Chavos de la Calle: The Social Worlds of Homeless Youth in Mexico City

Jessica Villasenor

This grant supported my dissertation research examining the social worlds of homeless youth in Mexico City. Though difficult to enumerate, it is estimated that there are millions of youth living and or working on the street worldwide, the majority being found in large cities of the global south. These youth are the city’s most vulnerable residents. Despite the prevalence of these youth in cities across the world, they have been largely overlooked by sociological research that examines urban poverty through economic indicators and demographic changes, that focuses on the elites that shape and benefit from inequality in these cities, and even urban poverty research that aggregates the poor to their place of residence in the city (favela studies, slum dwellers, etc). My project breaks from this pattern by examining the lives of homeless youth in Mexico City, how they understand and interpret their situation, the culture that they create on the street, and the various ways in which they contribute to the city around them.


The Social Sciences Division Research Grant (Orin Williams Fund) helped to fund part of my 10-month fieldwork period. During this time I conducted approximately 1500 hours of participant observation with homeless youth in Mexico City, accompanying them as they went about their daily routines—generating money, hanging out with their friends, going to see their families, receiving services from local organizations, etc. In addition to this participant observation I also conducted semi-structured interviews with my main informants and service providers, life history interviews with a select few informants, and archival research to track the phenomenon in the city over time. The findings from this research period indicate that the social worlds of these youth are shaped, and in many ways determined, by the larger political and economic policies that the city adopts. The resulting ethnography will shed light on the ways in which political, economic, and social shifts in Mexico City directly affect these youth and the various ways in which their interpretation of their situation and their everyday actions are a form of resistance to the social, political, and economic exclusion they face.


The data I gathered with the help of this research grant is invaluable to my dissertation and to my future success as a scholar.


Jessica Villasenor is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology.