Tag Archives: modernisation

Week Eight: Signs of Crisis in a Guilded Age

The resonating theme for this week’s reading to me was ‘conflict’ – and it seems this has been the case for a great deal of the last few weeks’ readings. Conflict between Latin America and the encroaching imperialism of the United States, between followers of Zapata, Villa, Madero, and Diaz, and ultimately between different socio-economic classes of Latin America as a whole. This all paints an image of a deeply divided society at war with itself, whose power dynamics have been further distorted and complicated by the process of modernisation. In the West, it is easy for us to think of modernisation as beneficial. As we discussed in last week’s class, it brings about increased efficiency, technological advances, and (ideally) democratic changes in the current. However, I had never considered how high the human cost of such a progression often ends up being – industrialisation and the struggle for worker’s rights (Dawson makes note of the unremarkable nature of violent conflict erupting between workers and bosses in this period) and the “loss of rights, land, and autonomy.”

Dawson suggests that “it would be misleading to represent this as a period of perpetually looming crisis”, but it is hard to see it as anything but given the constant narrative of conflict, revolution, and instability. But perhaps it is because of this that I found Darío’s poem so refreshing – to talk of such a society by referencing its rich history and in such patriotic and emotive language was a nice break from the aforementioned narrative; “… our America lives. And dreams. And loves. / And it is the daughter of the Sun.”

Another thing I found particularly interesting in the reading was the distinction drawn between rural and city-dwelling rebels. Dawson argues that rural rebels did not belong in the cities, and that their concerns lay mostly with things local in nature such as regaining land that had been acquisitioned in the modernisation pushed by Diaz. And because of this, once they had occupied the cities and shown that they were a force to be reckoned with, they had no great reason to stay and occupy Mexico City. It got me thinking that perhaps this is another legacy of caudillismo. It is interesting to compare this to other agrarian revolts in history that had entirely different outcomes (for example in the Soviet Union).

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Week Seven: The Export Boom as Modernity

What I found particularly interesting this week was this concept of ‘modernity’, and how it is defined and used not only in the context of Latin America, but also in general. ‘Modernity’ evokes images of progress. However, what is progress exactly? The very idea that there exists a heightened form of society to which we can attach the term ‘modern’ is, to me, contestable. I think it is very important to note that modernity is a posited concept with a constructed meaning, and further to decouple the concepts of ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. Are such things as progress even quantifiable? And what value is attached to having ‘progressed’? If progress is conceptualised as moving towards something on a linear timeline,  then when can a society be said to ‘regress’?

Modernisation theory tends towards Western economic ideals and policies, and as raised by critical economists such as Prebisch, this can therefore leave such factors as colonialism and exploitation out of the picture. But there also exists a normative element to modernisation that Dawson touched upon. In a western conception, modernisation is a process that is often accompanied by democratisation – a dual transition. However, it is interesting to see that Latin America exists as an outlier to this process (obviously due to its vastly differing social, historical, economic, and political foundations) yet difficult to explain why this remains the case.

Aside from this observation, I was interested to engage with Díaz’s discourse about limits on Presidential terms. My fixation on this part of the interview is most likely due to the fact that I am also currently undertaking a course on the politics of Latin America (POLI 332 – I highly recommend it!), and Latin America has a long and persistent authoritarian legacy. This legacy has led to a decay of a number of democratic processes, especially with regard to the reworking of constitutions in order to expand powers of the President. Therefore, I found Díaz’s insistence that a third term of presidency for Roosevelt was not something to be feared as a sort of confirmation of the authoritarian tendency (at least in Latin America) to pervert such democratic rules. Of course, it was only after the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution that a limit on the number of terms that a President may hold office was of any constitutional significance, but it was still very interesting to contrast the attitudes towards breaking democratic traditions – which Latin American Presidents seem to do with much gusto and very radically.







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