Héctor Beltrán at University of California, BerkeleyCode Work

In Code Work, Héctor Beltrán examines Mexican and Latinx coders’ personal strategies of self-making as they navigate a transnational economy of tech work. Beltrán shows how these hackers apply concepts from the code worlds to their lived experiences, deploying batches, loose coupling, iterative processing (looping), hacking, prototyping, and full-stack development in their daily social interactions—at home, in the workplace, on the dating scene, and in their understanding of the economy, culture, and geopolitics. Merging ethnographic analysis with systems thinking, he draws on his eight years of research in México and the United States—during which he participated in and observed hackathons, hacker schools, and tech entrepreneurship conferences—to unpack the conundrums faced by workers in a tech economy that stretches from villages in rural México to Silicon Valley.

Beltrán chronicles the tension between the transformative promise of hacking—the idea that coding will reconfigure the boundaries of race, ethnicity, class, and gender—and the reality of a neoliberal capitalist economy divided and structured by the US/México border. Young hackers, many of whom approach coding in a spirit of playfulness and exploration, are encouraged to appropriate the discourses of flexibility and self-management even as they remain outside formal employment. Beltrán explores the ways that “innovative culture” is seen as central in curing México’s social ills, showing that when innovation is linked to technological development, other kinds of development are neglected. Beltrán’s highly original, wide-ranging analysis uniquely connects technology studies, the anthropology of capitalism, and Latinx and Latin American studies.


Héctor Beltrán is assistant professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.