Criollo Entrepreneurialism: Transforming racial and class identities and social mobility among mixed-race Argentines Open Access

Kauko, Sara (Spring 2020)

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This dissertation examines how mixed-race people, i.e. criollos, aspire for and experience social mobility in Santiago del Estero, Argentina’s north-western interior. Historically, social mobility among criollos has been made difficult by the sociocultural imaginaries that conceive of Argentina as a white, middle-class country. Criollos have traditionally inhabited the society’s margins, where their role has been to represent Argentina’s folklore, or simply, to be the country’s ‘inconvenient other.’ While such race-class hierarchies persist in Argentina, today, criollos are gradually able to challenge them.

I argue that entrepreneurialism offers criollos new avenues to achieve this. Both as practice and as an attitude, entrepreneurialism is a socially sanctioned and encouraged way of being. In the Argentine public and political discourse, it is also celebrated as an Argentine way of being. To be an entrepreneur implies being a productive, contributing, and ‘legitimate’ member of the society. If historically, criollos’ skin color and geographical and cultural roots have kept them on the bottom of class-race hierarchies, being –and self-identifying as– an entrepreneur today helps them improve their socioeconomic position and aspire for a ‘middle-class lifestyle.’

By focusing on “criollo entrepreneurialism,” this dissertation contributes to research on social transformations in terms of social mobility and race, and their contentious relationship. Entrepreneurialism as an analytical lens helps to expand and advance that field. It allows for a simultaneous analysis on both race and class as dynamic and fluid, mutually constitutive social constructs. Further, my research also aims to push the geographical frontier of class and race-related research in Argentina, where anthropological inquiries on class tend to focus on the urban and economic centers –not the country’s poor hinterlands.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


I: Introducing the field

Santiago’s different sides




II: Economic and political context

The boom

The crisis before the boom

Corralito in Santiago

Consumer citizen; aspiring middle-class citizen

Entrepreneurial citizen

III: Chapter contents, research design and methods

Ethnographic sites in chapters

Chapter 1: “Legitimacy contested: Criollo entrepreneurs and the white middle-class”

Chapter 2: “Forms of capital and the ‘entrepreneurial framework’ of race, class, and status”

Chapter 3: “Body work and social capital among triathletes”

Chapter 4: “Between aspirations and progress: entrepreneurialism in a women’s cooperative”

Chapter 5: “Cultural capital, status, and legitimacy: mixed-race Santiagueños in higher education”


Beyond the methods

Chapter 1: Legitimacy contested: criollo entrepreneurs and the white middle-class

Chapter structure

The origins of the project

Criollo and the Argentine criollo

Authenticity contested: the case of Upianita

White, prosperous Argentina

The marginalized racial other and the making of the middle-class Argentina

Origin narratives: mythical facts and alternative stories

Entrepreneurial empowerment and claims to legitimacy


Chapter 2: Forms of capital and the ‘entrepreneurial framework’ of race, class, and status


Chapter structure

I: On Bourdieu: where class and status meet and merge

II: Social space and capital

Social capital

Cultural capital

III: Aspirational social mobility and the quest to middle-classness

IV: Race, ethnicity, and the parameters of whiteness

V: Race to socioeconomic mobility

VI: Entrepreneurialism and the neoliberal way of the world


Chapter 3: Body work and social capital among triathletes


Meeting Mario and arriving in Ironsport

Ironsport: a site for revolution

A gym, a track, and a coffee place

The ‘sporting field’

The interactive sporting field

“You’re not a model; you’re an athlete!”

Under surveillance; under construction

Discipline and approval

Entrepreneurial athletes

The lifestyle entrepreneur


Chapter 4: Between aspirations and progress: entrepreneurialism in a women’s cooperative


Chapter structure

Arriving in the Cooperativa Integral de Santiago del Estero

Institutional context

Cooperative entrepreneurialism in times of neoliberalism

Entrepreneurial identity: from an informal worker to an entrepreneur in a gendered ‘laborscape’

The cooperative as a platform for mobility and progress

Gendered entrepreneurialism

Chapter 5: Cultural capital, status, and legitimacy: mixed-race Santiagueños in higher education


Chapter structure

Laboratorio de Antropología, Universidad Nacional de Santiago del Estero

The university is for everybody. In Argentina, everybody is white

Democratizing education; perpetuating socioeconomic inequality

University, militancy, and legitimacy: the case of Jorge

University, legitimacy, identity: the case of Fátima

Capitalizing on education: the case of Matías



Part I: The ‘what?’

Part II: The ‘so what?’

Part III: The ‘how?’

Part IIII: Final thoughts


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