The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA in English and CEPAL in Spanish and Portuguese) was more than an economic development institution. Established in 1948, at the height of post-World War II internationalism, CEPAL was one of the first three regional commissions alongside those of Europe and Asia charged with addressing problems of postwar economic reconstruction. But, in the hands of a group of mostly Argentinean, Brazilian, and Chilean economists, CEPAL swiftly became the institutional fulcrum of a regional intellectual project that put Latin America at the center of discussions about international development and global capitalism. That Latin America’s place in the periphery of the global economy as a producer of primary products and raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods from the world’s industrial centers, combined with the long-term decline in the international terms of that trade, constituted an obstacle for economic development, was the foundational tenet of that project. Through regional economic surveys and in-depth country studies, international forums and training courses, international cooperation initiatives, and national structural reforms, cepalinos located themselves at the nexus of a transnational network of diplomats and policymakers, economists and sociologists, and made the notion of center–periphery and the intellectual repertoire it inspired the central economic paradigm of the region in the postwar era. Eclipsed in the 1970s by critiques from the New Left and dependency theorists, on the one hand, and by the authoritarian right and neoliberal proponents, on the other hand, the cepalino project remains Latin America’s most important contribution to debates about capitalism and globalization, while the institution, after it reinvented itself at the turn of the century, still constitutes a point of reference and a privileged repository of information about the region.
Kenneth David Jackson
Vanguard movements in the arts and literature from mid-20th century Brazil are termed neo-vanguard to distinguish them from the historical vanguard movements of the century’s early decades, even though the neo-vanguards share common features with them. These include an open spirit of internationalism, experimentation with form and language, and the use of fragmentation, simultaneity, minimalism, and graphic display. When they first appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, the neo-vanguards were differentiated by a rationalist, materialist, and functional approach to language, letters and art, visible in geometrical abstraction and based on research. The São Paulo poets Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos, and Décio Pignatari formed the most prominent and influential literary group, known as “Poesia concreta” [Concrete Poetry]. Poesia concreta continues to shape and influence vanguard art, literature, and design in São Paulo. Their 1958 manifesto, “Plano-piloto para poesia concreta” [Pilot-Plan for Concrete Poetry], reshaped national poetics while adding an international aesthetic dimension. In Rio de Janeiro, the “Grupo Frente” led by artists Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape supported the 1959 Neoconcrete movement and manifesto, defending the position that concrete poetry and art should be less mechanical and more expressive of human realities. Bossa nova introduced a syncopated, polished style that gained international fame through João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim, and it turned attention toward Brazilian arts. In the 1950s and 1960s, individual authors worked within their own neo-vanguard styles outside of any movement, the most important being João Guimarães Rosa, whose reworkings of language and orality produced the major novel of the century, Grande sertão: veredas (1956), and Clarice Lispector, creator of dense existential consciousness in prose, mainly involving women in crisis. The 1964 military coup changed the disposition of vanguard art into one of resistance, reflected in Cinema Novo, Tropicália, theater, music, popular periodicals, mass culture, and marginal literature. Popular vanguard movements effectively ended, went underground, or adopted more unconventional formats in the 1970s because of political tension. The end of an effusive period of creativity in the 1950s and 1960s was marked by the publication of the collected works of the concrete poets, their inclusion in international anthologies, and a national atmosphere of increased political repression and violence.
Thiago Lima Nicodemo, Mateus Henrique de Faria Pereira, and Pedro Afonso Cristovão dos Santos
The founding of the first universities in the first decades of the 20th century in Brazil emerged from a context of public education reforms and expansion that modified the relationship between intellectuals and the public sphere in Brazil. The representation of national pasts was the object of prolific public debate in the social sciences and literature and fine arts through social and historical essays, pushed mostly from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, such as Gilberto Freyre’s, The Master and the Slaves (Casa Grande e Senzala, 1936) and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s Roots of Brazil (Raízes do Brasil, 1936). Just after the 1950s, universities expanded nationally, and new resources were available for academic and scientific production, such as libraries, archives, scientific journals, and funding agencies (namely CNPQ, CAPES and FAPESP). In the field of history, these effects would have a greater impact in the 1960s and 1970s with the consolidation of a National Association of History, the debate over curricula and required content, and the systematization of graduate programs (thanks to the University Reform of 1968, during the military dictatorship). Theses, dissertations, and monographs gradually gained ground as long social essays lost their prestige, seen as not befitting the standards of disciplinary historiography as defined in the graduate programs such as a wider empirical ground and more accurate time frames and scopes. Through their writing in more specialized formats, which moved away from essays and looked into the great Brazilian historical problems, historians played an important role in the resistance against the authoritarian regime (1964–1985) and, above all, contributed to a debate on the role of silenced minorities regarding redemocratization.
Coralia Gutiérrez Álvarez
Severo Martínez Peláez is the most important figure in the founding of contemporary Guatemalan historiography. His work, in particular La patria del criollo (The Homeland of the Criollo), has been viewed by historians as a starting point for advancing the reconstruction of Central American history. Additionally, his work continues to have a broad readership, who consider it a factor in understanding the present. His contributions are essential to the understanding of the colonial period in Latin America, including debates that inspired his theses concerning the character of society in that period and his historical views on indigenous peoples. Like other thinkers of the 1960s and 1970s, his focus was primarily on economic and social history, in particular class struggles. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the intellectual, political, social, and even personal conditions relevant at the time he was writing in order to thoroughly understand and appreciate his work.
Chiara Sáez and Jorge Iturriaga
With the surge of social struggles tied to the implementation of capitalist modernization at the end of the 19th century, diverse forms of technology-based mass communication in Chile arose to represent the emergence of social sectors that didn’t participate in the dominant culture and sought to disseminate an alternative. Working-class and feminist newspapers, neighborhood theaters, and Cordel literature broke away from the traditional elitist and pedagogical nature that had defined the media until that time. Since then, with cycles that have ebbed and flowed, numerous communicative experiences were related to mass culture in controversial ways: they opposed it, converged with it, et cetera. Even though it is possible to trace the continuity between the cases described, this continuity is not clear upon first glance, due to its underground and nascent character. In general terms, these experiences were not established as an autonomous space for technical or aesthetic experiments; when there was a strategy, it tended to be political in nature, whereas communicative material remained conditional. Finally, the study of these cases implies a paradox: the 20th century began with a vast number of alternative communication projects that became institutionalized over the years, but they re-emerged more autonomously during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and the era that followed. This process of institutionalization alludes to an inversely proportional relationship between the process of incorporating the masses into positions of power (in the period between 1925 and 1973) and the development of alternative communication: these experiences are plentiful in the less institutionalized contexts of the enlightened working-class culture (that is, preceding the founding of the Communist Party in 1922 and after the anti-working-class culture that has accompanied the neoliberalism imposed since the dictatorship).
Alfred Métraux was part of a prolific moment in which French sociology and ethnology were enlarging their scientific scope and advancing toward new fields. Following the colonial expansion of France, Métraux participated in establishing ethnographic methods for codifying social life, material culture, and artistic forms. Through his own transatlantic voyages and personal exchanges, Métraux left personal documents in different parts of the world. Consequently, many are the archives that hold parts of his personal collections, letters, and published or unpublished materials. In addition, because of Métraux’s own cosmopolitanism, studies on the ethnologist’s life and works can be found in different languages. Métraux meticulously collected artifacts and documents from different cultures, and these items are now part of collections in museums in Argentina, France, and the United States. The multiplicity of themes Métraux dedicated himself to during his life reveal logics and developments of his work, as well as the importance of fieldwork to his making as an anthropologist, or a “man of the field,” as he used to describe himself. His intense and long-term relationship with Haitian Vodou was central in his career as it arose from his early interest in vanishing civilizations, religious systems, and material culture, and defined his personal agenda for future research.