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Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile Hardcover – Jun 5 2012
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From the Inside Flap
In this highly sophisticated take on the ironies of neoliberal social reforms, the corporate sector, consumer culture, and chronic underemployment, nothing can be read literally. Han transforms underclass urban ethnography in Latin America by bringing readers directly into the intimate flow of relationships, experiences, and emotions in family life on the margins of Santiago, Chile." -Kay Warren, Director, Pembroke Center, Brown University.
"People-centered, movingly written, and analytically probing, Life in Debt deals with both the human costs and the changing structures of power driven by contemporary dynamics of neoliberalism. Combining a deep and nuanced understanding of Chile's history with a longitudinal and heart-wrenching field-based knowledge of the everyday travails of the urban poor, Clara Han has crafted an exceptional analysis of human transformations in the face of political violence and economic insecurity." -João Biehl, author of Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment
"During ten years, Clara Han has gathered fragments of biographies and moments of lives to recreate the experience of Chileans after Pinochet’s dictatorship. Her vivid ethnography plunges into the moral economy of a society entangled between memory and pardon, revealing the ethical work undertaken by those who accept the present without disclaiming the past." -Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, author of Humanitarian Reason
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
About half the book describes the lives of people - largely women - living in a poblacion (a poor area) of Santiago. This is interspersed with background information and (what I assume is) anthropological interpretation. I cannot really comment on the analysis as it uses a technical vocabulary and make references to people I haven't read (for what it's worth, from my uneducated POV, it sometimes states the obvious, sometimes provides insight, and sometimes seems like bull).
The descriptions of life in the poblacion are often harrowing. I live in a rich area of Santiago and have little direct experience of some of the things described (for example, I know no-one that uses pasta base). But where the text does cross my experience it rings completely true. And it is well-observed, with an eye for detail that can sometimes be amusing.
Many of the descriptions included transcribed conversations and direct quotes. These are in English; the translation is very literal, often favouring homonyms over accuracy ("contento" is translated as "content", not "happy"; perhaps in some contexts that would be correct, but there are many more examples). If you speak Spanish then it is easy to "hear" was actually said (in the original language), but if you speak only English then some parts may be misleading or confusing. I am sure Clara Han's Spanish is better than mine (I don't see how someone could write a book like this without being completely fluent) so I wonder if this is deliberate.
One obvious absence is the experience of men. It's unfair to call this a criticism of the current book, which stands as a complete work, but I think that viewpoint could have taught me more.
I hesitate to say that I am enjoying this book, but I am glad to be reading it (slowly; I have not yet finished) and I am thankful that Clara Han took the time to do this work. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wonders what life is like here for the people you meet as nanas and mayordomos. It helps explain current politics and anger. On the other hand, it also makes some attitudes (even) harder to understand... [update: this is addressed, tangentially, later in the book].