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 regionÆs 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 is a compelling account of how consumption became a central focus of state policy, popular demands, and political struggles in Peronist Argentina. Built on solid research and advanced by clear argument, Elena's book not only opens up new questions for the Argentine case but also places this case into an important comparative conversation.
A must-read for historians of Argentina as well as for Latin Americanists interested in the history of populism and consumption. Given its clear prose and broad theme, the book may also be useful in advanced undergraduate courses.
Elena's book should be required reading for those interested in a fresh interpretation of Peronism and an original look at postwar policy making and political economy. Readers searching for a compelling analysis of the always complex yet fascinating relationship between the state and citizen consumers will not be disappointed.
Provides a fresh perspective on the relationship linking political and socio-economic change—between populism and mass consumption—and in so doing provides a potential lifeline to drowning materialists. . . . Sheds new light on why Peronism struck such a chord in the most Europeanised society of the Americas while, in its way, putting a spring back into the step of class analysis itself.
Makes a compelling case for Peronism's persistence into the twenty-first century as directly tied to a powerful, lingering sense among working Argentines that the state has an important political role to play in the maintenance of dignifying living conditions for all citizens.
Although much has been published in Spanish in recent years looking at Peronism in a more objective and less partisan fashion, the literature in English remains dominated by an often trivialising view of [Peron] and his movement as a crude version of Latin American fascism. This excellent book makes a considerable conribution to reverting this biased viewpoint.
Eduardo Elena is assistant professor of history at the University of Miami.learn more