Materiality as a Method: Concrete

Funded by the Global Urban Humanities Initiatives at UC Berkeley, 2016


Looking at Mexico City through the lens of concrete might inspire accounts of solidity and permanence—values engendered in the ideals of the post-revolutionary nation project and the “Mexican Miracle.” This research starts from the material solidity of concrete but only to uncover the instability and the contradictions of the national-developmental project and the techno-political apparatuses required to sustain it.

I analyze the colonial populares (informal settlements) in the periphery of Mexico City as an entry point to study how control over- and management and distribution of cement and concrete have been integral to the operation of distinct modalities of power (from socialist to neoliberal) over the 20th century.

In Spring 2016, I ran fieldwork in Naucalpán de Juarez, where I interviewed self-builders and different actors involved in the cement supply chain. I then visited the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016, which exhibited manuals of self-build houses elaborated by architects and sponsored by Mexican cement companies in the 1980s. These experts were fundamental in promoting self-built dwellings with cement and concrete.

Maps: Nora Morales, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana
Photography: Ralf Korbmacher

© Nora Morales
Nora tracking our route on the GIS app
© Ralf Korbmacher
Research journal