David Harvey's Theory of the Right to the City and Machuca

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Analyses of the films Machuca and Pantaleón y las Visitadoras using the theory of David Harvey: The Right to the City


The films Machuca and Pantaleón y las Visitadoras have been set to portray different controversial themes that make up the contemporary society. The themes have been used to develop different characters that represent the ideals of the society and make the audience to understand these concepts. The film Machuca has is centered on Gonzalo and Machuca who hail from different social classes and each one helps to understand the underlying issues in the society. The film Pantaleón y las Visitadoras focuses on Captain Pantajo whose character and his surroundings also represents different ideas in the society. The films Machuca and Pantaleón y las Visitadoras portrays different societal issues like class conflict, radical justice, the right to autonomy and self-interests and egocentrism that have been discussed by David Harvey’s theory ‘the Right to the City’.

The Right to the City Theory by David Harvey

Social theorist David Harvey states that the right to the city is far from the right to resources but it is the right of an individual to determine the kind of place they want to live in. The theory states that people are responsible for the city they live in and they should take a stance and be part of re-making the city. The right to the city requires a collective effort rather than an individual’s because decisions on the desired city depend on many people. The theory outlines issues that have hindered the right to the city and how individuals should have power over their own lives (Harvey, 2003).



The film Machuca is a classic representation of different controversial issues in contemporary society and the film’s focus on kids is not skeptical of these issues. The movie focuses on the lives of two kids who hail from two different social classes and this has been used to depict the differences in their lives and the issues that surround them. The film depicts the conflict between different social classes and how they determine the kind of lives and ‘the right to the city’ of the people and, additionally, it depicts radical justice with regard to the right to the city where people take it into their own hands to create a society that they desire (Wood, and Inge 2006).

Definition of key terms

Class conflict: the differences in social behaviors and livelihoods evident in different forms of living like social structures, education, and lifestyle.

Radical justice: taking a stance and determining the root causes of societal difference and devising ways of solving them.

Socialists’ ideals: the belief that wealth should be developed and owned by a community as a whole.

Class conflict                                                                                                       

The film Machuca represents different aspects present in society and some of them include class conflict, radical justice and lack of freedom. The film has been set in Salvador Allende government’s last days and the director aim is to show the audience the reality apply the story in their present lives and gain consciousness of their surroundings rather than being mere spectators and getting entertained. The film revolves around the lives of two kids whose paths cross in Santiago de Chile during the 1973 revolutionary period. Gonzalo Infante who comes from a wealthy family attends an upper-class school and Pedro Machuca who hails from a low-class family attends the same school as part of a social experiment.  The case is a symbol of all integrating and social policies the government decided to implement in Chile and they led to conflicts. The class difference between the two boys is evident from the beginning even as Gonzalo dresses. Gonzalo is shy and this can be related to his social behavior and family relations. David Harvey’s ‘The Right to the City’ states that we live in a tremendously divided society. He states that how people view the world and what awaits them depends on the social order they belong to and the kinds of consumerism they have access to. The developing world has cities that have been divided by social classes, for example, exclusive schools, private police in the rich estates and other parts where water is only available for a few, electricity is pirated, the roads get clogged with mud when it rains and sharing houses in normal. This is a clear portrayal of the lives of Gonzalo and Machuca. Gonzalo is used to a posh lifestyle where everything is available while Machuca is less privileged economically. 

Compared to Machuca’s neighborhood which is full of people and noisy, Gonzalo lives in a spacious and extremely quiet house with no chances of interacting with the public. Gonzalo lives a boring life with no conventional family set-up, high respect to the authority and upholding the lifestyle of the upper class. Machuca’s life, on the other hand, is different in everything. He hails from the slums where the conditions of living are economically poor but family ties and social behavior has been upheld. According to Harvey’s theory, each social class seems to work autonomously focusing solely on what kinds of consumerism they have been given for survival. Under such class conflict, the ideas of citizenship, identity, and belonging-which have already been threatened by the widespread melancholy of neoliberal ethnic-become almost impossible to attain. The idea that the social fragments can have the same ideologies, come together politically and agree of economic and social development is almost implausible. Based on the story, the idea that Gonzalo’s lifestyle and Machuca’s can be integrated is impractical. Gonzalo’s social order focuses on different things compared to Machuca’s and finding a common ground between the two social classes become increasingly hard (Martín-Cabrera, and Daniel 2007).

Radical Justice

If people desire to have a revolutionary stance, then they should get to the root course of oppression and social inequalities, being radical means, getting to the root course of something. During the Marxist government of president Salvador Allende, there were injustices and many people decided to change the situation. The leadership of the country was under siege as many leaders and the military condemned the socialist ideals; people in the country were inspired to take a stance for revolution. Machuca shows protests held by the people in a quest to address the issue of disparity between the poor and the rich and inequality. Father McEnroe who is one of St. Patrick’s headmasters decided to confront the issue by offering scholarships to poor students. Pedro Machuca is one of the privileged students and while other scholarships students are picked on by bullies he becomes brave and soon befriends the rich kid Gonzalo. Father McEnroe takes it in his hand to make a change of the city by giving a chance for the poor kids to experience the life of the upper-class. The protests and demonstrations in the streets lead the country into a repressive and military overthrow of the government of General Augusto Pinochet on 11 September 1973, which definitely changed the lives of the people in the country (Harvey, 2003).

Harvey in “the Right to the City” states that people are responsible for where they live and the kind of lives they live. The Right to the City means that people need to determine the kind of social relations, the kind of people they want to become and what environment they want to live in. According to the theory, the right the city is far from the right to access resources that are distributed in the society but the right to make the society what they want based on their heart’s desires. Changing the city is a collective effort rather than an individual’s, the outcomes of the city depend on the collective activities and decisions of many people. First, people should reflect on how the cities have been made historically by social, power sources. There is a need to realize that their lives have been changed and remade by powerful people and sometimes without their knowledge. People need to claim the right to choose the kind of power they want to shape their cities and foster the processes of urbanization and this can be done in a radical and fundamental way. This is a clear portrayal of what happened in the movie Machuca, the people in the country decided to take it into their own hands to re-shape their city. The socialist ideas by the government were creating rifts between the people and creating different social classes. As this was a dangerous thing for the country and in a way, staggered urbanization, the protests, the military coup and the scholarships offered by the father was in a quest of re-making the city into their heart’s desires.


The Movie Machuca is a clear depiction of what happens in contemporary society. The society is made up of different social classes that determine the right of access to consumerism and as states Harvey’s theory, the society has been divided by social classes which determine the right to the city and general livelihoods. The ideals of citizenship and sense of belonging become increasingly impossible to attain because of the differences in classes. Additionally, the film talks about radical justice where people get to the root cause of their problems and decide to solve them. Harvey states that people are responsible for the kind of lives they live and the right to the city means having a say in everything that involves the surrounding environments. The people in the film took into their own hands to determine the kinds of lives they wanted to live.

Pantaleón y las Visitadoras


Pantaleón y las Visitadoras is a film that has been set amidst many controversial themes. Captain Pantajo is assigned a duty that seems preposterous at first sight and he takes on the duty with diligence and obedience. The film portrays different aspects of the society that have been evaluated by Harvey in the theory ‘The Right to the City’. The people in the film do not have the freedom of making their own choices without being blinded by their superiors and ‘the right to the city’ has fallen into the hands of selfish people whose interests lie on their personal heart’s desires.

Definition of key terms

Autonomy: freedom to make own choices without the influence of superiors.

Aesthetic values: belief that the state of affairs has the capacity to create positive or negative value when experienced incorporated aesthetically.

Self-interests and egocentrism: acting in a way that benefits individuality or a favored small group of people   


Llosa in Captain Pantoja and the Special services brings out the weaknesses in the society’s most respected institutions like the military. The story presents a system where the subordinates are coerced to obey orders blindly regardless of whether they agree with the superiors or not. In the name of discipline and order, men and women serving in the military are trained to do as they are told. When Pantajo heard that he would be receiving a promotion, he was extremely thrilled and he was prepared to serve the community. When his assignment was read, he was shocked but he did not have a choice, he took on the assignment with diligence and obedience without question. Additionally, the women in the brothels ‘specialists’ were told what to do and they followed the orders with no question. Similarly, the evangelists and prophets portrayed in the film make their flock to follow certain paths without question. With his sermons of “Son of the Cross”, he makes the believers sacrifice animals and he goes further to crucify human beings. In both religion and military, people do not have the free will of thought. Individuality, as portrayed in the story, is a subject to a decision from superiors and decisions are made by the chosen ones. As long as the decisions are constructive, then there is no harm but most of the decisions made for the people are oppressive and autonomy is discouraged (Llosa 1978).

David Harvey in ‘the Right to the City’ states that, the idea of the kind of city people want cannot be separated from analyzing what social relations they seek, the life they desire and the aesthetic values they hold. The right to a city does is not determined by individuality but a collective decision. People should have the freedom to make decisions based on their heart’s desires. One of the greatest rights is the freedom to make decisions that suit everybody but it is mostly neglected. People should claim some power over the city’s shaping which directly affects them. Contrary to this, the people in ‘Captain Pantajo and the Special Services’ lack the zeal and power to make decisions for themselves.

Self-interests and egocentrism

According to Harvey’s theory, the right to the city has fallen into the hands of quasi-private and private interests. He states the examples of New York City where the mayor Michael Bloomberg who is a billionaire re-made the city based on the interests of the Wall Street, private developers and transnational capitalists social class. The mayor keeps selling the city as the most favorable location for important businesses and an amazing destination for tourism and consequently turning Manhattan into a community that is highly favorable for the rich. The mayor is reluctant to provide financial support for businesses to be moved to New York City stating that such businesses are not necessary. The right to the city has been narrowed down to specific rich and powerful people who determine the developmental policies of the city. The small percentage of the political and economic elites is in a position to shape the city in the lines that are favorable to them.

Just like the theory, the film depicts aspects of personal interests and oppression of the low classes. Pantaleon Pantoja receives a promotion of being the Captain to the Peruvian Army and unlike what he expected; he is tasked with the challenging job. At first sight, the mission is he sent to do is preposterous, he is sent to organize a group of prostitute service in order to satisfy the sexual desires of military men working at the barracks of the Peru jungle. Pantajo had to organize the prostitutes because the military men kept raping and assaulting the women around the place. This is a clear indication that the right to the city has been held by a few individuals who are led by self-interests and are in a position to get what they want.

Organizing the prostitutes for the military is not any better from raping them, this is because it shows that the military men cannot conduct themselves decently and stop harassing women unless they are controlled. When Pantajo does his work efficiently, the neighborhood of the garrisons wants to share the prostitutes as well. Nobody in the film cares about the prostitutes, each woman satisfies 20 military men and this is a clear indication of how the right to the city is determined by a few people whose choices seem to only favor them. When Pantajo attends the funeral of his over ‘the Brazilian’, he goes against the military conditions when he shows up in uniform, the military denied any involvement with him, they could not stand by his side because he did not represent their interests even though he did it out of a pure heart.


The film ‘Captain Pantajo and the Special Services’ shares different themes with Harvey’s theory ‘The Right to the City’, the film has been set amidst many controversies in the society. The people in the ‘city’ do not have the autonomy to make their own decisions and determine how they want to live their lives. The subordinates are expected to follow orders carefully regardless of whether they are okay with it or not. If it were up to Pantajo, he would not have accepted the assignment because it seemed preposterous and he would have loved to work as a normal military person. Regardless of what he needed, he had to follow orders from above. Additionally, the prophet in the story does not give a chance for his followers to make their own choices; the followers follow him blindly without any rational thoughts.  Harvey in his theory states that people need to determine the kind of lives they live by taking a stance and deciding it by themselves and this is the opposite of what the film portrays.

Works Cited

Harvey, David. "The right to the city." International journal of urban and regional research 27.4 (2003): 939-941.

Martín-Cabrera, Luis, and Daniel Noemi Voionmaa. "Class conflict, state of exception and radical justice in Machuca by Andrés Wood." Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 16.1 (2007): 63-80.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. "Captain Pantoja and the special service." Trans. Gregory Kolovakos, and Ronald Christ. New York: Harper and Row (1978).

Wood, Andrés, and Inge Margrethe Clausen. machuca. Gyldendal, 2006.

September 25, 2023

Art Culture Literature

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