Power, Violence and Representation: The Visual Legacy of Felipe Calderón’s Presidency

Jessica Wax-Edwards

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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During the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) the government’s increased militarisation strategy led to an unprecedented escalation of violence as linked to Mexico’s war on drugs. This thesis examines Calderón’s presidential legacy, seen in the violent escalation of the so-called Drug Wars, as represented by various filmmakers and photographers working during his presidency.

Given the intermedial nature of the visual works examined this thesis is introduced by a chapter providing historical contextualisation to the abstruse and often unclear power dynamics and influences at play leading to and during Calderón’s devastating time in office. Chapter Two expounds on the three primary theoretical frameworks that inform my analyses focusng on power, violence and hauntology. Here I rely on the work of Michel Foucault to contend with the complex power relations at play during this sexenio. Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay On Violence (1921) provides the basis for an exploration of violence theory complemented by the more contemporary writings and analyses of Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler. Finally, Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology is applied as a means of contending with the societal impact of the war and the representation of its victims.

Chapters Three through Six each examine a particular nuance of the impact and effects of the war on drugs via the lens of two visual artists. Chapter Three focuses on the highly contested 2006 presidential elections, which ushered Calderón into power, via two accusatory documentary films. Chapter Four examines the rising levels of violence since the launch of Calderón’s drug war offensive as represented by two photojournalists working in heavily afflicted states. Chapter Five builds on the work of the previous chapter by looking deeper at the Calderón administration’s treatment of the drug war dead. Via the filmic lens of Pablo Orta and the photographic lens of Mónica Gonzalez, the chapter examines victimisation, grievability and the value of human life seen in the Movimiento por la Paz protests started by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia. The final chapter of this thesis, once again centres on two documentary features. Using very different styles the two features look at the dangers, repercussions and now quotidian violence of living in a drug torn nation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Haddu, Miriam, Supervisor
Award date1 Oct 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Mexican visual culture
  • Felipe Calderón
  • Pedro Pardo
  • Fernando Brito
  • Tus pasos se perdieron con el paisaje
  • Mónica González
  • Geografía del Dolor
  • violence
  • drug war
  • Natalia Almada
  • El velador
  • Reportero
  • Bernardo Ruiz
  • el hijo del poeta
  • Pablo Orta
  • movimiento por la paz
  • Javier Sicilia
  • hauntology
  • politics of representation

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