Surviving Dictatorship

A Work of Visual Sociology

By Jacqueline Adams

Routledge – 2010 – 306 pages

Series: Contemporary Sociological Perspectives

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Written as a book for undergraduate students as well as scholars, Surviving Dictatorship is a work of visual sociology and oral history, and a case study that communicates the lived experience of poverty, repression, and resistance in an authoritarian society: Pinochet’s Chile.

It focuses on shantytown women, examining how they join groups to cope with exacerbated impoverishment and targeted repression, and how this leads them into very varied forms of resistance aimed at self-protection, community-building, and mounting an offensive. Drawing on a visual database of shantytown photographs, art, posters, flyers, and bulletins, as well as on interviews, photo elicitation, and archival research, the book is an example of how multiple methods might be successfully employed to examine dictatorship from the perspective of some of the least powerful members of society. It is ideal for courses in social inequalities, poverty, race/class/gender, political sociology, global studies, urban studies, women’s studies, human rights, oral history, and qualitative methods.


"Adams combines her own incisive photographs, vivid testimony from the women who made these remarkable political textiles, and a penetrating sociological analysis to give readers an intimate sense of life under a dictatorship."Howard S. Becker, Sociologist, Author of Outsiders and Art Worlds

"Jacqueline Adams’ Surviving Dictatorship is a courageous examination of ‘shantytown sociology,’ particularly the strategies employed by women to resist, survive, and ultimately triumph over dictatorship. Her study examines social processes in one version of the shantytowns that constitute a shocking percentage of the world’s population. Her work will be important both for its contribution to understanding the social history of Chile’s dark past, and for its novel use of visual sociology methods. A must read." Douglas Harper, Sociology, Duquesne University


1. Shantytown Women and Dictatorship 2. Living with Repression 3. Unemployment and Exacerbated Poverty 4. Surviving Poverty in the Shantytowns 5. Resistance: Self-Protection and Community Affirmation 6. Mounting an Offensive 7. Ties Between Groups 8. Surviving Dictatorship

Author Bio

Jacqueline Adams is the author of articles and a book on the making of dissident art under dictatorship, shantytown women’s reactions to the end of dictatorship, exile, and decision-making about migration. She has won a Pacific Sociological Association award and had an article selected as a benchmark by SAGE. She has worked as an assistant professor of sociology in Hong Kong, senior researcher at the University of Coimbra, and research fellow, scholar-in-residence, and visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, where she is currently based.

Notable Review


Welcome to the companion website for Surviving Dictatorship: A Work of Visual Sociology by Jacqueline Adams.

How do the urban poor, women in particular, experience and resist dictatorship? In answer to this question, this book focuses on women who lived in shantytowns in Santiago, Chile, under the dictatorship of General Pinochet (1973-1990). It examines these women's experiences of repression and exacerbated poverty, their economic survival strategies, and their resistance. Shantytown women’s resistance, it proposes, consisted of self-protection, community building, and mounting an offensive against the regime. Much of it was "incidental resistance," in that it was an unintended outcome of joining groups to cope with poverty or targeted repression; some of it was even "reluctant resistance," in which many of the women participated against their will, as a result of pressure by group leaders. A considerable proportion of it was “solidarity resistance” carried out to help people with problems different from their own.

To arrive at answers to these questions, Jacqueline Adams used methods drawn from the disciplines of sociology, history, and anthropology. She conducted interviews with women in shantytowns in varied districts of Santiago about their experiences of the regime and involvement in income-earning groups essential for their family’s survival, and also with the staff of humanitarian-cum-human rights organizations that were important supporters of the groups that the women formed. She conducted what she terms “art elicitation,” a variant of photo elicitation, whereby shantytown explained art works (arpilleras) they and others had made about repression, poverty, and resistance. She built up and analyzed a database of hundreds of photographs of shantytown experiences of the dictatorship, which she found in Chilean clandestine resistance organization newsletters, Chilean exile organization bulletins, autobiographies by shantytown inhabitants, academic books, and journal articles. She mined a collection at the Princeton University Libraries that contained flyers, bulletins, declarations, posters, and open letters by shantytown women’s groups in Santiago. Lastly, she drew on her field notes from participant observation that she conducted for a year with five shantytown women’s groups, for information relevant to the dictatorship period.

The book will be of interest to anyone with an interest in poverty, dictatorship, women’s experiences, or Latin America, and can fruitfully be used for teaching undergraduate students in sociology, history, anthropology, and political science.

On this website you will find electronic versions of the pictures in the text, broken down by chapter, and available for course use.