Working in Tobacco. Migrant labourers in neoliberal regimes in Mexico and the USA

  • Maria Salazar Martinez

Student thesis: Phd


Over the past two decades, an interest in how tobacco capitalism works in everyday life has reintroduced a fertile discussion about one of the capitalism's core features: the production of surplus value. Through a case-study of Kentucky and Nayarit, this thesis will discuss how the industry of tobacco, instead of depending on historic-geographical unevenness in the spread of capitalist relations across the world, works with unevenness as part of its own structure. In other words, for the securing of surplus value the tobacco industry relies not on non-capitalist relations of production, but rather on an increasing horizontal and vertical integration of tobacco capitalism. This is evidence of the industry's power to effect a new configuration of relations of production different from the configuration of the industry in previous years: tobacco was a product of state intervention.Nayarit in Mexico and Kentucky in the USA appear to be similar in many aspects, despite their different locations in global capitalism and on the ladder of development. In both places, capitalist relations of production frame life, and a dependence on cheap labour for the working of the tobacco industry is manifested. In both places, neoliberal reforms led to the privatisation of the tobacco industry, whereas before tobacco production was subsidised by the state. Nayarit and Kentuckian tobacco growers and workers have to deal with increasing economic pressures and find themselves looking to diversify income streams. In both contexts, similar racial hierarchies structure similarly gendered divisions of labour in the tobacco industry, both within the workforce and in terms of productive versus reproductive labour. The differences between Kentucky and Nayarit have created a situation in which the same group of Nayarit migrant labourers live with unevenness as part of their life projects, though they are working within the same tobacco industry. The thesis presents rich ethnographic detail about heterogeneous contexts that exist within and are shaped by the same tobacco capitalism, and the way through which unevenness generates migrant labour that creates a durable geographical connection between distinct instantiations of the same tobacco industry.
Date of Award3 Jan 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Wade (Supervisor) & Soumhya Venkatesan (Supervisor)


  • Tobacco, Migration, Neoliberalism, Mexico, Nayarit, Kentucky, USA

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