Arbeitstitel des Dissertationsvorhabens

"New Public and Old Tradition in the Mexican Mall. Status, Safety and Social Division as central markers for Socio-spatial Practices in Puebla, Mexico"

Betreuung: Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kummels


Shopping malls are a global phenomenon that has transformed the urban landscape towards a division in homogenized spaces worldwide throughout the last decades. Nowadays, the number of malls seems countless. We find malls in almost every bigger city in the world. They offer a space where everybody, no matter where they are from, knows one’s way around. This intends to demonstrate that malls have a big impact on the development of cities worldwide, a fact that often is only noticed subconsciously by a city’s residents. Especially Mexico seems to offer a fertile ground for the success of malls as they offer a presumably needed safe and prestigious space for social encounter.

My research aims to investigate how the emergence of shopping-malls in Puebla and the resulting use and appropriation of central spaces by social actors has not only changed the urban landscape towards socially homogenized spaces, but the perception of what is considered to be a traditional public place. I argue that shopping-malls are not only centers for consumption, but important spaces for social encounters, the construction of a social identity and social life, where the dimensions of public and private become blurred. Therefore, I consider malls not as opponents to the traditional public space but as parts of the system of public spaces in Puebla.

For a better understanding of the topic, it is important to take a look at the specific constitution of Latin American or rather Mexican Cities. The working title above opens an area of conflict between a new form of public (space) and the “old” traditions in the context of a mall. It alludes to the importance of public spaces in Mexican cities where the central plaza pública, the so-called Zócalo, is the traditional central public meeting point with a tradition that goes back to pre-colonial times. Taking this fact into consideration makes it clear that the socio-spatial practices concerning the mall in a Mexican city need to be looked at from a different angle.

Puebla is known to be one of the safest cities in Mexico, meaning that the number of criminal cases here is still in a manageable size. Nonetheless, there exists a profoundly enshrined discourse of insecurity that increased immensely in the last years and influences the socio-spatial practices in the city. The fact that Puebla is not one of the often investigated megacities distinguishes my project from other studies in the field of urban anthropology. It is a conurbation that because of its size can be referred to as a metropolis but still seems to appear to their inhabitants as a smaller city, without the broad anonymity of large cities. This reflects on the discourses of the inhabitants considering the city they live in, which appears to be a prominent subject in their everyday life. I want to point out that processes of globalization, social exclusion and changing of traditions do not spare middle-scale cities. On the contrary, the dynamics that take place in those urban spaces may be even more visible, relevant, and impacting.