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The City at Its Limits

Taboo, Transgression, and Urban Renewal in Lima

In 1996, against the backdrop of Alberto Fujimori’s increasingly corrupt national politics, an older woman in Lima, Peru—part of a group of women street sweepers protesting the privatization of the city’s cleaning services—stripped to the waist in full view of the crowd that surrounded her. Lima had just launched a campaign to revitalize its historic districts, and this shockingly transgressive act was just one of a series of events that challenged the norms of order, cleanliness, and beauty that the renewal effort promoted. The City at Its Limits employs a novel and fluid interweaving of essays and field diary entries as Daniella Gandolfo analyzes the ramifications of this act within the city’s conflicted history and across its class divisions. She builds on the work of Georges Bataille to explore the relation between taboo and transgression, while Peruvian novelist and anthropologist José María Arguedas’s writings inspire her to reflect on her return to her native city in movingly intimate detail. With its multiple perspectives—personal, sociological, historical, and theoretical—The City at Its Limits is a pioneering work on the cutting edge of ethnography.

288 pages | 10 halftones, 3 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: Latin American History


“This beautifully written ethnography carries us along the distinctive memory traces left by the diary, the fieldnote, and the archive to explore the boisterous street life, personal memories, and violent intimacies of political and social life in Lima. By bringing anthropological theories of transgression and taboo to bear on modern public and political life, Gandolfo gives us new insights into the workings of affect, place, and political performance, and she does so with a feel for language that sets a new standard for ethnographic writing.”

Deborah Poole, The Johns Hopkins University

“This is a brilliant, beautifully and powerfully written book and a much-needed intervention into academic thought about the senses, affect, intensity, place, the city, and politics—I found it entirely convincing.”

Kathleen Stewart, University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents


1 Introduction: Taboo

2 First Diary

3 Beauty

4 Second Diary

5 Filth

6 Third Diary

7 Nakedness

8 Last Entry


  Acknowledgements   Illustration Credits



Society for Cultural Anthropology: Gregory Bateson Book Prize
Honorable Mention

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