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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Visualizing the self : modernity, identity, and the Gente Decente in porfirian Mexico Eineigel, Susanne

Abstract

In late nineteenth-century Mexico City, members of an incipient middle class attempted to define themselves within new urban spaces and against a growing heterogeneous mix of strangers. This thesis argues that an increasingly visual culture brought about by urbanization and new visual practices heightened an awareness of the body's surface appearances and conduct. As a newly-emerging social group, members of the middle class needed to learn how to display and perform, as well as to read, the codes of class, gender, and citizenship. This paper analyzes two types of texts that provided their middle-class readers with guides both to self-fashioning and to navigating the complexities of a growing and rapidly changing city. Manuel Antonio Carrefio's popular Manual de Urbanidady Buenas Maneras taught its readers the rules of dress and behaviour that signaled respectability and the short urban sketches of writers such as Manuel Gutierrez Najera and Jose Thomas de Cuellar narrated the city's urban and social landscape into scenes of familiarity and recognition. However, despite attempts to stabilize codes of identification, these texts also reflect middle-class anxieties that surface appearances and social mobility could mask or disguise an individual's "immoral" character or lower-class background. The reading of these texts by members of the middle class formed part of larger late nineteenth-century discourses that attempted to mould a modern citizen through moral reform, education, and hygiene.

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