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Taking Form, Making Worlds

Taking Form, Making Worlds
Cartonera Publishers in Latin America

The first comprehensive study of cartonera, a vibrant publishing phenomenon born in Latin America.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

April 2022
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360 pages | 6 x 9 | one 16-page color insert, 49 b&w photos |

A publishing phenomenon and artistic project, cartonera was born in the wake of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis. Infused with a rebellious spirit, cartonera has exploded in popularity, with hundreds of publishers across Latin America and Europe making colorful, low-cost books out of cardboard salvaged from the street. Taking Form, Making Worlds is the first comprehensive study of cartonera. Drawing on interdisciplinary research conducted across Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, the authors show how this hands-on practice has fostered a politically engaged network of writers, artists, and readers. More than a social movement, cartonera uses texts, workshops, encounters, and exhibitions to foster community and engagement through open-ended forms that are at once creative and social. For various groups including waste-pickers, Indigenous communities, rural children, and imprisoned women, cartonera provides a platform for unique stories and sparks collaborations that bring the walls of the “lettered city” tumbling down. By showcasing such diverse authors and bookmakers, cartonera publishers have encouraged varied works while making a home for an aesthetics of resistance, for experimentation, and for those living on the fringes of capitalist societies in which poverty, eccentricity, and creativity itself, are suspect.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Histories: Tracing Trajectories of Resistance
  • 2. Methods: Trans-Formal Research for Transformational Practice
  • 3. Texts: Cartonera Literature in Action
  • 4. Encounters: Existence as Resistance and Sites of Plurality
  • 5. Workshops: Cardboard and the Material Sociality of Practice
  • 6. Exhibitions: An Artistic Proposition to Reorder the Social
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • About the Authors
  • Index

Lucy Bell is a senior lecturer in Spanish and translation studies at the University of Surrey.

Alexander Ungprateeb Flynn is an assistant professor of anthropology and contemporary art at UCLA.

Patrick O’Hare is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at the University of St. Andrews.


“Imagine an academic library whose books, in an act of defiance, run riot, escaping their covers and spilling out their contents far and wide. Imagine all the cardboard, lying abandoned, having been emptied of the consumer goods it once contained. And imagine the joy of all the people who could never afford the goods or enter the academy, when they discover that by stitching fugitive words with salvaged cardboard, they could give new life to both. Welcome to cartonera! In this impeccably crafted study, Lucy Bell, Alex Ungprateeb Flynn, and Patrick O’Hare show how the collective practice of cartonera not only crosses the frontier between art and literature, but also has the potential to turn the stuffy world of letters upside down.’’

—Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen, author of Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description

“Bell, Ungprateeb Flynn, and O’Hare’s compelling interdisciplinary approach to the cartonera publishing phenomenon in Latin America brilliantly enmeshes process, product, and context. Their 'transformal' methodology threads together fieldwork, bookmaking, and interartistic 'encounters' in Brazil and Mexico, launching an original and powerful collective project. Taking Form, Making Worlds invites readers into the cartonera groups’ hands-on aesthetic practice, into their literary corpus, and into their local settings, with nuanced and sensitive analysis. The authors go beyond research and writing to become activists and advocates as they intervene in grassroots urban arts and literature collectives’ minoritarian social and political organizing.’’

—Marcy Schwartz, Rutgers University, author of Public Pages: Reading along the Latin American Landscape

“ If handmade books don't immediately come to mind when thinking of 'objects of resistance' capable of breaking down prejudices and overturning the canon, they will after reading Taking Form, Making Worlds, a book about books. The authors beautifully recount stories of individuals who form collective bodies as they publish through the cartonera movement. A strategic reorganization of the systems of production and consumption turns into a lesson in everyday political practices, and we learn that separating an artistic project from its public function is a vain attempt to perpetuate the old dichotomies.’’

—Lisette Lagnado, chief curator of the 27th Bienal de São Paulo, “How to Live Together" (2006) and co-curator of the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (2019–2020)