Antigua, Guatemala, Street Food Vendors

Keywords: street food, urban politics, rights to the city, Guatemala


Based on long-term ethnographic research on livelihood practices in urban public spaces, I explore street food politics in Antigua, Guatemala. From various subjective vantage points, I describe the food vendors themselves, the handicraft vendors who constitute their primary clients, tourists who only by chance encounter them when purchasing handicrafts, and the city officials who are responsible for regulating the streets. I analyze the reasons why some food vending practices are permitted, despite regulations against them. Drawing on a theoretical framework that articulates Lefebvre's (1996) and Harvey's (2012) positions on rights to cities, I explain why such street food vendors persist in a highly regulated UNESCO World Heritage Site. I argue that claims of rights are not merely organized political actions but are exercised in the everyday practices of those who live and work on the street. Drawing on the concept of “gray space” from Yiftachel (2009) and shades of graying from Heyman and Smart (1999), I highlight the ambiguous social spaces and physical places that food vending and consumption takes place, to described what I call spatial permissibility, the practicing of ambiguously legal/illegal work in these gray and graying spaces.

Author Biography

Walter E. Little, University at Albany, SUNY

Walter E. Little (PhD, University at Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) is Professor of Anthropology at the University at Albany, SUNY. His multi-sited ethnographic research in Guatemala and Mexico aims to understand heritage and tourism practices in urban places with attention to identity politics and handicrafts sales to tourists. He is the author of nine books and edited volumes and has published over 90 articles and reviews. His monograph, Mayas in the Marketplace: Tourism, Globalization, and Cultural Identity (Texas, 2004), won Best Book of 2005 from the New England Council for Latin American Studies and his co-edited volume, Street Economies in the Urban Global South (SAR, 2013) won the Society for the Anthropology of Work Book Prize in 2014.


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