Urban Studies, Ahead of Print. It is frequently claimed that cultural agents are necessary to sustain and strengthen the social fabric, to guarantee economic growth and social development and to consolidate knowledge economies based on innovation. These arguments tend to avoid inquiring what kind of sociality these cultural actors are enacting. To address this point, we researched three Mexican midsize cities: Puebla, Tijuana, and Monterrey, between 1984 and 2017. Sociality produced by cultural dynamics, sponsored either by the public (cultural policy) or the private sector (cultural market), is generally characterised by a focus on social order, the construction of local identity, a hygienic view of public space and disempowerment of local actors. Differing from these views, our research has found a new form of sociality that we call ‘rough sociality’, produced by cultural agents from civil society. This sociality is conflictive, ephemeral, spatially bounded and affective, which has implications not only for the cultural work but, most importantly, for the social relations and the being/doing togetherness that such work may enact and reproduce.