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The socioeconomic stratification system in Colombia: How a governmental subsidy distribution mechanism serves to demarcate boundaries

archives@tulane.edu / This dissertation examines Colombia’s socioeconomic stratification system (SES), an official scheme to classify the country’s housing stock into six strata in order to crosssubsidize utility rates. Established in law in 1994, the SES assigns strata to residential buildings based on their physical characteristics and the amenities available in the surrounding neighborhood. In the popular imagination and among researchers, the SES has come to be understood as more than a system that classifies housing: strata are a part of Colombians’ personal identities, listed on dating profiles and instrumentalized in studies as a demographic category alongside sex and race. This dissertation is guided by two research questions. First, how has the significance of the SES changed such that the system, intended originally to classify dwellings, is now also understood to categorize individuals into distinct social classes? Second, do the categories of the SES function as symbolic boundaries that reinforce patterns of hierarchy and exclusion? To answer these questions, I consider two bodies of evidence. I begin with a comprehensive review of published academic articles that make reference to the SES. Examining a corpus of 52 articles and reports published in English and Spanish, I find that 17 articles misconstrue strata as based on personal characteristics such as income or educational attainment. I argue that the prevalence of this error demonstrates that Colombians have attached meanings and implications to the SES beyond its original intent, and that these reinterpretations are held firmly and uncritically, even by experts. To elucidate how the SES is understood by Colombians of diverse perspectives, I also analyze 31 semistructured interviews conducted with residents of Medellín. The set of interview participants includes residents of housing classified across all six strata, the most comprehensive cross-section of Colombian society yet represented in a project of this type. With evidence from these interviews, I show how narratives that rely on the strata system have interplayed with other conceptual repertoires that Colombians draw on to make sense of socioeconomic class, focusing especially on repertoires rooted in the specific economic history and regional identity of Antioquia. I argue that the strata system has compounded the symbolic boundaries that exist in Colombian society, and that it has been assimilated into racist and classist ideologies. I conclude with an argument for the moral necessity of advancing equity and centering the voices of the oppressed in policymaking and academic research. / 1 / Ana María López Caldwell

  1. tulane:122054
Identiferoai:union.ndltd.org:TULANE/oai:http://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/:tulane_122054
Date January 2021
ContributorsLópez Caldwell, Ana María (author), Huck, James (Thesis advisor), School of Liberal Arts Latin American Studies (Degree granting institution)
PublisherTulane University
Source SetsTulane University
LanguageEnglish
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeText
Formatelectronic, pages:  248
RightsNo embargo, Copyright is in accordance with U.S. Copyright law.

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