Issue 3: Media and Academia
Editorial team:
Olivia Boulton
Elliot Bullock
Rosa Coleman
Claire Corp
Adam Gayton
Warwick Sociology Journal
Issue three: Media
Olivia Boulton
Elliot Bullock
Rosa Coleman
Claire Corp
Adam Gayton
University of Warwick
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Issue 3: Media & Academia
Editorial introduction
Adam and the Journal Team
Five propositions to get you to take intellectual autonomy seriously- as addressed
by an academic to a student
Steve Fuller
Your ‘daily dose of Sociological Imagination’: reflections on social media
and public sociology
Mark Carrigan and Milena Kremakova
Why does Sociology need to take a closer, more serious look into the Internet
and ICTs?
Magdalena Urban
Un Juan Cualquiera: The Discourse of Mestizaje in a Mexican Telenovela
Linnete Manrique
Editorial Introduction
As technology develops, so does sociology. These developments in sociology can be seen very clearly
when looking at the evolution of the media. The creation of the internet, for example, has created a
whole new range of topics to be studied within the field of media, not only opening access to preexisting media such as newspapers and television, but new platforms of expression such as blogs
and social media. For this reason, this summer issue of the Warwick Sociology Journal is focused on
the connection between Media and Academia.
We have received a great response to our plea for submissions and eventually decided on the pieces
that follow as they show such a great range of topics. The focus on academic study can be seen
particularly in the first two pieces – featuring a message from academic Steve Fuller offering his
insight to students pursuing academic study and Carrigan and Kremakova discussing how online
blogging helps not only to develop their thought process but offers a way to get early feedback on
areas that might require further study. Following these, Urban highlights the delay that sociology has
seen in approaching the ‘New Media’ and Manrique offers a brilliantly detailed look at the use of
telenovelas in Mexico as a form of social control.
The first piece in the summer edition of the journal is written by Steve Fuller - a well-known
academic within our Sociology Department - and looks at academic study in the contemporary
university. Fuller offers his own perspective on intellectual autonomy, giving students an insight into
how he perceives intellectual life so that they can be better prepared and know what to expect by
drawing on his advice. We recommend a further reading of the topic which Fuller has written about
in ‘The Sociology of Intellectual Life’.
Carrigan and Kremakova write about the use of blogging online. This is an interesting topic relating
to both media and academia and it looks at the way that sociologists can, and do, approach this new
media in their work. They discuss blogging as a useful tool in collaboration with academic study, as it
can be helpful to put ideas into the blogosphere that are not yet fully developed and gain useful
feedback which can help in deciding the direction of their research and develop their own thoughts.
This skips over the long publishing process involved in a lot of academic work. Visit their website to see more of their writing and ideas.
Urban’s piece highlights how slow sociology as a field has been to accept and approach ICT as a
development of the media. Not only does it offer a great range of new topics to research and
developments to existing theories (such as access to knowledge based on access to the internet), it
also offers a great way to research topics. The internet presents us with a massive amount of data
which can really enrich a wide variety of fields of research and there is also the case for the internet
allowing better access and easier communication with people around the world.
Manrique answered a call for submissions from Goldsmiths, University of London – an institution
that has such a great reputation for media and communications that we wanted to make sure they
would have the chance to be involved in this particular issue. Manrique discusses telenovelas (which
can be likened to a soap opera), a more traditional form of media than discussed elsewhere in the
journal, whose very detailed look into the use of telenovelas in Mexico as a form of social control
serves to highlight how much of an impact the media, old as well as new, has on our lives. There are
several examples, one being the role allocation within these telenovelas being obviously biased by
skin colour, with lighter skinned mestizos in more prominent roles, and more indigenous looking
people playing secondary characters. Another example is that these shows reinforce capitalist ideals
by depicting individuals as being able to move freely up the social classes simply by their own
behaviours and motives, without being impeded by social structures. This gives an interesting
international perspective on media and how it can be studied elsewhere.
Thank you for taking the time to read our summer issue of the Warwick Sociology Journal, it has
been great hearing from so many of you and we’ve really enjoyed putting this issue together.
Adam and the Journal team
Five propositions to get you to take intellectual autonomy seriously- as addressed by an academic
to a student
Steve Fuller
1. If academics are in any sort of business, it is that of cultivating autonomy – that is, the
capacity to speak on one’s own behalf, defend oneself against opponents and bear the
consequences of one’s own actions. In effect, we are in the business of manufacturing
people whose judgements we can respect. It means that we take these people so seriously
that our opinions might come to change in light of what they say. When academics speak
nostalgically of the ‘Humboldtian’ university, we mean exactly this. It is the belief that a
specific institutional arrangement might turn ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ into free ‘citizens’ who
have no need to rely on – or be dismissed because of – their background when they make
claims in the public sphere. But this means that we need to exemplify the ideal in our own
practice. Autonomy is not well served when students are faced with a lecturer whose brain
is no better than his laptop or her arguments don’t rise above the bullet points on the
screen. You are right to ask for your money back in such situations. Students are paying to
see an exemplar of Enlightenment in action, not a bionic textbook.
2. Pastoral concern for students, at least as in loco parentis, is anathema to the academic
sensibility. To be sure, you may need various forms of personal support in your time as a
student, but our aim throughout should not be to reassure you that everything is OK. On the
contrary, we aim to push you out of your comfort zone into a more expansive embrace of
the best that humanity has to offer. If this is too much for you, then you should seek help
not from an academic but from some health professional on your campus – or perhaps seek
some other form of tertiary sector training than a university education. Our modus operandi
as academics is much closer to a personal trainer or even boot camp sergeant than a
psychiatrist or priest. Indeed, we academics may have been too fixated on specifically
cognitive benchmarks for university admission, to the exclusion of more general personality
3. If you are expected to prove your competence in writing, then time spent talking to me
about your assignment is potentially wasted, if not an outright effort to bias my judgement
in your favour – say, by appearing solicitous or charming. Your best course of action is to
send some draft text and gratefully receive my written remarks. Even if what I write is
useless, you’ll at least get used to the medium in which you’re being evaluated. The
translation of thought or speech into writing is not a trivial skill. More to the point, talk is
cheap in pedagogical contexts, unless students are assessed in talk, as in the oral exams that
still conduct vis-à-vis doctoral theses. Of course, if you’re genuinely interested in more
general issues sparked by the topic, then by all means speak to me – but with the
understanding that most of what transpires will probably not be of direct relevance to any of
your assignments.
4. Whenever I say that your research ideas are ‘worth pursuing’, you should not let this
blandishment wash over you as an automatic compliment. Further clarification is needed. I
may simply mean that you are well prepared to pursue THIS PERFECTLY PEDESTRIAN TOPIC.
This may reflect my relatively low assessment of your capacities vis-à-vis your chosen task,
rather than anything to do with the intrinsic value of the task, which I may regard as minor
but harmless and suited to your meagre talents. In that respect, I am certainly crediting you
with knowing your own limits – but no more than that. To be sure, Aristotle – and perhaps
even Socrates -- would be pleased. But that doesn’t mean that I will regard you as some sort
of genius if you manage to achieve the entirely feasible! No, you will have simply conformed
to predictable mediocrity. It’s a point to keep in mind if, emboldened by your success, you
then request a letter of recommendation from me.
5. Plagiarism is not a crime but an extreme sport. If I can’t spot that you’ve lifted material from
someone else, then you should get a free pass because you’ve overcome the seemingly
insuperable barrier posed by my competence. Using machines to detect plagiarism
constitutes cheating on my part, reflecting a neo-liberal reduction of authenticity to respect
for copyright. There is no crime in realizing that someone else has already said better what
you would like to say now. Indeed, you may have put a lot of effort into finding this wellphrased text, which very likely came from a rather different context from your own. To be
sure, all of this may be for better or worse, depending on whether your plagiarised stuff is
any good, which pertains to the quality and appropriateness of what’s on the page,
regardless of who originally said it. And this is something that you should wish me to judge,
since it is very likely that you will end up in fields or jobs where skill at identifying and
framing relevant information is paramount. And whatever else one wishes to say about
plagiarism, a good plagiarist is good at that.
Steve Fuller is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. He has written extensively on
the university, including The Sociology of Intellectual Life (Sage, 2009). The views expressed in this
piece do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Warwick. You can follow him on
twitter at @profstevefuller.
Your ‘daily dose of Sociological Imagination’: reflections on social media and public sociology
Mark Carrigan and Milena Kremakova
This website’s raison d’etre was initially nebulous, tentative and ambitious all at the same time: we
wanted to create a new online space for public sociology. We hoped to establish something that
was more than a blog, yet neither an institutionally bound magazine, nor an academic journal. The
existence of such a space would allow us to channel the eclectic range of interesting and useful
content that we found ourselves wanting to share and publicise, as people who had much broader
interests than our respective research topics. We also envisaged site to be independent from the
academic institution/s or other workplaces at which we found ourselves at that moment or in the
future. The very first post on the Sociological Imagination (hereafter also abbreviated as SI) pledged
to ‘offer an ongoing forum within which the ethical and political commitments underlying much
sociology can be explicitly and passionately linked to the actual practice of social research itself.’
Over time, the site’s purpose has stabilised in a pleasingly organic way and today it resembles a
Boing Boing or Brainpickings for sociologists. We publish original articles, commentaries on current
events or debates, research profiles and podcast interviews, as well as a diverse range of multimedia
material from across the web. We have also begun to post calls for papers and event
announcements, sometimes for projects in which we are involved ourselves, but more usually simply
because we have read about them and found them interesting, or people have requested our help
with promoting something and we are keen that the site be useful to others. In short, SI tries to
provide a ‘community service’ to other sociologists by pooling together a serendipitous range of
relevant sociological content and allowing space for both silent reading and public engagement.
At the time of writing, with the site’s third birthday imminent, it had received 263,523 visits (with
196,559 unique) and 396,773 page views. 35.7% of these visitors came from the US, 24.3% came
from the UK, and other countries where the site is popular include Canada, Australia, Philippines,
India, Germany and South Africa. The website had 5,371 twitter followers (now 10,000+) and 721
facebook friends. We have posted at least once daily, with the initial post always at 8am leading to a
current total of 1,371 posts. The regular 8 am post happened somewhat accidentally, but we
decided to stick to it for the sake of consistency – and also, thinking of UK-based readers, it was a
convenient time at the start of the working day. We imagined sociology-minded readers sitting
down at their desks with a cup of coffee in the morning and waking up their own sociological
imaginations by reading something brief and intriguing which they might otherwise not have found.
This regularity led one twitter follower to describe the site as their ‘daily dose of the sociological
imagination’ which we adopted as a slogan for the site, though it has more recently been supplanted
by ‘committing sociology’ in homage to the diverting statement that ‘this is not a time to commit
sociology’ made by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the wake of a foiled terror attack (25
April, 2013).
While the nature of the site has transformed into something predominately curatorial, collating all
manner of multi-media material which we think both sociologically interesting and likely to interest
sociologists, we do have an increasing sense that websites like ours have a more important role to
play in academic life. They have the potential to establish and practice a more visible and more
accessible sociology (and other disciplines). This is relevant both outside of and within higher
education. The blogosphere provides a space for many elements which are often squeezed out by
competition and specialisation in the neoliberal academy: discussions of scholarship and workflow,
debates over broader disciplinary and professional questions, and an engagement with intellectual
questions which is fun, driven by curiosity and purged of instrumental motivations.
The first of these topics in particular poses a challenge to digital sceptics who would see online
activity as a diversion from the ‘real’ business of academic life. This attitude, however, neglects the
fact that illuminating, sophisticated and reflective discussions about scholarship and work in
progress are increasingly common online and, in a more quotidian sense, the full range of social
media tools being used by academics are making formerly ‘backstage’ aspects of academic practice
newly visible. Moreover, these type of discussions are often more fruitful than traditional academic
modes of publishing because of the frequency with which they take place across, often even relying
on, boundaries of specialisation. One of us has written elsewhere about the idea of continuous
publishing and its benefits not only for readers, but also for the writer (Carrigan & Lockley, 2013). If
we treat academic blogging as a continuous mode of publishing (that is, a continuous mode
of making work public), the blog becomes an active space in which to brainstorm and store new
ideas, catalogue notes on literature, reflect on fieldwork, develop future texts or projects, organise
and refine your thoughts and arguments, and – thanks to its publicity – engage in discussion with
others. Importantly, it can also help fight writer’s block and procrastination. Furthermore, the
relatively insubstantial time investment required to follow someone’s blog or twitter feeds means it
becomes possible to learn about particular topics, sometimes whole areas of inquiry, in a way which
simply would not be feasible if the only option was to reach journal articles or monographs outside
of one’s own research specialisation (because of time constraints, the financial expense required, or
even because of not knowing about their existence).
There is an important sense in which the scholarly web is becoming a playground for para
academics: the torrents of open culture both demand and reward creative engagement outside ones
own formal training. However, what is even more exciting is the extent to which digital
communication makes sociology visible and accessible outside the academy – to those who have
completed sociology degrees or other qualifications but have long since drifted away, as well as
others who simply stumble across sociological materials online (the frequency with which this occurs
suggests that, contra sceptics, the internet will not lead to the death of serendipity). As a
sociological tool, websites like SI have several important advantages over traditional academic
First and foremost, sites such as SI have a democratising effect on sociology. They offer the
potential of both instant and continuous feedback – without requiring it. Unlike a journal
article, they can host comments and discussions literally on the same page as the text which
prompted them. They also allow almost real time written discussion which, unlike
conference papers, is unlimited in time and volume, yet is not forced upon those readers
who do not wish to comment.
They are displaced/placeless, allowing access to the content to anyone regardless of
limitations of place, time, disability, or other constraints.
They are an easy ways to record more fleeting and less well developed arguments which
could be (or not be) developed further at any time in the future, either by their author or by
a reader.
As we have both found by writing about eclectic content, and hopefully readers have also
found by reading it, this format gives food for thought and opens up new avenues for using
sociological tools for the analysis of new problems. Recently we have discovered and posted
about a new subfield of sociology called Astrosociology; about one scholar‘s work on 3D
visualisation of Kant‘s ‘Critique of pure reason’ which is redefining epistemology and the
sociology of learning, Animal studies, and other ‘niche’ topics within sociology about which
we previously knew little or nothing at all. The curatorial capacity in which we explore these
topics lends a purpose to the task of curiosity-driven exploration – which, in turn, belies the
oppressive habits of mind often introjected within graduate school, e.g. ‘I can’t waste time
on this just because it’s interesting.
Nonetheless, it still seems that a process of mainstreaming the digital, which has arguably begun in
some disciplines, remains far away in sociology. This creates a gap between traditional sociology
and the young, increasingly computer literate generations of sociology students and future
sociologists. There are notable exceptions (our favourite group blogs include Cyborgology,
Sociological Images and Everyday Sociology) and there has been an observable growth of
sociologists blogging in a personal capacity. Nonetheless the relative absence of sociological voices
from the blogosphere has been notable and, it seems, this is indicative of a broader failure to seize
the opportunities afforded by digital tools. Daniels and Feagin (2011) describe how the uptake of
digital tools in sociology lags behind that which can be seen in the humanities:
‘All these changes in scholarship have been taken up with a great deal more enthusiasm by
some in the academy than others. Our colleagues in the humanities have embraced digital
technologies much more readily than those of us in sociology or the social sciences more
generally. A casual survey of the blogosphere reveals that those in the humanities (and law
schools) are much more likely to maintain academic blogs than social scientists. In terms of
scholarship, humanities scholars have been, for more than ten years, innovating ways to
combine traditional scholarship with digital technologies. To name just a two examples,
scholars in English have established a searchable online database of the papers of Emily
Dickinson and historians have developed a site that offers a 3D digital model showing the
urban development of ancient Rome in A.D. 320. There are significant institutions being built
in the digital humanities including the annual Digital Humanities Conference, which began in
1989, and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities.
Sociology lags far behind in the adoption of digital tools for scholarly wor k. As Paul DiMaggio
and colleagues noted in 2001, “sociologists have been slow to take up the study of the
Internet” (“The Social Implications of the Internet,” Annual Review of Sociology, 2001, p.1).
While there are notable exceptions, such as Andrew Beveridge’s digitizing of Census maps
(, when looking at the field as a whole these sorts of innovations are
rare in sociology. In contrast to the decade-long conference in the digital humanities, there is
no annual conference on “digital sociology.” Sociology graduate students Nathan Jurgensen
and PJ Rey recently organized a conference on “Theorizing the Web,” that drew luminaries in
sociology Saskia Sassen and George Ritzer, but this is the first sociology conference (that we
are aware of) to focus exclusively on understanding the digital era from a sociological
perspective. Analogously, there is no large institution, like the NEH seeking to fund digitally
informed sociological research. The reasons for this sociological lag when it comes to the
Internet are still not clear, but some point to the problems of getting digital publication
projects recognized by tenure and promotion review committees.’
Though we are sympathetic to such arguments about the desirability of winning recognition for
digital publication projects, we would suggest that the point can be overstated and that,
furthermore, doing so risk losing sight of the unprecedented freedom presently afforded by these
technologies for para academics. Calls for ‘recognition’ of digital scholarship too easily collapse into
an instrumentalist logic which calls for blogging et al to be incorporated within the metrics of
prevailing audit culture. This is an understandable aim for those who are precariously situated
within the contemporary academy but nonetheless perhaps a short-sighted one. Digital
opportunities could too easily slide into digital opportunism: if ‘digital publication projects’ win
‘recognition’ within institutions then what is to stop the pathologies which afflict the contemporary
academy (audit culture, instrumentalism and alienation) migrating to the digital sphere? Is
institutional recognition of digital scholarship worthwhile if it distorts the practices (which at their
best are paradigmatic of communicating for its own intrinsic value rather than extrinsic institutional
rewards) which render digital scholarship attractive in the first place?
In the rest of this chapter we link C. Wright Mills’ concept of ‘sociological imagination’ with our own
experiences of learning, sharing, thinking and creating online as sociologists, as well as how this
work has mattered to us and, we hope, mattered to other people. Much of our discussion addresses
sociology (and sociologists) specifically because of our own academic circumstances and the
aforementioned digital lag observable when sociological engagement online is compared to other
disciplines. Nonetheless, we hope the discussion retains some relevance beyond the small corner of
the academy we contingently (and precariously) occupy.
The Sociological Imagination
The concept of Sociological Imagination entered circulation in the 1959 book of the same name by
the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills. It moves from a prophetic opening (‘Nowadays men often
feel that their private lives are a series of traps’) through to a lacerating critique of the dominant
trends within American sociology at the time (offering a scathing series of ‘translations’ of passages
taken from the grand doyen of 20th century American sociology, Talcott Parson, which though surely
offering amusement to endless cohorts of grad students, probably was not the author’s wisest
career move) and an elaborated vision of what sociology could be. This centres around the
eponymous concept of the Sociological Imagination – the quality of mind which ‘enables us to grasp
history and biography and the relations between the two within society’ and so ‘understand the
larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of
individuals’ (Mills, 1959: 5). In doing so, Mills laid out a vision for sociology, emphatically political
and engaged, founded on drawing out the interconnections between the grand sweep of history and
the unfolding of individual lives. However, it was far from universally praised at the time of
publication, as can be seen in the early review of the book by Edward Shils quoted in Gane and Back
“Imagine a burly cowpuncher on the long, slow ride from the Panhandle of Texas to Columbia
University, carrying in his saddle-bag some books which he reads with absorption while his
horse trots along. Imagine that among the books are some novels of Kafka, Trotsky’s History
of the Russian Revolution, and essays of Max Weber. Imagine the style and imagery that
would result from the interaction of the cowboy- student and his studies. Imagine also that en
route he passes through Madison, Wisconsin, that seat of a decaying populism and that, on
arriving at his destination in New York, he encounters Madison Avenue, tha t street full of
reeking phantasies of the manipulation of the human will and of what is painful to America’s
well-wishers and enjoyable to its detractors. Imagine the first Madison disclosing to the
learned cowpuncher his subsequent political mode, the second an object of his hatred…The
end result of such an imaginary grand tour would be a work like The Sociological Imagination”
Nonetheless, the book has come to be seen as a sociological classic, not least of all because of the
value which so many sociologists have recurrently found in its passionate challenge to the
professionalisation of sociology and the ivory tower intellectualism which it can so often engender.
Crucially, the sociological imagination is not something over which professional sociologists can be
said to have a monopoly. Indeed the extent to which this sensibility finds itself manifested within
the academy can be taken as an index of the relative vitality or otherwise of the discipline. Mills was
intensely critical of the professional sociology from which he found himself ever more estranged
over time, lamenting the tendency of his contemporaries to ‘slip so readily into unintelligibility’. He
identified the roots of this problems as inhering in the widespread tendency within the
professionalising sociology of his time to self-consciously seek legitimation as a scientific discipline.
As Gane and Back (2012) go on to write,
‘For sociology to be to be effective, especially beyond the academy, it must have literary
ambitions. Mills’ assessment of the quality of the sociological writings of his time is damning.
He argues that there is a “serious crisis in literacy” in which sociologists are “very much
involved” (1959:239). Mills’ position here is an extension of his earlier attack on Parsons and
Lazarsfeld, and is just as fierce in tone. He observes that “a turgid and polysyllabic prose does
seem to prevail in the social sciences” (Mills, 1959:239), and adds that this style of writing
has nothing to do with the complexity of the subject matter. Mills explains the prevalence of
this style, instead, in terms of a quest for status. He declares: “Desire for status is one reason
why academic men slip so readily into unintelligibility. And that, in turn, is one reason why
they do not have the status they desire” (Mills, 1959:240). This thirst for status is said to be
driven by an underlying desire for the sociologist to achieve recognition as a “scientist”;
something, he argues, that led to sociology written in clear and accessible prose (including,
presumably, his own work) to be dismissed by many as mere journalism.’
Mills saw the promise of sociology as being undermined by this quest for status and the sclerotic
forms of expression he saw associated with it, with sociologists prone to ‘stereotyped ways of
writing which do away with the full experience by keeping them detached throughout their
operations’ almost as if ‘they are deadly afraid to take chance of modifying themselves in the
process of their work’ (Mills, 2001: 111). He saw this failure of vision and expression in what could
almost be construed as epochal terms, representing a failure of sociological imagination at precisely
the moment when this distinctive sensibility was most needed. Mills was, in many ways, estranged
from the academic establishment and this was, in part, both cause and a consequence of his
critique. This estrangement gave him a degree of intellectual freedom from the cultural norms
prevalent within the professional sociology of his day and this was in turn entrenched by the manner
in which he employed that freedom to pull apart many of the orthodoxies which he saw as so
inimical to his understanding of sociology’s promise.
This estrangement can be overstated and, though this is a chapter about para academic life, it would
be manifestly untrue to suggest by way of ahistorical retrospection that Mills himself was a para
academic. Clearly he was not. Nonetheless, he could, perhaps, serve a viable role model for para
academics – in his case the estrangement was predominantly cultural rather than structural but,
nonetheless, there was estrangement. The relationship between his unceasingly critical orientation
towards professional sociology and the profoundly creative use of the freedom afforded to him by
this critical outlook and relative estrangement is worth reflecting on. His position in relation to the
sociological establishment afforded him a degree of freedom and he used this to diagnose the ills
which afflicted the sociology of his day and, crucially, pursued a lifelong project of rethinking
sociological craft in view of these disciplinary and institutional ailments.
We would suggest that the blogosphere affords a parallel degree of freedom to para academics: a
place of respite from the distorting tendencies engendered by the pursuit of status within higher
education. While our discussion in this chapter focus predominantly on blogging, there is a broader
claim to be made here about ‘digital scholarship’ and its complex relationship to the broader
academic world within which it is emerging. The notion of digital scholarship drawn upon here is
largely that offered by Weller (2012) who understands the constitution of a ‘digital scholar’ in a
deliberately open way:
‘A digital scholar need not be a recognised academic, and equally does not include anyone
who posts something online. For now, a definition of someone who employs digital,
networked and open approaches to demonstrate specialism in a field is probably sufficient to
It would be absurd to claim that all digital scholars are para academics – manifestly this is not the
case. Nor would it be tenable to suggest that all para academics are, could or should become digital
scholars (even if we would not be surprised if this happens in a couple of decades when today’s
youngest generations enter professional research). Nonetheless, we argue there is a contingent
complementarity between the role of the digital scholar and that of the para academic, with the
embrace of the former offering substantial opportunities to those thrown into the latter role. As
Weller (2012) goes on to observe, ‘in a digital, networked, open world people become less defined
by the institution to which they belong and more by the network and online identity they establish’
and, as a consequence, ‘a well-respected digital scholar may well be someone who has no
institutional affiliation’. Part of the difficulty faced by those precariously employed within the
academy is the long standing dependence of those so positioned on institutions as the means
through which one can come to articulate a viable and efficacious professional identity. This is
precisely the dependence which digital scholarship is weakening and it is for this reason that we
should treat calls for digital scholarship to be ‘recognised’ with caution.
The risk is that incorporating digital outputs too readily into the evaluative frameworks of
contemporary higher education might erode many of the things which are so refreshing about the
uses which academics are making of these online tools. As it stands academic bloggers enjoy a
degree of freedom from the sorts of pressures which concerned Mills, which have surely only
intensified and expanded since the time he was writing, which makes it imperative that this not be
threatened through too hasty a process of mainstreaming. Digital scholarship can, at its best, allow
alternative infrastructures of communication and evaluation to emerge which, as well as being
personally liberating to those active within them, holds out the promise of providing an independent
vantage point from which the deleterious tendencies within the broader academy can be identified,
analysed and resisted. This can take a variety of forms:
The boundary between academic scholarship and ‘public engagement’ becomes blurred.
Even digital scholarship geared towards a narrowly specialised audience enjoys an intrinsic visibility
which traditional scholarship does not. In so far as digital scholars work with an awareness of this
visibility it inculcates a tendency towards openness, in the sense of disrupting many of the habitual
modes of academic expression which are intricately tied up in traditional modes of academic
publishing. Or in other words: it’s easier to avoid the temptation to use jargon when blogging than it
is when writing a journal article because you are aware that readers of the former are far more
unlikely to understand the jargon than readers of the latter. The tendency to ‘slip so readily into
unintelligibility’ decried by Mills is checked by the peculiarly public form of writing entailed by
blogging and other modes of digital scholarship.
This visibility goes hand-in-hand with discoverability. It is easier to discover those engaged
in digital scholarship both for others within the academy and those outside it. This has important
implications for the public status of academic work. While the traditional understanding of public
intellectualism has been bound up in broadcast media, digital communications
facilitates narrowcasting (Poe, 2012). The image of the public intellectual as a world renowned
figure communicating globally about issues of universal concern can give way to a much more
democratic image of academics in general communicating about their research to those who find it
interesting. There will always be such an audience, no matter how niche the topic appears to be, yet
prior to digital communications it was impossible to establish the necessary connections – hence the
hegemony of the broadcast model of public intellectualism.
Many taken for granted norms pertaining to scholarly communications are, at least in part,
functions of the limitations inherent in non-digital communication systems. For instance as Weller
(2011: 156) observes, ‘a journal article is a certain length, and the journal publication cycle is
determined as much by the economics of printing as it by any consideration of the best methods for
sharing knowledge’. This is an example of an interconnection between form (the journal article) and
function (communication of scholarly knowledge) having been shaped by the economics of analogue
technology. Digital technology creates opportunities to find innovative forms for long standing
functions and because of their relatively peripheral status within the academy, para academics are
best placed to undertake the innovation and experimentation to which this digital turn so naturally
Digital scholarship also tends to reveal the linkages between what Bourdieu (2003) describes
as public scholarship and private commitment. Whereas the two are clearly demarcated within
mainstream academic culture, with the legitimacy of the former often seen to rest on the exclusion
of the latter, digital communication tends to preclude such a demarcation. This helps create the
possibility of a more up front and less alienated social science, more open to those outside the
academy and clearer about the beliefs and values which underlie scholarly projects.
Some of the advantages of para academic work are accompanied with disadvantages. As
Weller (2012) observes, peer networks are integral to scholarship, representing the ‘people who
scholars share ideas with, collaborate with on research projects, review papers for, discuss ideas
with and get feedback from’. Yet, before the rise of the internet and, more latterly and significantly,
social networking tools, the constitutions of this peer network was limited to those with whom one
interacted in person on a regular basis. The rise of Internet communication has enabled ‘scholars to
build up a network of peers who perform the same role in their scholarly activity as the networks
founded on face-to-face contact’ thus reducing the disadvantages inherent in the enforced mobility;
however, the basic inequality between the para academic and the traditionally employed academic
remains, for example in caused by the relative lack of resources and precarious employment
conditions which typically characterise the working life of the para academic.
Our Sociological Imagination
This project has value for us because of both its sheer continuity (we have worked willingly on the
site for three years now) but also the independence which that continuity has in relation to each of
our respective trajectories through the (para)academic world. It is something which has consistently
accompanied us in our professional involvements, in the sense that it has had direct and indirect
implications for our other activities and professional identities, however it has always been
experientially distinct from these. We experience it as a form of free space which provides a public
forum for what is otherwise private activity: thinking, reading around other subjects, and generally
having fun through understanding society and developing analytical tools. The fun and creative
aspect of sociology seems to be insufficiently present in the academic curriculum: or at least less so
than in mathematics and computer science (as one of us has discovered through her recent
fieldwork). It would probably be inaccurate to suggest the project is utterly insulated from
instrumental reasons, but these are entirely secondary: i.e., we have become aware of ways in which
the project has been instrumentally useful to us but we never sought to pursue it for these reasons.
It is a liberating counterbalance to the frequently stifling and laborious experiences of writing
conference papers, articles for publication, or a PhD thesis. The effort that goes into crafting a small
SI piece is sometimes no smaller than the effort that went into an equally-sized portion of a journal
paper. But each SI article is driven by pure curiosity and interest – and some are more polished than
others. Part of this freedom, obviously, comes with the different genre and size of the articles that
appear on SI. Most of the site’s content is written in a less formal style and the range of possible
formats is almost infinite, unlike the strictly regimented format and style of, say, journal articles in
sociology. Over the years, we have both found that this free format is precisely what has allowed us
to post consistently, regardless of any other commitments we have, so as to never put off writing an
SI post when an interesting idea comes to mind. We have developed an informal writing style, much
like a cross between sociology and journalism, but without losing the ability to write serious pieces.
Furthermore, it is partly thanks to this free format that we have gained an eclectic range of both ad
hoc and consistent contributors, some of whom are freelance sociologists, others students in the
social sciences, others in academic positions, and yet others non-sociologists who have an interest
and something to say about one of our topics.
Our consistent sociological ‘thinking aloud’ through SI has certainly been beneficial for our personal
writing abilities, but more importantly, this format has suited the purpose of what we imagine as
public sociology. It is sociology spilling out of the confines of academia into the broader world, but
without completely severing the link with academic research or losing sight of the worthwhile
aspects of research embedded within institutions. Admittedly, the informality and the lack of
restraints on format also pose constrains: while the range of SI topics is wide, the coverage tends to
be superficial, contrary to the very narrow focus of a journal or conference paper (although some of
the posts have featured extensive literature research and analysis and could well form drafts for
academic papers or book chapters). This is why we do not see SI as something that either of us could
do full-time, or something for which we ought to abandon our other (academic or non-academic)
research which affords us the depth and engagement with one particular sociological topic or
subdiscipline. In fact, our work on SI has benefitted from our respective academic work and our
empirical research experience – just as it, in turn, neatly complements our other academic and nonacademic work.
Although the Sociological Imagination exists predominantly online, it often leaves the virtual world
and crosses over to offline activities, some of which can be seen as academic and others para
academic. An example of this cross-over is a workshop which we organised in June 2011, devoted to
the sociology of sport. The workshop took place at Warwick University (where both of us were then
based). It brought together three researchers in the sociology of sport, was easily accessible to
anyone at the university, and open to anyone else outside the university who was able to attend.
The ‘offline’ workshop was preceded by a week of one or two daily posts on different aspects of
sociology of sport, introducing researchers and guest articles, and followed by audio and video
podcasts of the presentations and discussions. Since neither of us is a specialist in the sociology of
sport, we did not write original articles, but approached several researchers of sport for guest
contributions. Our role as editors focused on finding relevant authors and contributions, curating
interesting content, linking the online theme with the workshop, planning and crafting each of the
posts, and providing both an online and a physical space for researchers and students interested in
sociological aspects of sport. The Week of Sport on SI thus had several functions: on the one hand, it
resulted in a typical academic workshop, but on the other, the it was also a joint online-offline
space-time which created a forum for topic-driven public sociology, publicising the work of
researchers and accessible to anyone with an interest in the topic, including our online readers who
could not attend the workshop. This and other occasions when we have linked SI with the ‘offline
world’ have been equally rewarding in terms of quality of discussion, the possibility for us or our
readers to follow up on an interesting topic or meet interesting researchers in real (or virtual) life.
In its own limited and local way, this felt as if the digital activity which had become so important to
us had ‘spilled over’ from its artificial mooring with the ‘virtual’ world, coming to occupy what was
then the shared institutional space within which our mundane day-to-day para academic lives
unfolded. It pointed to exciting new possibilities which, it would feel dishonest not to point out, we
have not yet explored to the fullest, as the exigencies of daily life inevitably preclude a further
opening of the cracks that suddenly became visible in established institutional structures. But the
possibilities are exciting nonetheless and they point to an alternative trajectory for the digital activity
of para academics: one which resists the temptation to leverage digital scholarship for instrumental
gain and opposes its incorporation into the existing audit culture. Instead we have tried to point
towards a potential expansion out of para academic digital scholarship which opposes
its incorporation into existing structures. We have suggested C. Wright Mills as an exemplar of the
public and professional orientations this might involve and sought to ‘join the dots’ between
contemporary discussions of public sociology, digital scholarship and para-academia.
Bourdieu, P. (2003). Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. London: Verso.
Carrigan, M., & Lockley, P. (2013) Continual publishing across journals, blogs and social media
maximises impact by increasing the size of the ‘academic footprint’. Retrieved June 30th
Daniels, J., & Feagin, J. (2011). The (coming) social media revolution in the academy. Fast
Capitalism, 8(2).
Gane, N., & Back, L. (2012). C. Wright Mills 50 Years On: The Promise and Craft of Sociology
Revisited. Theory, Culture & Society, 29(7-8), 399-421.
Mills, C.W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Mills, C.W. (2001). C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings. University of California
Poe, M. (2012). What Can University Presses Do? Retrieved June 30th from
Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming academic practice. London:
Bloomsbury Academic.
- See more at:
Why does Sociology need to take a closer, more serious look into the Internet and ICTs?
Magdalena Urban
For a long time now, Sociologists have been reluctant to research and use the internet and other
communication technologies (such as social media), unlike their good neighbours, the Humanities
(Daniels and Feagin, 2011). Besides the debates regarding the digital divide (Norris, 2001) and cyber
culture (Lupton, 2012) investigated further by different branches of sociology such as
‘cybersociology’ (Hamman, 1997), there is very little literature on social behaviour online or the
Internet as a social world (Lutpon, 2012; Pope, 2013). This is mostly prominent in English-speaking
sociological circles (including UK, US and Australia according to Lupton, 2014) since the emergence
and research on Social Informatics (which as an interdisciplinary field also incorporates sociology)
are currently mostly researched in continental Europe (Pipek and Rohde, 2008; Vehovar, 2006)
except for few Universities in the US and the UK.
Only recently have there been individual voices raised in the UK and other English speaking countries
to acknowledge and promote ways in which Sociology could use and look into the Internet (Pope,
2013; Williams, 2013; Uprichard, 2013; Lupton, 2014). The most noteworthy ways outlined show
that Sociology could use the internet for its own purpose as a scientific discipline in order to increase
the quality of teaching, researching and professional networking as well as to provide its scientific
expertise or framework into the emerging debates on the social aspects of the Internet and ICTs
(Lupton, 2012). These needs are being slowly addressed by, for example, the establishment of the
“Digital Sociology” study group led by Mark Carrigan from Warwick University and Emma Head from
Keele University and work at Goldsmith University (BSA, 2012). As well as recent plans to include the
themes of “selfies, social media and privacy” into the A-level Sociology curriculum (Telegraph, 2014).
Taking into account these signs of progress towards meeting the digital world with Sociology, I
would like to highlight the importance of sociological academic commitment to recognising the
Internet and ICTs as an extension of the offline social world, which could consequently be
researched and analysed through the lens of sociological perspective and imagination. Such
commitment could, as discussed by Lupton (2012), be beneficial for sociology as a scientific
discipline as well as for the general public.
In the following sections I will discuss very briefly the aspects of such a commitment, looking at some
reasons for which Sociology should engage with the Internet. These are just mere suggestions and
should be treated as such. Additionally, there needs to be an emphasis on the importance of
investigating them thoroughly as some of them may impose some controversies and may prove to
be divisive. Their role is purely to stimulate the debate regarding the direction in which Sociology as
a discipline could go depending on its level of engagement with the area of ICTs and other digital
developments. I am sure that with further work on, for example, the “Digital Sociology” study group,
there could be a larger, more comprehensive and detailed list.
Offline (old) issues in an Online (new) world;
Same old “good” or brand new problems?
Researching the areas that are already a core part of the sociological debates offline in the online
world, such as class (Turow, 2011; Fertik, 2014) or gender (Nussbaum, 2010; MacKinnon, 2006)
could bring new insights into the complexity of those concepts. It could also provide highly useful
scientific framework for policy-making decisions, which are in high demand due to the shortcomings
of the current laws and policies affected by increasing use of ICTs (Citron, 2010; Solove, 2007).
The role of Sociology in this situation would be to draw on its expertise in order to research those
concepts and issues and their potential far-reaching implications in order to further the social
knowledge and awareness of social issues. A good example of this is ‘Internet personalization’, a
phenomenon coordinated by the new digital advertising strategies described and analysed by Joseph
Turow in his book “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and
Your Worth”.
The author highlights a dangerous practice of Internet customization and
personalization, which leads to differences in experiences and access to information, based on
advertisements, as well as popular “soft news” used to carry advertising content, for different
individuals based on their online behaviour (friends they interact with using social media sites; the
news and interests they read about or products they view), as well as, for example, their income
(determined through the online shopping choices they make for example). Individuals receive
tailored advertising content, according to how the marketers’ analyses fit “their reputation silos“.
(Turow, 2011:189) This, according to both Turow (2011) as well as Fertik (2014) leads to social
division and stratification based on access to the information or simply access to different types of
information and advertisements that would appear on the Internet. The Internet personalization
process is being carried out quietly with the “passive” consent of the users, who agree to certain
practices based on the “terms and conditions” that they agreed upon before they were allowed to
use any online service (especially free of charge service such as email, social media and search
engines). As Turow (2011) shows by presenting the results of his survey, (2011:193) the majority of
the general public lacks the basic understanding of the ways in which such tailored advertising,
based on secret algorithms used by Internet companies, works.
This situation describes a new form of social division based on access to the information. Quite
different to the lack of access to information previously discussed digital divide (Norris, 2001), which
was done in public and well known to everyone. There are two significant differences worth noting:
firstly, Internet personalization is not understandable for the ordinary users, unlike digital divide was
and secondly, it is less group-focused and more individual-focused (as tailoring is individual) and
therefore harder to spot and recognise as a general social issue. Since Turow (2011) analyses this
issue from the media and communication studies, his main concerns are the identity and role played
by the media: society-making or segment-making, as he distinguishes them (Turow, 2011; 192).
Therefore sociological perspective would raise different concerns and criticisms and perhaps would
be able to understand the long-term effects that this may have on the society; What will be the longterm effects? How will the society with differing access to the information and advertising carry out
the democratic processes; what is the role of advertising and soft stories in political campaigns in the
online world? How will the education system or the living standards look in a society in which each
member is served different type information and products everyday? What are the effects of having
the advertising system based on secrecy? These are just a few of many questions that Sociology, by
using the already existing research and theories on class and political sociology could investigate to
both enrich their understanding of this new form of class division, as well as to potentially inform
policy, which could help protect the increasing process of furthering inequalities (unequal access to
the information available) between different individuals in the society.
On the other hand, as was previously mentioned, examining offline issues in the online world could
bring a further understanding of their complexity as social constructions. Such research would allow
us to investigate the extent to which issues are evolving and changing their form or whether they
remain similar to the offline reality. A good example is an area of feminist studies focusing on sexual
harassment: the offline issue that may adapt a new form in the online world in a form of virtual rape
(MacKinnon, 2006). The initial research into virtual rape includes the examination of feminist
theories, which attempt to extend the definition of rape as a social construct, removing the need for
the act to be physical in order to be called rape. Therefore the existence of online, virtual rape in the
“bodyless” reality in which rape is an occurrence based on strong social construction, which is used
as a weapon of aggression in the non-physical virtual reality (MacKinnon, 2006) presents an
opportunity to redefine and extend the definition of rape and the idea of sexual harassment. Even
though the author, Richard MacKinnon, draws on the example of a single case study based on the
“Bungle Affair” written by Dibble (1993), it is certainly an important contribution to the world of
Computer-mediated communities, which may have a chance to become more important in the
future, due to the increased emotional involvement in the online reality of the users. As MacKinnon
(2006) explains further:
“The fact that LambdaMOO( the reality in which rape occurred) is a text-based virtual reality,
not only must one ask if a rape had occurred, but also, was it a rape or simply an inert
description of the act? If the latter, does anything really occur in LambdaMOO? Reid
(1995) writes, “Users treat the worlds depicted by MUD programs as if they were real.” By
implication, the words and worlds from the words are not inert descriptions, but the users'
perceptions of the virtually real set into motion by sheer willingness.”
Redefinition of sexual harassment online could contribute to both the debates and to policy-making
on cyber-bullying and online trolling both with sexual and non-sexual, violent content (Herring et al,
2002; Levmore et al, 2011). This has been a very important issue encountered by a number of
feminist online campaigners as well as other ordinary users. Even though initial steps have already
been undertaken such as the prosecution of the author of twitter rape threats addressed towards
two female MPs and campaigners, Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez (Jones, 2013), as the
European Union report on online abuse states; there is still a long way to go and more accurate
policy tools still need to be developed. (Davidson et al, 2011).
These however, are just two, single examples of the way in which the Internet as an extension to the
offline social world could contribute to the discussion about social issues and their new forms online.
Blessing or Curse?
One of the most important, if not crucial elements of the Internet is the vast amount of data
generated through the tracking of user’s online behaviour. Every click, search or “like” is recorded
and carefully stored. Since there are approximately 91 million daily searches (Sullivan, 2013) it is
easy to imagine how big the big data is. The skill to interpret, analyse and understand this data could
be invaluable to further the understanding of human behaviour. The ways in which such
understanding can be used may be controversial. However, the skills to ask important questions by
using the stored big data as a secondary dataset in order to make sense of what all the information
gathered means, remains a challenge. Since, as Uprichard (2013) notices, sociologists are experts in
dealing with large sets of data – especially regarding qualitative data analysis (Silverman, 2011). Such
expertise will be highly desirable by major companies seeking to understand the social aspects of big
data and information they produce daily (Uprichard, 2013).
The attempt to use sociological expertise and involve sociologists in the recent ICTs developments
were captured by the most recent rumours about the infamous conference for sociologists
organised by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook (Zhou, 2014). This, of course, could
introduce many controversies, one of which being the ethical issue of the intersection between
industry and the academia (Etkowitz et al, 1998) in the ways that social knowledge produced by the
sociologists could be capitalised on. Moreover, a further potential problem could be the debatable
issues on whether this capitalisation of social knowledge would be beneficial for only private
interest, which may go against public interests; for example the further preparation of the
surveillance tool, which according to the neo-roman idea of freedom, makes us unfree and does not
serve the interest of the society as we know it today (Skinner and Marshall, 2013). This debate about
surveillance, freedom and privacy were triggered by the activity of the website Wikileaks as well as
Edward Snowden’s revelation about the cooperation between the UK and US and other countries
governments and the Internet companies. It is also another good example of fundamental concepts
being challenged by digital developments, which could also be thoroughly investigated by Sociology.
However this issue is too complex to be discussed in such a short paper and should be dedicated a
separate piece.
The idea of cooperation between sociology and the internet industry would surely split the world of
academia. On one hand, access to such a large dataset would be such a great contribution to
sociological research and discussion, one the other there a clear ethical issues that must be
discussed. The possibility to access the data that people have voluntarily entered into their search
engines, social media as well as other websites, could give sociologists raw data, which has not been
collected through ordinary social research methods and therefore may be potentially free from
some of the usual research errors and weaknesses, such as researchers’ influence on the
participants’ responses. This is only a speculation, and as mentioned in the report of the “Digital
sociology” study group, should be further investigated in order to tackle the methodological
transformation in the information society (Carrigan and Head, 2012). Although several different
authors have consistently raised the need for new methodology, sociology as an experienced social
science could certainly offer some insight and participate in the general debates about the changes.
This will be now more important than ever, as mentioned in the “Digging into digital challenge”
“The idea behind the Digging into Data Challenge is to address how "big data" changes the
research landscape for the humanities and social sciences. Now that we have massive
databases of materials used by scholars in the humanities and social sciences -- ranging from
digitized books, newspapers, and music to transactional data like web searches, sensor data
or cell phone records -- what new, computationally-based research methods might we apply?
As the world becomes increasingly digital, new techniques will be needed to search, analyze,
and understand these everyday materials.” (Manovich, 2011)
In conclusion, Sociology should take a closer, more serious look into the Internet, digital
development and ICTs because of the variety of opportunities that exist for both the development of
the sociology as a discipline by researching new forms of already existing concepts and sociological
debates, such as social division, in a new form of unequal access to the information based on
Internet personalization, as well as the sexual harassment in the new form of virtual, non-physical
rape experience. The knowledge from those new forms combined with sociological expertise based
on existing research and theories could contribute to the necessary process of policy- making that
could tackle challenging issues (including cyber bullying and online trolling) that aroused from the
online social world. In addition Sociology could also potentially benefit from the enormous sets of
big data, which is being collected daily by major Internet companies for the purposes of their own
research and furthering of social knowledge. Lastly by looking in more depth at the digital
developments, Sociology could participate in the debates about the changing of the society, as we
know it nowadays and perhaps focus on asking the right questions about the long-term social
implications of these technologies. Such as for example the impact of the tailored access to the
information due to the Internet personalization or even the very briefly mentioned issue of
surveillance, that has been very prominent in the news and attracts a lot of attention. Therefore the
need for sociology to engage with the Internet, Digital developments and ICTs is very important and
should be continually investigated in order to understand the implications of such commitment for
the sociology as a discipline and its methods in order to stay relevant to the debates about the
modern world and its social condition.
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Un Juan Cualquiera: The Discourse of Mestizaje in a Mexican Telenovela
Linnete Manrique
The young, handsome mestizo1 known as Juan del Diablo among the townspeople declares “soy un
Juan cualquiera” (I am a just a Juan) and “mi origen no es interesante” (my origin is not interesting)
when probed by his white lover to reveal his real name and familial lineage. Such is the protagonist
of the Televisa-produced telenovela Corazón Salvaje (Savage Heart): a lawless and fearless man
living in isolation on the outskirts of the port town of Veracruz whom the rich fear and the poor
adore. Corazón Salvaje, airing from 1993 to 1994 on prime-time, was the third television adaptation
and most successful to date of the Mexican writer Caridad Bravo Adams’ classic novel of the same
name. Such adaptations attest to the popularity and longevity of this romantic storyline set in the
early 1900s and chronicling the relationship between Juan and a countess. While Adams’ novel was
set on the French Caribbean islands and featured characters of French descent, subsequent
adaptations take place in the Mexican town of Veracruz and the characters are of Spanish descent,
making more overt allusions to Mexico’s colonial past.
Telenovelas are such a cultural phenomenon in Mexico and are generally produced by the progovernment private media conglomerate Televisa that they cannot exist in a vacuum insulated from
the ideologies and the politics of the state. Corazón Salvaje must be contextualized within the time
period of the 1990s to understand its significance – a time period of deep economic and political
divisions, instability and unrest in Mexico. In the “elusive quest for First World status” (del Castillo
1996, p.29), the governments of Miguel de la Madrid (1982-88) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (198894) implemented the neoliberal policies of privatization, deregulation and reduction of government
spending. Historian Francie Chassen-López (2008) argues that such policies “represented nothing
less than the dismantling of the Mexican Revolution” (p.110). What remained from the Revolution
The term “mestizo” describes “hybrid” or mixed-blood individuals and is discussed in detail below.
was the national dominant discourse of mestizaje, or race mixture, which purports all Mexican
citizens are of equal status and of mixed blood. The promise of equality and erasure of racism then
establishes a sense of homogeneity across the nation where individuals see themselves as part of a
unified collective – Mexicans – and in turn masks whiteness as a site of privilege embedded in the
mestizaje discourse. In the following pages I examine this discourse and show how it was normalized
and (re) constructed in Corazón Salvaje, particularly through the character of Juan who as a mestizo
served to embody the nation.
The Mestizaje Discourse
Racial classification or identification in Mexico is ambiguous as its population is the result of the
miscegenation between the Spanish and Indians (and to a lesser extent blacks) that emerged with
the sixteenth-century Spanish invasion and the subsequent colonial period. Physical appearance,
particularly skin color, language, dress, religion, social organization and culture play a greater role
than ancestry in the racial classification of individuals (and in creating differences). Andrés Villarreal
(2010) points out the main categorical distinction between the indigenous and mestizo population is
based on social, cultural and linguistic differences rather than on the specifics of biological descent.
The social boundaries between indigenous and mestizo are “extremely fluid” (p.653). Historian Alan
Knight (1990) notes that Indians can become mestizos through migration, education, occupational
shifts, and adoption of the dominant culture and language (otherwise known as the process of
acculturation or “de-Indianization”) (p.73). Mestizos can whiten themselves through the acquisition
of wealth and education. However, Villarreal concedes that phenotype (skin color) continues to play
an important role in the “allocation of social status”; for example, whiter Mexicans are more likely to
occupy higher socioeconomic positions than the darker, indigenous-looking people (p.656-57).
Anthropologist Hugo G. Nutini (1997) notes as well that although upward mobility in Mexico is fluid,
it is “always underlined by racial whiteness as an advantage in the social categorization of
phenotypes.” As such, individuals exhibiting European phenotypes continue to characterize the
richest and the most powerful and socially prominent sectors (p.231). The irony here is that the
state-sponsored and popular ideology of mestizaje, which claims generations of racial mixing have
produced “a single hybrid ‘mestizo race’” (Villarreal 2010, p.653), coexists with a preference for
Knight (1990) contends the Mexican Revolution years brought about a newfound sense of
nationalism and a commitment to “combine Mexico’s disparate population in a solid patriotic union”
(p.84). But indigenous groups posed a major challenge to this nationalist project because they
possessed their own distinct cultures, traditions and languages. The discourse of indigenismo
purported to emancipate and integrate Indians conveniently developed in a post-revolutionary
Mexico. Proponents of indigenismo argued integration into the dominant culture was possible
without “de-Indianization.” In fact, an integrated (or “mestizo-ized”) Indian population was better
equipped to fight against the oppressions of landlords (or caciques) and to maintain its culture than
one that remained marginalized, uneducated and monolingual (p.80). The revolutionary government
relied on education to foment sentiments of patriotism and to integrate the Indians rather than on
overt force as was the case during the Porfiriato.2 Moreover, the government rehabilitated and
promoted the indigenous culture (music, dance, rituals) as part of its newfound nationalism that
extolled the mestizo as the carrier of national culture, as “quintessentially Mexican” (p.85). For some
of the elite of the Revolution like José Vasconcelos, the mestizo represented a superior, or “cosmic,”
race that “would prevail not only in Mexico but in the world at large” (p.86). Mestizaje became the
dominant discourse and the mestizo the symbol of the new regime because it conveniently allowed
revolutionary rhetoric to distance itself from that of the past, mainly the “cosmopolitan, Europhile
ethos of the Porfiriato” (p.86). Knight (1990) notes that the mestizo was thus depicted as the leader
The Porfiriato refers to the time period from 1876 to 1911 when Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico.
of the nation-building process, an audacious and tough protector of the innocent, an author of
rebellions and the enemy of pure or foreign blood.
While the discourse of mestizaje emerged as a reaction against the Porfiriato’s overt racism and
became “practically a slogan for the many projects of national consolidation” (Sommer 1991, p.22),
it nevertheless continued to operate within the logics of racism, in particular the blanqueamiento
(whitening) practice. This practice posits racial mixing with white (European) individuals is desirable
because it makes populations whiter, erasing seemingly inferior Indian racial traits and improving
the Mexican race. Moreover, mestizaje, which was defined mostly in cultural terms by the
Revolutionary elite, functions as a mechanism of exclusion because it calls for the “suppression of
alternative cultural identities” in order to consolidate and homogenize the nation (de la Peña 2006,
p.284). Even today, indigenous people have not received full cultural and political recognition,
continue to be represented as backward and uneducated, and remain subject to discrimination.
Again, here one can see the discrepancies between the official discourse that “proclaims their worth,
even their superiority” (Knight 1990, p.101) and the discriminatory practices. Such usage of what
Robert Stam and Ella Shohat (1994) deem the “tropes of empire” 3 effectively constructs an “other”
that is denied nationality, unless it adopts the dominant culture (e.g. indigenous populations shed
their dialects in favor of Spanish and migrate to urban centers). This in turn serves to identify and
legitimate the mestizo figure (what is normal).
Chassen-López (2008) contends that images of indigenous people as primitive, infantile, exotic and
so on are designed to make racism and poverty appear natural and an inevitable part of everyday
life, “thus enabling dominant groups to blame the victim for his or her situation (p.108). For
Within colonialist discourse, tropes or metaphors of indigenous people as exotic and primitive serve to establish
European superiority.
example, the Televisa-produced historical telenovela El vuelo del águila (The flight of the eagle)4 that
aired in 1994 depicts Juana Catarina Romero – an indigenous woman who served as a spy and fought
for the Liberal cause during the Revolution – as childlike but sexually precocious, as the mere gossipy
lover of Porfirio Díaz (p.108). Her contribution to the Revolution is ignored because as a subaltern,
Chassen-López argues, she is not “worthy of leadership or citizenship” (p.122). In contrast, the
mestizo Díaz is portrayed as a brave military man, as a father and protector of the innocent, and as
the true hero and leader of Mexico.
Knight (1990) points out the media further reinforce the practice of whitening through stereotypes.
For example, white actors (or light-skinned mestizos) as protagonists are pervasive in telenovelas,
while the darker-skinned ones tend to be relegated to the minor roles of domestic workers,
chauffeurs, nannies, etc. Nutini (1997) notes that this is the case because Mexico remains a
“European country culturally” in the sense that its ideals of physical appearance and standards of
beauty are essentially European (p.231). Take for example the 1995 telenovela María la del barrio
(the third installment in the trilogy of the Marías that includes María Mercedes [1992] and Marimar
[1994]) that features Latin pop star Thalía as the protagonist. María is a poor peasant who migrates
to the city to work and to improve her way of life. She meets the benevolent, wealthy and white
Fernando de la Vega in a church after the death of her godmother. Fernando makes the promise
that he will take care of the innocent María. He will educate and refine her and teach her to be a
decent woman so she can become part of his family. Fernando’s white and blond wife Victoria is
horrified when she sees María and treats her in a condescending and disparaging manner because of
her class status. The telenovela is thus the story of a poor woman seeking to and succeeding in
bridging the class divide – María ultimately marries a rich man and becomes successful, but only
because she is an incredibly attractive light-skinned mestiza – and in turn elides the racial and ethnic
The hardly subtle nationalist title refers to the Aztec legend that recounts how an eagle, perched on a cactus and with a
serpent on its mouth, determined the location of where Tenochtitlan (or the Aztec civilization) was to be founded. This
eagle sits at the center of the Mexican flag.
divisions that persist in Mexico. However, such divisions are in fact present. The actresses who play
the maids of Lupe and Calixta have pronounced indigenous features and their characters are
submissive and obedient. Calixta even practices black magic. Such depictions of indigenous people
serve to reinforce the stereotypes held by Mexican middle and upper classes, particularly of the
industrialized North.
The 1997 telenovela María Isabel follows similar patterns of racial divisions. María Isabel is an Indian
from the southern state of Nayarit dressed in traditional clothing and with long braids who migrates
to Mexico City to look for a job. She finds herself working as a maid for the wealthy Mendiola family
and at the end marries her boss. Televisa’s darling, Adela Noriega (yet another beautiful lightskinned mestiza), plays the character of María Isabel who is described as a hard working, pure, noble
and generous “Indita” (the diminutive of Indian and a patronizing term). In contrast, the characters
of the domestic workers Manuela and Matilde and María Isabel’s stepmom, Chona, are darker
indigenous-looking women depicted as lazy, gossipy, malicious and conniving. In line with the
neoliberal ideology, María Isabel tells the story of the power of the individual to overcome any and
all obstacles and succeed, ignoring the inherent inequalities of the capitalist structure that
perpetuates the subaltern position of Indians.
Mexican sociologist Mónica Moreno Figueroa (2010) argues that mestizaje is a hegemonic discourse
because it is so entrenched in the political and racial ideologies that consensus exists among the
government, elites and the public of what it means to be Mexican (Mexican = mestizo).
Furthermore, mestizaje has been normalized to the point that people do not recognize themselves
as racialized and public discussion about it is non-existent (p.388). To see white individuals
predominate on the media is simply the norm within the dominant discourse, it is common sense.
Political Context of the 1990s
In the early 1990s, international financial agencies and the United States pressured Mexico to adopt
neoliberal policies to restructure its economy and continue servicing its mounting foreign debt
(Otero 1996, p.7). Neoliberalism entailed drastic cuts to government spending, deregulation, and
privatization of previously nationalized companies and cultural institutions, including museums,
galleries and support for the arts (Radcliffe and Westwood 1996, p.23). The government particularly
deregulated direct foreign investment in preparation for the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), which Mexico mistook, Gustavo del Castillo argues (1996), “for that elusive ‘easy road’ to
economic growth and development” (p.28). Neoliberal elites sponsored a historical and ideological
revision of primary school textbooks to restore the image of former villains like Porfirio Díaz and to
exalt the neoliberal project (Chassen-López 2008, p.111). The elites also targeted popular culture.
The “historical” telenovelas El vuelo del águila and La antorcha encendida (The lit torch) (1996),
which chronicles Mexico’s Independence, can be seen as overt attempts to revise history and
promote the neoliberal ideology. María de los Angeles Rodríguez Cadena argues that the telenovela
narrative serves as a manipulative formula that prioritizes order, as in “order = peace = democracy =
progress = happiness” for viewers to internalize (quoted in Chassen-López 2008, p.122). However,
telenovelas do not necessarily need to be historical to advance support for a particular ideology as a
vision of the (ideal) historical and social development of the nation-state is embedded in their
narrative (Radcliffe and Westwood 1996, p.89). For example, in Corazón Salvaje the protagonist Juan
makes his fortune in the international trade of goods (a hardly subtle reference to NAFTA) and is
rewarded with the material acquisition of wealth, social status and a (white) wife.
The elites extolled the new economic doctrine, which was far different from the socialist agenda of
the Revolution of 1910, as the stepping-stone to modernization and First World status. NAFTA was
meant to make Mexico more appealing for American investors and businesses. In return for lifting
import barriers, deregulating private institutions and allowing more extensive foreign investment,
Mexico was to receive reciprocal access to the American market and a steady influx of foreign capital
investment (Orme 1993, p.2). In short, Mexico had to whiten (or Americanize) itself to become part
of the agreement.5 This whitening was desirable for the Mexican elite who envisioned a modern
Mexico economically integrated with two developed nations. Corazón Salvaje mirrors this vision of
modernity.6 For example, on its final episode that aired in February 1994, an earthquake devastates
the port town of Veracruz. Emerging from the rubble unscathed is Juan who sets out to rebuild the
town alongside his wife. This serves as an allegory for the economic reforms of the time that sought
to transform the old (socialist) Mexico into a neoliberal and industrialized white nation on par with
its Northern neighbours, and thus decidedly different from its Latin American counterparts.
As Gerardo Otero (1996) remarks, neoliberalism created a crisis of its own, forcing the Mexican
government to devalue the peso because of its low reserves of foreign exchange (p.7) and
heightening the already gross social and political inequalities – inequalities that are more pervasive
in the southern states where the largest proportion of indigenous people reside and who are still
governed by “archaic social and power structures” (p.3). On January 1, 1994, the same day that
NAFTA was enacted, a peasant rebellion led by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN)
erupted in the southern state of Chiapas. This uprising, Otero notes, “was but the most radical
expression of discontent with the growing inequality and lack of democracy in Mexico” (p.2). A
discontent elided on Mexican telenovelas. As Televisa continued to reap the benefits of
neoliberalism – venturing into the cable, satellite and paging business, and investing for the first
time in the US Hispanic network Univisión – its prime-time telenovela Corazón Salvaje promoted the
idea through the image of Juan that upward social mobility is attainable through hard work. This
idea that one’s individual characteristics determine one’s social condition (the peasants depicted in
Canada and the United States signed a trade agreement of their own on October 4, 1988.
This is unsurprising given the cozy relationship between Televisa and the government. So cozy, in fact, that Televisa’s
president at the time, Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, openly supported the government as its self-proclaimed “foot soldier”
(Wilkinson 2007, p.203).
the telenovela are poor because they are lazy and stubborn and so on) legitimates the capitalist
system, ignoring its inherent inequalities.
The Zapatistas opposed NAFTA on the grounds that it would flood the market with cheap, machineharvested crops from American and Canadian corporations, eliminating the jobs of Chiapan farmers.
In addition, the Zapatistas protested against NAFTA for permitting the selling and rental of
communal land-holdings, effectively eradicating Article 27 of the 1917 Constitution, which promised
“an equitable distribution of the public wealth” (Collins 2010, p.773). This further concentrated the
power of the cacique elites who were able to appropriate large estates and to continue to deprive
the indigenous of the land that lawfully belonged to them through the overt use of force or (most
commonly) through legal manipulation (p.774). Stephen Collins (2010) argues that the caciques view
the indigenous as third class citizens and thus undeserving of owning land. As Ramawami
Harindranath (2006) remarks, the effect of “othering” provides a convenient rationale for the
dispossession of the indigenous and their territories, and for undermining the legitimacy of their
claims for independence and autonomy. At the same time as Article 27 was eradicated, the Salinas
government reformed Article 4 in order to explicitly acknowledge the multicultural nature of
Mexico, the existence of its indigenous peoples, and the necessity to protect and promote the
development of their cultures, customs and resources (de la Peña 2006, p.287). The caciques’
treatment of the Chiapan peasants and the simultaneous revision of Articles 27 and 4 highlight the
contradiction between the state-sponsored mestizaje ideology (and the belief that racism is nonexistent) and the actual practices.
The Zapatistas also protested against the political exploitation and pervasive corruption of both the
local and federal government. Collins further contends that such exploitation and corruption
represent the most compelling reasons for the Zapatistas’ use of military force. The Zapatistas and
the indigenous community at large perceived the political system as “bankrupt of legitimacy,”
designed to serve the interests of the cacique elites and in turn the ruling Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) (p.774). Finally, the Zapatistas called attention to the social and economic disparities –
while the rich were getting richer, the Chiapan communities lacked basic services for subsistence,
such as electricity and potable water. In short, NAFTA represented, on the one hand, the elite’s
vision of a First World Mexico, and on the other, the displacement of the subalterns whose “present
[was] sacrificed to the nation’s future” (Saldaña-Portillo 2005, p.751).
Latin America’s nineteenth-century romance novels were an efficient artifice through which the elite
could reach the masses with its many projects of national consolidation. Literary critic Doris Sommer
(1991) argues that romance novels, which are “stories of star-crossed lovers who represent
particular regions, races, parties, economic interests, and the like” (p.5), became the trope of nationbuilding. Through such literature the elite could not only educate the masses but project and
promote an ideal vision of the nation, an ideal future. For example, Sommer notes that the happy
endings that characterize these novels “read like a wish-fulfilling projection of national consolidation
and growth” (p.7). Moreover, romance novels developed a narrative formula for resolving
continuing conflicts that would legitimate the emerging nations. Romance novels – the seemingly
innocuous and private stories of star-crossed lovers – were part of the general project of the elites to
contain the racial, economic and gender conflicts that threatened the development of the nation
and to “hegemonize a culture in formation” (Sommer 1991, p.29). Mestizaje thus emerged as a
dominant narrative because it allowed for the destruction of difference and the formation of “a
deeply horizontal, fraternal dream of national identity” (p.39).
Today’s national romances are telenovelas. Telenovelas are such a cultural phenomenon across Latin
America that up to 53 percent of individuals aged 12 to 64 identify themselves as regular viewers
(Miller 2010, p.200). Such programs are melodramatic series with an episodic narrative in which love
and politics overlap, developed in the span of six to nine months and with a definite ending that
permits narrative closure. Unlike American soap operas that are scheduled during daytime, targeted
primarily to stay-at-home moms and have ratings on a continuous sharp decline, reaching a mere 1.3
million viewers in the 2009-2010 season (Steinberg 2010, p.1), telenovelas are prime-time
entertainment for all audiences, widely exported and definitive of the Latin American star system
(Lopez 1995, p.258). The popularity of telenovelas both in domestic and international markets have
played a crucial role in the development and expansion of powerful media conglomerates in
countries like Brazil and Mexico, and have allayed the fears of cultural imperialism theorists. Ana
Lopez (1995) points out that since the 1970s, telenovelas ceased to be cheaply-produced daytime
filler and began to compete successfully against US serials like Dallas for prime-time audiences.
Telenovelas proved that national productions were attractive to audiences and could replace primetime canned US programs (p.259). This underscores the theory of cultural proximity, which posits
that audiences prefer to watch locally or nationally produced programs if available over foreign
content because these are most proximate or directly relevant in cultural and linguistic terms (La
Pastina and Straubhaar 2005, p.273). Today both Globo (Brazil’s conglomerate) and Televisa import
only a small percentage of their programming from the US (primarily feature-length films that
remain too expensive to produce). In addition, they both have become dominant players at the
regional and global level in the export of their telenovelas, which account for approximately 70 to 80
percent of their exports (Mato 2005, p.427).
The telenovela genre is intriguing for it not only undermines the theory of cultural imperialism but
cultural proximity as well. Telenovelas have had tremendous success in culturally and linguistically
divergent countries like Russia (where Los ricos también lloran [The rich also cry] had record-
breaking ratings) and China (where La fea más bella [Ugly Betty] became the second-highest rated
program in its time slot) (Annual Report 2009). This underlines the fact that the local (or national)
cannot be conceived strictly in spatial terms. Jade Miller (2010) indicates that one factor accounting
for the global success of telenovelas is the weekly format that “serves to capture and maintain a
steadfast and transfixed audience” (p.204). But most importantly, Lopez (1995) argues, is the
melodramatic narrative that personalizes the social world; that locates social and political issues in
personal and familiar terms, thereby permitting audiences to make sense of an increasingly complex
world. Thus the melodramatic works with, on the one hand, a particular narrative of the nation and
its cultural characteristics, and on the other, ensuring the international marketability of telenovelas
(p.261). Similarly, Jesús Martín-Barbero (1987) points out that melodrama recourses to family
imagery (generally the plot revolves around a family) to “understand and express the complexity and
opacity that social relations embody” (quoted in Benavides 2008, p.11). Moreover, Sommer (1991)
notes that the family has been an integral part of Latin American romances because it serves as an
allegory for the (ideal) stability and security of the nation (p.20).
While the essential ingredient of the telenovela genre is melodrama – overdramatization of scenes
through use of the body, emphasis on emotions and repetitive music as mood stimulus (Benavides
2008, p.10) – the genre nonetheless differs within the Latin American region. For example, Lopez
describes Mexican telenovelas as notorious for their weepiness, a Manichean vision of the world and
lack of specific historical referents (p.261). Mexican telenovelas are also referred to as telenovelas de
rosa (pink telenovelas) for emphasizing romanticism and espousing socially conservative views
concerning gender, sex and religion (Avila-Saavedra 2006, p.2). On the contrary, Brazilian telenovelas
are luxurious and cinematic, and are considered more liberal and realistic for exploring social and
political issues in contemporary (or specific historical) Brazilian contexts (Lopez 1995, p.261). It is
worth mentioning Brazilian telenovelas here because these are the more successfully exported
dramas. According to media studies specialist Robert Allen (1995), Globo has exported its
telenovelas to over 100 countries and as a result, its revenues have increased more than fivefold
Chris Barker (1997) notes that during the 1960s the Brazilian military government sought to reduce
imported programs and to promote Brazilian national identity via the “Brazilianization” of television.
Key to this nationalist project was the telenovela, which signaled its transition into a more populist
form in 1968 with the transmission of Beto Rockefeller (p.88). Said telenovela adopted a realist style,
featured colloquial language, a faster narrative pace, visually arresting imagery and more ambivalent
characters in search of social mobility, and addressed the concerns of the urban middle class (p.89).
Moreover, Communication theorist Mauro Porto (2011) remarks that the Brazilian telenovela as a
populist genre serves to create a unified national public space that provides citizens of diverse social
backgrounds with a common experience and allows them to engage in discourses of the nation.
Audiences do in fact make strong parallels between telenovela representations and the political and
social realities of the nation (p.55-6). For example, national identity formation during General Emilio
Garrastazu Médici’s (1969-74) dictatorship was linked to his project of national integration – the
integration of the country through the market. The telenovela plots at this time revolved around the
conflict between the old and the new, between rural traditions and the modern processes of
industrialization and urbanization (p.57).
The telenovela itself is a mixture of the traditional (modes of storytelling) and modern. Allen (1995)
points out the development of the telenovela’s plot over a period of months suggests the cyclical
rhythms of family life, but each episode positions viewers as consumers and reveals the “frenetic
pace and fragmentation of contemporary television style and of modernity itself” (p.11). The end of
Brazilian military rule and the return of democracy gave telenovelas more leeway in their
representation of the nation. Telenovelas like O Grito discussed the negative consequences of the
process of modernity; Vale Tudo criticized the corruption and inefficiency of both the state and the
political establishment; Roque Santeiro reflected a sense of disillusionment with the country’s
transition to democracy (Porto 2011, p.60-1); and The Cattle King incorporated the political fight for
agrarian reform that was unraveling in Brazil at the time of the telenovela’s transmission
(Hamburger 2000, p.160). The latter example in particular demonstrates that telenovelas redefine
the relationship between politics and intimacy by translating political issues in private terms, in
“terms that are meaningful in everyday life” (p.174). While telenovelas are first and foremost a
commercial product for entertainment, the Brazilian case illustrates that “living” the nation is in fact
a tangible possibility for viewers (Lopez 1995, p.262).
The Mexican telenovela, like its Brazilian counterpart, participates in the symbolic representation of
the nation. Its limited number of sets and characters, who interact only with each other and seem to
have no knowledge of larger social and political events, allow the Mexican telenovela to present “a
‘closed community’ that is complete and autonomous unto itself…[and] can be seen as an extension
or depiction of the ideal imagined Mexico” (Estill 2001, p.171-2). And here I must take into
consideration – as I proceed to the analysis of Corazón Salvaje – that in the 1990s, Televisa and the
ruling party had a virtual monopoly over the production of telenovelas and the so-called closed
communities offered to the public were of a very specific ideological kind, with certain issues and
images censored and others amplified.
Corazón Salvaje and Mestizaje
The telenovela opens with the long-haired, shirtless Juan standing on the bowsprit of a sailing vessel,
as the theme song establishes that trials and tribulations have defined his life with lyrics such as
“everything has gone wrong for you” and “how to heal so many wounds when the blood has not
ceased to drip.” The first scenes then chronicle his origin: he is the result of an affair between a rich
landowner and a lower-class woman. Years later the landowner, Francisco, out of guilt and a moral
duty to do the right thing, writes a letter offering his last name to his illegitimate child, in spite of his
now (white) wife’s vehement opposition. After he suffers an accident and dies, the wife, Sofía, hides
the letter to negate the child’s right to a last name.
The above-mentioned scenes are crucial for three reasons. First, I must note that Francisco is
unusually dark-skinned to occupy such position, but not unnatural since the mestizos who posses
wealth, social status and education belong in the white category (as the Brazilian saying goes,
“money whitens”). On the other hand, the mother is never shown onscreen (she has no name or
history), but I presume she is a lower-class mestiza or indigenous by the disparaging and
condescending comments Sofía makes regarding “esa perdida” (or slut). The invisibility of this
woman is in line with what anthropologist Hugo Benavides (2008) claims is the melodramatic
tendency in Latin America to not display Indian bodies (p.86). In fact, the only visible indigenous
people are the peasants working on a field on the opening scene, which immediately cuts to an
overtly racist scene that sees Francisco conversing with his whiter employee, who refers to the
peasants as “lazy and stubborn” and in need of “discipline.” The omission of Indian bodies or other
minorities, according to James Snead (1997), is perhaps the most widespread tactic of racial
stereotyping. The omission of minorities from “locations of autonomy and importance” creates the
idea that they “belong in positions of obscurity or dependence” (p.29), as depicted in Corazón
Situated within the political context, the character of Francisco serves as an allusion to the cacique
elites and their attitude toward the Chiapan farmers. In the telenovela he is depicted as the
reasonable and just man – so just, in fact, that he performs the good deed of recognizing Juan as his
legitimate son and thus his death can be interpreted as a punishment for nothing more than his
sexual transgression. The fact that the telenovela takes place in the early 1900s is convenient
because it normalizes the situation in which indigenous/mestizos find themselves: dispossessed of
their land and working for whites. Chassen-López (2008) notes that in 1994 in Mexico, the
representations of dominant groups as naturally empowered and minorities as disenfranchised for
biological reasons (laziness, backwardness, etc.) serve to reinforce the neoliberal ideals (p.122).
Second, these initial scenes establish Juan as a disruption to the seeming stability and social
tranquility of the white upper-middle class family (the episode is entitled “An Intruder At Home”).
Sofía blames Francisco for bringing “shame and pain” upon the family and as soon as he dies she
kicks Juan out of the house. What further contributes to her anxiety is the threat of race
contamination. As mentioned earlier, underlying the discourse of mestizaje is the blanqueamiento
process that seeks to “improve” (i.e. whiten) the race. Blacks and mestizos tend to marry white
individuals to whiten their race, or at least avoid marrying individuals darker than themselves (Rivero
2002; Knight 1996). Sofía – a white and blond woman with pronounced European features – sees
Juan as a direct threat to the purity of her family’s race. Moreover, the scene in which she casts Juan
out can be taken as a metaphor for colonialism – the conquest and dispossession of the natives and
their land. But since the mestizaje discourse extols the mestizo as superior to Europeans, it is no
surprise that Juan returns home to reclaim what rightfully belongs to him and Sofía, the European
colonizer figure, loses everything at the end, including her son. This also serves as a platform for the
Mexican public to (re) construct and (re) imagine their colonial past.
Third, the telenovela takes great pains to portray Juan at the onset as a good and heroic figure. The
fact that he is lawless and engaged in dubious piracy ventures is the result of his fatherless
upbringing rather than of a morally corrupt character. If he has a savage heart it is because he grew
up an outcast, a bastard ostracized by society. Mexican melodramatic narratives make clear-cut
distinctions between good and evil and characters tend to see the world in black-and-white terms
(Estill 2001, p.174). Juan is not such a one-dimensional character as evinced by his career choice of
piracy. Yet he is often described as noble and generous and is shown as giving money to the poor,
both of which serve to reinforce his goodness and morality. Further, midway through the telenovela,
he gives up being a pirate and engages in the legitimate business of trading goods. He then makes a
fortune, acquires property and social status, and marries the beautiful blond and blue-eyed countess
named Mónica. Because Juan is the good character, he naturally deserves the highest rewards that
in a telenovela are love and marriage, and which include a major class ascension (p.175). Moreover,
Corazón Salvaje upholds the neoliberal ideology as it shows that social and economic progress is
attainable through capitalism – foreign trade in Juan’s case and administration of land estates in
Francisco’s case. In addition, the telenovela reinforces the process of whitening through Juan’s
desires to acquire material possessions and marry Mónica, and through the casting choices.
Indigenous and darker-skinned bodies are virtually invisible, the main actors are all white and
Eduardo Palomo, who plays Juan, has olive skin and green eyes.
The closed communities that telenovelas present are an ideal version of what the nation should be
(Estill 2001, p.179). In Corazón Salvaje, Juan is the character viewers should emulate as he embodies
the state-sponsored figure of the mestizo. He is audacious and courageous, an author of uprisings
against injustices and corruption, an enemy of the class of pure or foreign blood and the class that
best understands the grievances of the indigenous (and as such is suited to protect them). Juan has
experienced suffering, but has moved beyond his past and concedes his origin is not important.
What matters is who he is in the present and who he will become. He is superior to his European
counterpart as he is “quintessentially Mexican,” un Juan cualquiera. And he becomes a man of
progress and First World status through his capitalist ventures. Juan’s superiority is clearly evinced
when contrasted to his foil, the more European-looking Andrés. The latter is whiny, mercurial, and
mentally and physically weak (he cries repeatedly over his wife’s deception and has to be saved by
Juan after the earthquake). On the other hand, Juan is self-reliant and strong (he survives two
gunshots and is fittingly described as “the immortal”). Although Juan has a feminized body in the
sense that he is slender, delicate and generally “beautiful in a raw, ‘natural’ fashion” (Benavides
2008, p.95), the fact that the women in the telenovela lust over him serves to highlight his sexual
potency. In addition, the fact that he provides for his household further reinforces his virility. Hector
Amaya (2010) notes machismo is often associated with strength, sexual dominance, violence and
thoughtlessness, which “are all terms and ideas that the West has linked to sexual deviance,
underdevelopment, and savagery” to normalize colonialism (p.13). However, Corazón Salvaje reappropriates and codes this macho masculinity as desirable and superior to the European thinking
man. It is precisely Juan’s physical strength or “savagery” that permits him to defend his wife and
To conclude the analysis of Corazón Salvaje it is worth focusing on one of the final scenes in which
Andrés visits Juan to apologize for his past mistakes and the pain and suffering he inflicted upon him
and his family. Juan sheds a tear, embraces Andrés and declares, “we are brothers and there is no
room for hatred between us,” thus absolving the Spanish of his past atrocities. But of course, both
the mestizo and the Spanish neglect to acknowledge their indigenous “brother” who decidedly
deserves the apology more than anyone. This particular scene recreates the discourse of mestizaje.
The low angle camera that focuses on Juan determines he is on equal footing in terms of power and
status with Andrés. But Juan is only equal to Andrés because he has been “whitened.” He exchanged
his jewelry and clothing that marked him as a pirate, a rebel, for the European garb; moved from his
hut to a hacienda; and married a white woman, in line with the desire to “improve” the Mexican
The constant creation of the nation through the closed community of the telenovela further mirrors
“more questionable national beliefs” (Estill 2001, p.179). In Corazón Salvaje, for example, racial
division is present but implicit: the lower class characters have noticeably indigenous features and
dark (er) skin and sport traditional campesino (peasant) clothing, such as embroidered huipils
(embroidered blouses), long skirts and braided hair. On the other hand, the rich characters’
European features are accentuated with blond hair and ornate Victorian dresses. The dark skin of
the characters here serves to signify their inherent docility and simplicity, and white skin signifies
wealth and social status (whiteness becomes desirable). Corazón Salvaje’s narrative is convenient
because such racial division was the norm in the early 1900s and thus Televisa does not need to
address the issue of race that persists in Mexico. Because mestizaje serves to create a unified
national space, the Salinas government readily embraced and sponsored it in order to rally public
support for NAFTA and its neoliberal policies – policies that exacerbated the inequalities between
the rich and the poor. Televisa for its part normalized mestizaje through the recreation and
repetition of images like Juan in its telenovelas. But the emergence of the Zapatistas, who
demanded to be recognized as full-fledged members of the Mexican nation-state, served to
challenge the homogenizing project of mestizaje. Mestizaje needs to be destabilized and re-signified
to accommodate a pluralistic state that acknowledges in practice and not simply rhetoric any and all
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