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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Sonia Alvarez

Second Advisor

Regine Spector

Third Advisor

Millie Thayer

Subject Categories

Community-Based Research | Comparative Politics | Latin American Studies | Migration Studies | Politics and Social Change | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social Justice


Moving beyond studies of social movements and NGOs, this dissertation examines how grassroots groups in Guatemala use transnational flows of goods, ideas, and people to create new organizational forms and types of political action. This case study of an organization of returned migrants, former combatants, and indigenous youth demonstrates how marginalized groups create platforms that facilitate connections between disparate actors across nation-state and identity borders. Drawing on field research in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, I explore how these platforms emerged, threats to them, their effects, and what they can teach us about political organizing in crisis. I begin by tracing the genesis of this organization from transnational migrant and fair-trade groups in the 2000s, showing how it built on and superseded these network(ed) movements. While platforms are often studied in the context of capitalist firms, my nine months of field research shows that they are present within civil society in the Global South and that they are shaped by particular violent contexts, in this case interpersonal violence and crime, racism, the legacy of civil war, migration, and free trade policies. By linking the interpersonal and structural, they challenge hegemonic representations of violence to multiple audiences. I also focus on the effects of these platforms through their facilitation of desires for development between Guatemalans and North American tourists, volunteers, and activists, including translating between multiple worldviews. This has had a profound effect especially in changing the position of women in several of the communities studied. While imbricated in the “third sector” of NGOs, my case study is an example of what I term entangled autonomy—the concrete practices by which radical organizations both use and refuse legibility and professionalization vis-à-vis the state, IGOs, and NGOs. The experience of civil society platforms challenges the vertical/horizontal dichotomy prevalent in social movement literature through its reconfiguration of inter and intraorganizational power dynamics. Marginalized actors use of these platforms to challenge structural issues demonstrate new modalities of transnational resistance in contemporary Central America.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.