Dr María Soledad Montañez, Research Fellow in Community Engagement, introduces the phenomenon of hand-made books and a new OWRI initiative

Image: cartonerapublishing.com

Cardboard publishing

“Cartonera” is a contemporary publishing phenomenon that lies at the intersection between cultural trend and social movement, artistic intervention and community project. Known in Latin America as editoriales cartoneras, they are often referred to as ‘cardboard publishers’, because one feature that unites the diverse publishing projects is the material from which they make their books: recycled cardboard.

Yet the term ‘cartonera’ encompasses far more than ‘cartón’, the English word ‘cardboard’. It is also a reference to the cartonero figure, the ‘cardboarders’ who turned to the waste streams of Buenos Aires for a living after becoming unemployed in the wake of the economic crisis (2001). It was from these urban recoverers that Eloísa began to buy cardboard at five times the market price to cover their hand-made books, and it was with them that they set up a productive publishing workshop that has published over 200 titles since 2003. Some publishers, like Eloísa and Dulcinéia (São Paulo), continue to work directly with waste-pickers. Many others, though, have recycled the model, adapting it to their particular local contexts, communities and social needs. This has led to diverse collaborations between cartoneras, school groups, immigrants and refugees, indigenous communities, peace organizations, and so on.

Cartonera Workshops

The Cartonera project is part of an action-research on community engagement with the Latin American community in Southwark led by Dr María Soledad Montañez (Research Fellow in Community Engagement, OWRI/IMLR). The engagement project explores creative tools and resources for an effective and sustainable approach to improve service access and engagement by the Latin American community in South London.

Cartonera is a collaborative initiative organised by María Soledad Montañez and Rahul Berry (Translator-in Residence, British Library/IMLR), bringing together two different AHRC projects in England – the AHRC Open World Research Initiative project ‘Cross Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community’ from the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, led by Professor Catherine Davies, and Cartonera Publishing: Relations, meaning and community in movement, led by Dr Lucy Bell (University of Surrey) and Dr Alex Flynn (University of Durham), with the British Library and the third-sector organisation, the Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation (IRMO), based in Lambeth.

In partnership with The Latin American Youth Forum (LAYF) within IRMO, the Cartonera Workshops are aimed at young Latin Americans aged 13-19 years old and living in Southwark/Lambeth. The LAYF is a youth-led initiative for young people to become more actively involved in their community by helping participants to maximise their potential and move into education, training and/or employment.

Why we’re doing this now

The Cartonera project will explore notions of community, identity and language through a series of creative workshops, from creative writing to book making. Participants will produce texts (e.g. about their experience of being a Latin American in London) which will then be made into bilingual cartonera books. The workshops will be delivered at a crucial time in history as the UK’s exit from the European Union may have a significant – yet unpredictable – impact on migrant communities in the country. The project aims to explore ideas of identity at the time of political crisis, while at the same time offering young participants the opportunity to learn new skills, such as creative expression, design and book making.


The Cartonera Project gets underway with a public workshop at the British Library where you can find out more about this creative phenomenon. Following a presentation by Dr Lucy Bell you will be able to try your hand at making your own cartonera and see some of the BL’s own collection.

CLICK HERE for a free ticket