Outlaw Capital

Everyday Illegalities and the Making of Uneven Development

Title Details

Pages: 274

Illustrations: 19 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 09/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6448-3

List Price: $28.95


Pub Date: 09/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6447-6

List Price: $114.95

Outlaw Capital

Everyday Illegalities and the Making of Uneven Development

How race/class conflicts over everyday illegalities shape capitalist urbanization

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  • Description
  • Reviews

With an ethnography of the largest contraband economy in the Americas running through Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Outlaw Capital shows how transgressive economies and gray spaces are central to globalized capitalism.

A key site on the China-Paraguay-Brazil trade route, Ciudad del Este moves billions of dollars’ worth of consumer goods—everything from cell phones to whiskey—providing cheap transit to Asian manufacturers and invisible subsidies to Brazilian consumers. A vibrant popular economy of Paraguayan street vendors and Brazilian “ant contrabandistas” capture some of the city’s profits, contesting the social distribution of wealth through an insurgent urban epistemology of use, need, and care. Yet despite the city’s centrality, it is narrated as a backward, marginal, and lawless place.

Outlaw Capital contests these sensationalist stories, showing how uneven development and the Paraguayan state made Ciudad de Este a gray space of profitable transgression. By studying the everyday illegalities of both elite traders and ordinary workers, Jennifer L. Tucker shows how racialized narratives of economic legitimacy across scales—not legal compliance—sort whose activities count as formal and legal and whose are targeted for reform or expulsion. Ultimately, reforms criminalized the popular economy while legalizing, protecting, and “whitening” elite illegalities.

Outlaw Capital navigates Ciudad del Este’s labyrinthine street economy—its contraband hidden in plain sight—to show how licit and illicit flows of goods become entangled with state power to produce shifting boundaries of (il)legality. This is a first-rate global ethnography that reveals a partially hidden abode of commodity circulation that has become central to capitalist accumulation.

—Nik Theodore, coauthor of Fast Policy: Experimental Statecraft at the Thresholds of Neoliberalism

A story told from the borderlands between Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, Outlaw Capital upends commonsensical notions about capitalism and corruption everywhere. Here is a riveting and beautifully rendered ethnography of contraband trade and the lives of poor, racialized street vendors. It is also an unflinching critique of the powerful politicians and elite financiers who stand most to benefit from economic transgressions and their selective 'whitening' or legalization. A massive contribution to critical corruption studies and the political economy of racial capitalism.

—Malini Ranganathan, coauthor of Corruption Plots: Stories, Ethics, and Publics of the Late Capitalist City

With elegant prose and vivid ethnographic detail, Outlaw Capital reveals how the class conflicts at the heart of Paraguay’s globalized illicit economies have built nothing less than an entire city. It’s a compelling and well-told story.

—Teo Ballvé, author of The Frontier Effect: State Formation and Violence in Colombia

About the Author/Editor

JENNIFER L. TUCKER is assistant professor in the Community and Regional Planning Department at the University of New Mexico. She has published articles in journals such as Antipode, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and Planning Theory, among others.