Peasants, liberalism and race in the Americas

Location UP 4.211
Date and Start Time 12 April, 2013 at 14:00


Elizabeth Cooper (The British Library) email
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Short Abstract

This panel seeks to explore the interrelationship among, peasant agriculture, liberal political projects, and race from a comparative perspective across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Long Abstract

Taking as its conceptual starting point Sidney Mintz's argument that 'Caribbean peasantries represent a mode of response to the plantation system and its connotations, and a mode of resistance to imposed styles of life' (Mintz, 1974) this panel seeks to address the historical and contemporary relationship among peasantries, liberal politics, and race across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Papers may address a wide range of problems such as: popular mobilisation against slavery and/or colonial rule; peasant farming as resistance to wage labour and/or 20th century neo-colonial economic policies; the relationship between peasant life and concepts of freedom in the Americas; the uses, and limits, of liberalism in Latin American and Caribbean popular politics; the place of the peasantry in racial thought of the Americas; the relationship between historically black peasantries and indigenous rural communities; contemporary government policies regarding small scale agriculture and their socio-political consequences.

For the purposes of the panel the term peasant is meant to include different forms of small scale agriculture such as: 'traditional' peasant farming, 'reconstituted peasantries', landless rural workers, maroon, cimarron and quilombo communities. 'Liberalism' should be understood in its broadest sense as a political philosophy based on the ideas of liberty, equality and universal rights - put into practice in very diverse ways. Furthermore, race and racism may be analysed from material, symbolic or ideological perspectives.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Rethinking liberalism and Indigenous Citizenship in Peru. The corporate inclusion of indigenous people to suffrage in the Nineteenth Century

Author: Alicia del Aguila (International IDEA-Peru Programme/ also: Lecturer Universidad Ruíz de Montoya)  email

Short Abstract

We aim to show the corporate logic of citizenship in Peru (1834-1860). The indigenous population was not necessarily excluded from the electoral system, among other reasons, because of the liberal interest to legitimate the Republic (most of them shared an "organic" meaning of liberalism).

Long Abstract

This paper suggests that citizenship in Nineteenth Century´s Peru was rooted in corporate logics, and liberals adapted their ideas to the diverse and complex reality, driven by the belief that the legitimacy of the precarious State required to include the indigenous majority.

Indeed, the challenge of the new republics was to build an order based on law and equality in a society heavily corporate and heterogeneous. Regarding citizenship, between 1834 and 1896, most of Peruvian Constitutions and electoral laws established "corporate" solutions ", namely alternative requirements (for example, 4 in the Constitutions of 1856 and 1860) that allowed access to suffrage various subjects, including indigenous.

Unlike Bolivar or Juarez, Peruvian liberals chose to respect the indigenous communities. Even they approved "positive discrimination" in favor of the Indians, to access the suffrage (1847 and 1849). The German Organisism of Krause and Ahrens or Constant's liberalism, rather than English constitutionalists were essential for these. However, rather than the result of ideas or theoretical influences, the "corporate" requirements to vote were the liberal response to the challenges of the complex reality, not vice versa.

In this paper we analyze the constitutions and electoral laws, the liberal arguments and reasons for these proposals were part of political consensus, until the second half of the nineteenth century. Finally, we propose a "corporate" period from 1834 to 1896, culminating in the liberal "mutation" to positivism and the electoral reform of 1896, which excluded the vast majority of the illiterate population, including indigenous.

Forging a New Paradigm: Artisans as the Nexus of Intellectual Resistance in Late Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

Author: Daniela Abraham (Texas A & M University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of the artisans as the nexus of intellectual resistance between the peasantry and the bourgeoisie in late nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. This new paradigm paved the way for the social conditions that launched the organized labor movement of the American century.

Long Abstract

The recent trend towards global restructuring has revived an interest in the Caribbean as a part of the greater picture of Global Studies, obscuring the relevance of local processes as an integral piece in developing an understanding of social and cultural systems. The dialectics of global and local processes necessitates a solid understanding of regional studies, for, as Sydney Mintz (1998) asserts, "it is within these local sites that people create their specificities". Thus, this study aims to analyze a specific form of resistance within the complex web of historical developments in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. It is contended herein that the artisans constituted the building block of intellectual resistance between the peasantry and the bourgeoisie in late Spanish colonial Puerto Rico. By the inherent character of their labor, artisans depended on a network of interrelated exchanges to survive, and they developed a conception of society based on the need of each producer for the other. As a result, a new ideology of resistance, based on acquiring the liberal ideals of the American republic, was born in the tobacco factories of Cuba and Puerto Rico. This paper will shed light into the ways in which the artisans' superior hierarchical position on the social scale allowed them to create a knowledge infrastructure that operated in the tobacco factories by means of readers and the press as vehicles to educate the workers and promote the new liberal ideals that gave way to the organized labor movement of the American century in Puerto Rico.

Struggles in the Countryside and National Politics in Chile's "Troubled Twenties"

Author: Claudio Robles-Ortiz (Catholic University of Chile)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses rural mobilization in Chile during the 1920s, and assesses its impact on national politics. It argues that the proletarianization of the haciendas’ work force led to the formation of a rural working class, which joined the national labour movement’s challenge to oligarchic rule.

Long Abstract

Contrary to interpretations of rural Chile as an archaic countryside unaffected by social conflict prior to 1930, this paper analyses the transformation of rural workers' collective action, and assesses its impact on the political crisis that brought the end of oligarchic during the nation's "troubled twenties." Based on evidence from a wide range of hitherto unused sources, especially estate reports by graduating agronomists, local newspapers and Labour Office documentation, the paper demonstrates that the transition of the hacienda system towards agrarian capitalism drastically changed rural labour systems, ending the precarious 'peasantness' of the labour tenants. Thus, the gradual proletarianisation of large haciendas' work force also transformed the nature and scope of peasants' politics. Rural workers engaged for the first time in a wave of mobilisation that included unionisation, strikes, labour petitions to estate administrators and authorities, and even participation in political organisations. In particular, through a detailed study of rural strikes the paper shows that rural mobilisation followed a clearly discernible pattern. Workers went on strike not only to confront landowners, but also to advance their demands through the institutional framework provided by the state's Labour Office, while activists from the Federación Obrera de Chile (FOCh) worked to integrate the rural proletariat into the nation's growing labour movement. As the landowning elite's aggressive response indicates, rural mobilization was significant in Chilean politics because it had become an essential part of the national labour movement and its challenge to oligarchic rule.

Becoming wealthy, becoming citizens: coca growing and resistance in the Bolivian Yungas

Author: Alessandra Pellegrini (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the way in which the participation in the coca economy represents a resistance to the societal system of Bolivia. I argue that coca peasants invoke specific meanings of the coca economy through a locally defined ethic of accumulation, which fosters their sense of citizenship.

Long Abstract

The coca peasants of the Bolivian Yungas - the so-called "traditional coca growing region" - live almost entirely on a cash crop economy. They sell their coca leaves to a relatively high price compared to other agricultural products in a legal, free market regulated by supply and demand, and linked in diverse ways to a shadow economy. They are relatively well-off, and while they generally self-identify as peasants, some increasingly feel to have comparable economic powers of middle classes. However, within the national imaginaries, they clearly pertain to the rural peasantry and as such, to a category generally perceived to be socially and economically inferior to urban middle and upper classes. This raises the question in which ways the wealth generating activities associated with the coca economy represent a resistance to such a societal system. I suggest that coca growers challenge these discourses and categorizations by invoking specific meanings of the coca economy. They do so by creating an ethic of capital accumulation which encourages people to accumulate wealth and allows them to fully participate within the capitalist system. This in turn fosters their sense of citizenship as being the "economic backbone" of the nation. Thus, they challenge the complicated relationship between ethnic/racial and economic categorizations in Latin American societies through the accumulation of wealth within the coca economy, resulting in a feeling of being middle-class: they are therefore an example of how ethnicity/race and economic accumulation become related in novel ways which break to a certain extend with the region's history.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.