Cumplo Pero No Obedezco (I Comply, but I Do Not Obey): Negotiating State Power in 20th-Century Latin America

AHA Session 275
Conference on Latin American History 63
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Gladys I. McCormick, Syracuse University
Gladys I. McCormick, Syracuse University

Session Abstract

Building from this year’s theme of “Loyalties,” this panel explores dynamics of reciprocity and negotiation among populist and nationalist regimes in Latin America over the course of the twentieth century. How do states that articulate a public commitment to popular participation create loyalty and order within disorderly societies? How do military regimes stem popular discontent through local ties of reciprocity? Our papers seek to move beyond binaries of autonomy and domination and find examples of negotiated power that complicate our understandings of the very nature of state authority. Building on the cases of Mexico in the 1920s, Brazil in the 1940s and 1950s, and Bolivia in the 1950s and 1960s, we hope to create a dialogue that can engage scholars beyond Latin America about the relationships forged through negotiations of power and loyalty under populist and nationalist regimes.

The papers in this panel highlight cases of populist and nationalist state-formation in which ideas of belonging and political participation have been thrown up in the air by revolutionary turmoil and military dictatorship, but we believe our papers demonstrate continuity between each of these extremes. We argue that nationalist, populist, and even military governments had to engage local understandings of sovereignty, legitimacy, and reciprocity in order to impose order and create lasting forms of rule. We find that local engagements with the state could take many forms, and the papers in this panel look for creative ways to identify these lines of communication. Our papers highlight examples as diverse as magazine articles, community petitions, lawsuits, and shocking spectacles of violence in order to show how states and their citizens participated in the creation of new forms of politics during the twentieth century. Our papers explore the development of informal politics or ‘backchannel citizenship,’ for those formally excluded from participation, emphasize the importance of ‘local sovereignty,’ to the maintenance of regional power, show how states and citizens alike employ ‘productive miscommunications’ in order to carry out projects of mutual benefit, and finally, articulate the uses of spectacular violence to contain or enforce state authority.

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