing his son’s political success; once in power, after a brief honeymoon period, the new PRI has seriously misjudged the emotional temperature of civil society.

Work carried out
The Marie Curie fellowship involved an outgoing phase of two years at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas/Históricas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a one-year reintegration phase at the University of Durham, UK. Work carried out to achieve the project’s aims during the outgoing phase of the fellowship combined (i) desk-based research (extensive reading in the history and theory of the emotions produced over the past twenty years or so and Mexican cultural history); (ii) work in Mexico’s principal archives, Hemeroteca Nacional of the UNAM, the Archivo General de la Nación; Centro de Estudios Espinosa Yglesias; Archivo Porfirio Díaz, Universidad Iberoamericana, among others; attendance at two training courses, “La palabra y la imagen en los códices nahuas”, “Paleografía hispánica y novohispánica”. I was also able to participate in a number of research groups during my time in Mexico, and to travel and initiate collaborations with colleagues from elsewhere in the region, including Argentina, Colombia and Chile. These collaborations are on-going beyond the tenure of the fellowship. The reintegration phase was largely spent working on the manuscript of my book project and disseminating the project’s findings both in the UK, and beyond in seminars and conferences in Canada, the United States and China. One of the highlights of the re-integration phase was an outreach opportunity to teach about my Mexican experience at the local Beverley School for Children and Young People with Autism, in Middlesbrough, UK, which will lead to a long-term link between Durham University and Beverley School.

Primary Results
The primary results are a single-authored book The Crying Game in Mexico: 1520-2012, which argues for the importance of an understanding of the role of the emotions in both Mexican history and contemporary political life and the formation of an interdisciplinary team of researchers dedicated to emotions research in Latin America. The Crying Game in Mexico aims to make a timely contribution both to Mexican cultural history and to the history and theory of the emotions, by bringing together two areas of discrete inquiry in order to inject new thinking into each. Moreover, it intersects with issues of public import. As Martha Nussbaum states in the opening lines of her 2013 book, Political Emotions: “All societies are full of emotions. [...] The story of any day or week in the life of even a relatively stable democracy would include a host of emotions -- anger, fear, sympathy, disgust, envy, guilt, grief, many forms of love.” Indeed, in the context of the recent upsurge in narco-related violence and the disappearance of 43 student teachers on 26 September 2014 in the town of Iguala – an act of violence that hit international headlines -- the story of contemporary public life in Mexico is arguably hyper-suffused with emotions. In the absence of a developed academic or public discourse focussed on the emotions, The Crying Game will illuminate the contemporary situation through its focus on the place of the emotions in historical perspective.

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