At the Crossroads of Multiculturalism and Violence: Community Policing and Grassroots Education in Guerrero, Mexico

Merel Anna de Buck

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of educational and security activism in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero, Mexico. The researcher closely examined two organizations that are connected through historical struggles and cultural heterogeneity: the community policing organization Upoeg (Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero) and the grassroots university Unisur (Universidad de los Pueblos del Sur). While Upoeg was created in response to unsafe living conditions and drug-related violence, Unisur addresses the lack of access to higher education, as well as culturally and politically relevant education. Taken together, the education and security project embody civic responses to local needs beyond issues of insecurity and intercultural education. Their activism offers insight into the way rural citizens in Guerrero seek to reshape cultural-ethnic identities, political relations and institutions at the local and regional levels. Based on eleven months of fieldwork between 2014 and 2015, this dissertation examines what happens when rural and ethnically-diverse citizens rethink education and security in settings characterized by institutionalized multiculturalism and violence. Two scholarly fields are explored to study Unisur and Upoeg. The researcher employs debates in political anthropology about power and social contestation, and connects these to discussions about multicultural politics in Latin America. She argues in favor of studying aspirational claims around legitimate authority and the social practices enacted by people to obtain final say over local questions of security, education and governance more generally. Exploring how all this takes place through interplay with civil society, armed groups and multiple state actors brings the political dimension of both policing and educational activism to light. The ethnographic study of Upoeg focuses on its emergence and developments as regional policing organization. By studying spatial practices and politics, the researcher examines how Upoeg moved beyond the sphere of (in)security issues to rearrange the political relations between rural communities and municipal centers. Since the organization also employed legal activism, this study includes an analysis of the run-up to, and unfolding of, two referendums about indigenous governance. The appeal of models of indigenous rights for multi-ethnic organizations like Upoeg is scrutinized, as leaders turned to multicultural laws to make indigenous rights effective for their diverse support base. The study of Unisur examines the origins of the university and its conflict with the state over the meaning and future of intercultural education in Guerrero. By studying the institution-building, management and community support of two Unisur departments, the researcher shows how the university experienced the dilemma of how to overcome the divergence between utopian ambitions and satisfying immediate needs. The study also moves into the classroom by examining Unisur’s pedagogy and academic-political ambitions, and the possibilities and contradictions that developed in Unisur’s program. This taps into discussions on how organizations like Unisur and Upoeg can redirect the limited spaces—won through multicultural struggles to gain rights—towards more radical political alternatives. Ethnographic accounts of such dynamics take scholarly debates a step further towards unraveling the potential of Latin American multiculturalism to remedy various forms of social, cultural, and economic injustices.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Pansters, Wil, Primary supervisor
  • van der Pijl, Yvon, Co-supervisor
Award date24 Apr 2020
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Print ISBNs978-94-6380-714-2
Electronic ISBNs978-94-6380-714-2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020


  • intercultural education
  • indigenous politics
  • Afromexican activism
  • community policing
  • political authority
  • Latin American multiculturalism
  • social contestation
  • violence and insecurity
  • legal activism
  • grassroots university


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