'Obras que unen Chilenos'
: contested imaginaries of national integration on Chile's Route 5

  • Isidora Urrutia Steinert

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis reveals and interrogates the multiplicity of historical and contemporary, local, regional and national identity discourses attached to Chile’s Route 5. Route 5 is the Chilean section of the Pan-American Highway, a 3,364 km-long motorway that spans four fifths of the length of this country. From a material culture theoretical framework and drawing upon insights from multiple disciplines (anthropology of infrastructures, identity studies, Latin American cultural studies, history, cultural geography, heritage studies, among others), I analyse the construction, redevelopments, and current materiality of this motorway as locales where identities are constructed, resisted, and/or reproduced. Route 5 is a symbol of national unity according to the country’s governing elites. This thesis argues that it is also a useful pathway into the processes of articulation of alternative identities in Chile. I explore the ways in which Route 5 has been used since the 1920s by governing elites to perform imaginaries of national integration based upon notions of modernity and development, mestizaje and multiculturalism, common culture and popular religion. I also examine local articulations, challenges, and reinterpretations of these ideas on the road and its roadside. This investigation involved substantial archival research on the institutional history of the road, and a two-month-long road trip in 2018 mapping, observing, and photographing almost 2,500 sites along Route 5. These included roadside shrines, monuments (historic and archaeological), memorials, sculptures, and street art. Taken together, the historical and material analysis of Route 5 presented here insists on identity as a process rather than a thing: it shows that elite-led modernising national imaginaries both coexist with and are defied by alternative discourses and epistemes. My study maps out a mosaic of Chilean identity narratives – how they are articulated and who they are articulated by – over a period of approximately one hundred years (1920 – 2018). It illuminates the deep, rich history behind current identity disputes in Chile. It also firmly places Chile as a central part of a larger continental or hemispheric whole.
Date of Award28 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsAgencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo
SupervisorJo E Crow (Supervisor) & Graeme Were (Supervisor)


  • Identity
  • Infrastructure
  • Roads
  • Modernity
  • Material culture
  • Coloniality

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