Migration, common property, and communal labor: Cultural politics and agency in a Mexican village

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59 Scopus citations


This article examines the politics of migration in an indigenous Oaxacan village (Mexico), and finds that the village acts, with measured success, to shape the timing and rhythm of migration. Villagers regard migration as necessary yet problematic. Migration provides income for village families yet undercuts traditions of community service and disrupts the integrity of local development networks that link the community to NGOs, state bureaucracies, and product markets. As a consequence, villagers engage in a cultural politics of negotiation and contestation that moulds both the meanings of migration, and the village social practices that regulate migration. Regulation operates via the setting of norms for village communal labor participation: those who do not undertake assigned tasks (cargos and tequios) face loss of usufruct of communal lands. This finding of strong sending community agency is contrasted with recent migration studies that emphasize the agency of migrant networks and transnational spaces. The paper presents a case study of migration that examines the exercise of community agency via collective labor participation, and the study concludes by calling for a greater analytical focus on the cultural politics of sending communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-494
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The researcher would like to thank the people of Santa Cruz for their support during this project. In addition, Jeffrey Cohen, David Runsten, Political Geography editor John O’Loughlin, and three anonymous reviewers have provided thoughtful insights that substantially improved the quality of this paper. The author, however, retains responsibility for any remaining errors and omissions. Research support was provided by UC Mexus, CIESAS-Oaxaca (Centro de Investigacion y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social), and a Fulbright grant.


  • Cultural politics
  • Migration-Mexico
  • Village governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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