Lawyers, Poets, and Technocrats: Reworking Dependency Theory through University Extension Programming in Guatemala, 1967–78

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Heather A. Vrana, Southern Connecticut State University
In 1944, a democratic revolution bestowed upon Guatemala’s national University of San Carlos (USAC) two legacies: autonomy and the duty to solve national problems. Ten years later, the failure of the revolution was especially acute for San Carlos students (San Carlistas), so empowered by the revolution. When a guerrilla movement gained momentum in the early 1960s, some students were eager to participate, but others again developed programs for national progress. These liberal plans were informed by ongoing debates in Latin American development theory. This paper examines the effect of successful – and failed – applications of these theories in late 20th century Guatemala.

Rural University extension programs exemplified this dependency-influenced reformist response. These programs promoted the “holistic development of the personality, body, spirit, and mind.” In the hands of students from the USAC schools of Law, Engineering, Medicine, and the Humanities, however, the shape of development was distinct. This paper locates students’ recursive practices of the city and the countryside alongside emergent ideals of a desirable developing nation. I argue that San Carlistas’ practices revealed class- and race-disciplined vision of progress – an essence of the pueblo of Guatemala – that pictured peaceful Mayan communities in a fecund landscape. Students inhabited an ambivalent status as intellectual elites in a peripheral nation. This ambivalence appeared in the emphasis on indigenous folk art in university exhibitions and anthologies. Medical students, in turn, spent a great deal of time on disease prevention and sanitation, emphases that betrayed miscomprehension of indigenous traditions. Engineering students, finally, held workshops as teachers, never students, of rural builders. At times this vision affirmed guerrillas’ suspicions that the university could only ever be bourgeois. But it always reflected an unsettling debate over the nation’s origins and its potential.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>