The New Cultural History of Peronism: Power and Identity in Mid-Twentieth-Century Argentina

Duke University Press
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In nearly every account of modern Argentine history, the first Peronist regime (1946–55) emerges as the critical juncture. Appealing to growing masses of industrial workers, Juan Perón built a powerful populist movement that transformed economic and political structures, promulgated new conceptions and representations of the nation, and deeply polarized the Argentine populace. Yet until now, most scholarship on Peronism has been constrained by a narrow, top-down perspective. Inspired by the pioneering work of the historian Daniel James and new approaches to Latin American cultural history, scholars have recently begun to rewrite the history of mid-twentieth-century Argentina. The New Cultural History of Peronism brings together the best of this important new scholarship.

Situating Peronism within the broad arc of twentieth-century Argentine cultural change, the contributors focus on the interplay of cultural traditions, official policies, commercial imperatives, and popular perceptions. They describe how the Perón regime’s rhetoric and representations helped to produce new ideas of national and collective identity. At the same time, they show how Argentines pursued their interests through their engagement with the Peronist project, and, in so doing, pushed the regime in new directions. While the volume’s emphasis is on the first Perón presidency, one contributor explores the origins of the regime and two others consider Peronism’s transformations in subsequent years. The essays address topics including mass culture and melodrama, folk music, pageants, social respectability, architecture, and the intense emotional investment inspired by Peronism. They examine the experiences of women, indigenous groups, middle-class anti-Peronists, internal migrants, academics, and workers. By illuminating the connections between the state and popular consciousness, The New Cultural History of Peronism exposes the contradictions and ambivalences that have characterized Argentine populism.

Contributors: Anahi Ballent, Oscar Chamosa, María Damilakou, Eduardo Elena, Matthew B. Karush, Diana Lenton, Mirta Zaida Lobato, Natalia Milanesio, Mariano Ben Plotkin, César Seveso, Lizel Tornay

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About the author

Matthew B. Karush is Associate Professor of History and Director of Latin American Studies at George Mason University. He is the author of Workers or Citizens: Democracy and Identity in Rosario, Argentina, 1912–1930.

Oscar Chamosa is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
May 21, 2010
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Pages
318
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ISBN
9780822392866
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Latin America / South America
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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During the mid-twentieth century, Latin American countries witnessed unprecedented struggles over the terms of national sovereignty, civic participation, and social justice.  Nowhere was this more visible than in Peronist Argentina (1946-1955), where Juan and Eva Perón led the region's largest populist movement in pursuit of new political hopes and material desires. Eduardo Elena considers this transformative moment from a fresh perspective by exploring the intersection of populism and mass consumption. He argues that Peronist actors redefined national citizenship around expansive promises of a vida digna (dignified life), which encompassed not only the satisfaction of basic wants, but also the integration of working Argentines into a modern consumer society. From the mid-1940s onward, the state moved to boost purchasing power and impose discipline on the marketplace, all while broadcasting images of a contented populace.
    Drawing on documents such as the correspondence between Peronist sympathizers and authorities, Elena sheds light on the contest over the dignified life. He shows how the consumer aspirations of citizens overlapped with Peronist paradigms of state-led development, but not without generating great friction among allies and opposition from diverse sectors of society.  Consumer practices encouraged intense public scrutiny of class and gender comportment, and everyday objects became freighted with new cultural meaning.  By providing important insights on why Peronism struck such a powerful chord, Dignifying Argentina situates Latin America within the broader history of citizenship and consumption at mid-century, and provides innovative ways to understand the politics of redistribution in the region today.
This translation of Severo Martínez Peláez’s La Patria del Criollo, first published in Guatemala in 1970, makes a classic, controversial work of Latin American history available to English-language readers. Martínez Peláez was one of Guatemala’s foremost historians and a political activist committed to revolutionary social change. La Patria del Criollo is his scathing assessment of Guatemala’s colonial legacy. Martínez Peláez argues that Guatemala remains a colonial society because the conditions that arose centuries ago when imperial Spain held sway have endured. He maintains that economic circumstances that assure prosperity for a few and deprivation for the majority were altered neither by independence in 1821 nor by liberal reform following 1871. The few in question are an elite group of criollos, people of Spanish descent born in Guatemala; the majority are predominantly Maya Indians, whose impoverishment is shared by many mixed-race Guatemalans.

Martínez Peláez asserts that “the coffee dictatorships were the full and radical realization of criollo notions of the patria.” This patria, or homeland, was one that criollos had wrested from Spaniards in the name of independence and taken control of based on claims of liberal reform. He contends that since labor is needed to make land productive, the exploitation of labor, particularly Indian labor, was a necessary complement to criollo appropriation. His depiction of colonial reality is bleak, and his portrayal of Spanish and criollo behavior toward Indians unrelenting in its emphasis on cruelty and oppression. Martínez Peláez felt that the grim past he documented surfaces each day in an equally grim present, and that confronting the past is a necessary step in any effort to improve Guatemala’s woes. An extensive introduction situates La Patria del Criollo in historical context and relates it to contemporary issues and debates.

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