This article treats Pisagua prison in northern Chile, which intermittently served as a concentration camp for leftists and queer “sexual dissidents” throughout the twentieth century and was converted into a hotel after the transition to democracy in 1990. It proposes a theoretical formulation of neoliberal captivities, which the author defines as the process through which programs of counterrevolutionary backlash and war making become encrypted into neoliberal definitions of “peace” and “freedom,” and violence becomes subsumed into normative structures of daily life. The author's argument is twofold. First, she argues that Pisagua functions as a salient example of the shift between formal and informal modes of counterrevolutionary warfare — articulating a logic she characterizes as “low-intensity warfare” that has been central to the attempt to shore up hegemony in the wake of broader revolutionary upsurges of the 1960s and 1970s. Secondly, she argues that Pisagua reveals many of the unresolved contradictions — in particular, the deeper and yet-to-be-resolved gendered, racialized, sexualized, and classed contradictions endemic to capitalist modernity and nation building — that the neoliberal form attempts to mask. Placing Pisagua within a longer durée of struggle, the article scours the deep and multilayered histories of class, gender, racial, and imperial violence that take form within Pisagua — all of which are ironically neutralized through the figure of its torture-center-turned-hotel. In so doing, the author aims to reach beneath neoliberalism's sleek veneer and “low-intensity” forms — lending ultimately to a genealogy of struggle for radical justice that does not cede to neoliberalism's thwarting operations.
Skip Nav Destination
Tamara Lea Spira; Neoliberal Captivities: Pisagua Prison and the Low-Intensity Form. Radical History Review 1 January 2012; 2012 (112): 127–146. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01636545-1416205
Download citation file: