Code Work: Thinking with the System in México

Beltrán, Héctor
American Anthropologist

This article explores how young people position themselves in relation to promises of technology and progress during a time of political transition in Mexico. My fieldwork took place between 2013 and 2017, just before a newly formed leftist political party gained power after a century of rule by Mexico's “revolutionary” party. For self-identified “disenchanted” youth in Mexico, skeptical of the promises of social mobility by means of formal education, “hacking” emerged as a way to make sense of their futures in a precarious state and economy and as a way to let their “code work” intervene in narratives that had only delivered false hopes. Coworking spaces, hackathons, entrepreneurial initiatives, and neoliberal “reforms” were seldom differentiated by politicians. By immersing themselves in the code that underlies the technologies that promise developmentalist change, I show how fundamental coding principles become good to think with, alongside the institutions and systems responsible for reinstating unequal opportunities, iteration after iteration. Hacker-entrepreneurs used their code work to develop heuristics for analyzing the organization of entities and relationship between them, whether they were elements in a coding environment or actors in a political-economic environment. [technology, knowledge economy, youth, computing, precarity]