On Transience

On Transience functions as a research center for my ongoing ethnographic project in Lima, Peru. In my research, I seek to understand “transience” as a multifaceted and intersectional experience that extends across different displaced populations in Lima.  Rather than an extensive survey of each collective experience of displaced and/or transient population, I seek to understand the personal accounts of individuals who are similarly transient (which I define as a state of impermanence, incoherence, disconnectedness, and mobility). This research is funded by Rice University’s Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarship, and is scheduled to take place from March to July 2019.

Research Project

I plan to research transient subjects in Lima, Peru, a city which exists at the crossroads of geographic and economic importance, as a major migration center in South America and an economic hub that promises urban work opportunities to transient persons. Working in Lima is an invaluable opportunity to observe, understand, and ethnographically describe the experiences of displaced persons in a city that stands as the crossroads between environmental, political, and economic dispossession. My project will document the experiences of displaced persons in their respective communities.

  1. I will focus on homeless populations that have become particularly prevalent in the Lima metropolitan area. The number of chronically homeless in Lima have been rising as urban development pushes the impoverished into slums or onto the streets. This is an issue that has come front and center in Lima’s reflection on its own growth. For example, Limapolis, an international workshop that discusses alternative development projects for affordable housing –hosted by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP)— attempts to advise new policies for managing homeless and low-income residents in the city.
  2. More are made homeless in Lima due to flooding in the Huachipa district, east of Lima, which has produced many environmental refugees. In 2017, Hucahipa was hit by extremely heavy rains induced by global climate change, which led to the region’s worst flooding in decades. Rapid evaporation in the Atlantic Ocean facilitated rainfall that exceeded ten times its average amount during the El Niño period. Residences in Huachipa were swept away by cascading mudslides, and their occupants were left homeless, evacuated from the region and relocated in temporary shelters.
  3. Lima has also seen a large increase in Venezuelan migrants since political protests and demonstrations started in 2014. So far, over 400,000 Venezuelan migrants have entered Peru, either to remain in the country, or to move further south to Chile and Argentina. Many homeless migrants remain in Lima and surrounding towns, preferring to stay in the city rather than enter into refugee camps.

Lima, Peru

Lima is host to a number of different migrant and refugee groups that are living in camps, slums, apartments, and homes. The city, located in the center of the Peruvian coast, is lodged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Andes mountains. With the ocean to its west, and the sierra to its east, Lima’s central location bisects the country and stands directly between any migration from Ecuador and Colombia to Chile and Argentina. Furthermore, although 24.1% of Peru’s population lives in rural areas east of Lima, the coast contains the largest cities and remains the most heavily populated region of the country (INEI 2007). As the center of commerce, production, and administration, Lima attracts many migrants throughout the country and from other countries in South America. In the face of national and international pressures on vulnerable populations, Lima funnels the dispossessed into its urban space where these populations can be monitored and managed.


I wish to understand how populations that are affected by economic displacement from affordable homes, environmental displacement from vulnerable flood zones, and/or political displacement from Venezuela, experience their transience in Lima, and how government authorities in the city are attempting to manage these groups by statistically enumerating their presence, forming organizational responses, and potentially integrating them into a common public narrative of the urban space.