Space, body and power: Strategies of colonial discourse in some texts of New Spain

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics


Harold G. Jones


Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, Bernardo de Balbuena, Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora, Space, Body, Power

Subject Categories

Spanish and Portuguese Language and Literature


In the present dissertation I discuss how the social construction of space and the body, present in Western culture, produced American concepts of space and body from the time of Columbus' voyages to eighteenth-century Mexico. It was through these discursive strategies that the West established itself as the "center" of the World, while America was constructed as its first "periphery"--to use Enrique Dussel's terminology (1995). The texts which narrated the exploration, conquest, and colonization of the Native peoples and their "newly" discovered lands enhanced the precise relations of power that Europe wanted to impose.

I examine the specific spatial and corporeal categories which had been used for centuries in Western culture to define hierarchical relations in society. For example, medieval maps placed the images of "exotic" lands at the periphery. In addition Europeans used Aristotelian notions of humanity and gender to describe and produce the image of America. I trace these discursive strategies beginning with Columbus' writings and continue my analysis through others from New Spain such as Francisco Cervantes de Salazar's Mexico en 1554, Bernardo de Balbuena's Grandeza mexicana, and Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora's Alboroto y motin de la ciudad de Mexico.

As part of the Spanish colonization of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, society was reorganized. As such, the new "way of seeing" the land--as John Berger (1972) terms it--changed the original landscape. Specifically, the Aztec capital was reordered through the introduction and imposition of a new order: the European city. The establishment of this "new discursive topos"--as Jose Rabasa (1993) has pointed out--onto the Mexican landscape created the ideal environment to incorporate of the "new" colonial body: the European (male). Thus, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the Spanish government used these spatial strategies of domination in order to impose control over the colonized bodies and, at the same time, to justify the new system of domination and exploitation.


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