Cleary, David

Cleary, David. Anatomy of the Amazon Gold Rush. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

Like Weinstein, Cleary believes that we need to be careful portraying the history of the Amazon as a continuous cycle of primary commodity booms and busts. While there is some truth to the claim, it must be remembered that the socio-economic repercussions far outlast a boom, leaving an indelible mark in the form of new modes of production, technological innovations and social structures and relations.

Thus Cleary offers us an anatomy of the post-1979 gold rush, focusing specifically on the Gurupí goldfield of Maranhão. Based on his case study he draws more generalized conclusions that challenge the common portrayals of garimpagem, or informal gold mining, put forth by large-scale formal mining sector interests and the politicians that support them. 
Addressing what he identifies as the social structures, economic exchanges and social relations that emerge wherever a garimpo—an informal mining settlement—pops up, Cleary shows that despite the detrimental ecological impacts associated with the industry and especially its reliance on mercury, and despite the adverse impact that the arrival of garimpeiros may have on native communities, and despite the ways garimpagem can fuel social conflict (i.e. the struggle between Zé and Lusão and the way it can feed tensions over land, even though the overall impact seemed to reduce land struggles (151-160)); despite all this, Cleary argues garimpagem also has many social benefits. This argument flies in the face of common accounts that paint garimpeiros as rough lower-class vagrants engaged in an economically backward pursuit.

McNeill, J.R.

McNeill,  J.R. “Yellow Jack and Geopolitics: Environment, Epidemics, and the Struggles for Empire in the American Tropics, 1640-1830,” in Rethinking Environmental History: World System History and Global Environmental Change. ed. Alf Hornborg, J. R. McNeill, and Joan Martínez-Alier. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2007. pp. 199-217.

As part of this volume’s larger project of integrating political ecology and environmental history, McNeil sets out to show how ecological change and epidemiological history were part and part and parcel of global imperial designs and the resistance they encountered. In condensed form, this chapter recapitulates the thesis of Mosquito Empires, arguing “[t]hose little Amazons, the females mosquitos Aedes aegypti, vectors of yellow fever, underpinned the geopolitical order of the American tropics from 1660 to 1780. After 1780 they undermined it. McNeil begins by approaching the issue of sieges and why, after Cromwell’s taking of Jamaica in 1655 they became less and less successful. The answer, he proposes, has to do with the introduction of sugar, and yellow fever along with it. While the Columbian Exchange decimated the Caribbean population (therefore leaving fewer vectors for yellow fever and food for A. aegypti), by 1640 the increasing population and increasing sugar cultivation provided ample room for yellow fever growth. A. aegypti could feed on sucrose and human blood—a necessary source of nourishment for ovulation (i.e. sustaining a population). And sugar plantations offered plenty of places where clean water would collect, making for a suitable home. Thus, as sugar export became an economy of scale, the yellow fever carried by female A. aegypti became capable of spurring epidemics in the Americas, starting in Barbados in 1647, then expanding through the Caribbean and Cenrtal America.

Greene, Shane

Greene, Shane. "Getting over the Andes: The Geo-Eco-Politics of Indigenous Movements in Peru's Twenty-First Century Inca Empire." Journal of Latin American Studies 38, no. 2 (2006): 327-354.

Here Greene is talking about the fusion of both Andean and Amazonian social movements and the fusion of ethno-and eco-politics to show that the scholarly work that has portrayed indigenous mobilization in Peru as insignificant (Yashar, for instance) fails to approach the matter within a global framework. In the first case, he is troubled by the persistence of the Peruvian nation as the meeting of the “deep” (Basadre) indigenous Andes with the “Europeanized” coast. This dichotomy, and the focus often placed on the indigeneity of the Andes, perpetuates a reliance in politics and scholarship on what—drawing from Flores Galindo and Michel-Rolph Trouillot—Greene has termed the “Inca Slot:” the “forever-lost- but-somehow-always-returning Incaic figure.” (331). In the second case, the issue is one of unraveling indigeneity and eco politics. He draws on Hale’s revelation that the politics of neoliberal multiculturalism defines types of ethnic mobilization as “radical” or “permissible.” But he also emphasizes the importance of recognizing how green politics have been “neoliberalized.”

This piece is useful if nothing more than for the literature review in which Greene teases out the way the Inca slot has conditioned Andeanist scholarship to push the Amazon to a third margin: marginal to the Andes, which are marginal to the coast, which is marginal to the “great world power to the north” (338). Thus, while much of the work on indigeneity in Peru complicates the dynamics of class and ethnicity at play, the general consensus is that Peru has been lacking an indigenous movement. Greene, however, has the courtesy to remind us that out on that third margin: “the significant events in indigenous organising were happening primarily as a result of Amazonian efforts, representing precisely the ethno-geographic blindspot that Andeanist scholars frequently fail to check.” (338)

Grandin, Greg

Grandin, Greg. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.

Expanding on the opening vignette presented in Empire’s Workshop, Fordlandia gives a detailed narrative history of Henry Ford’s escapades in Amazonian Rubber production. Grandin tells the story of Ford’s attempts to transfer his Dearborn successes to large-scale monocropping off the eastern bank of the Tapajós in the 1920s and 30s. Always pushing the irrationality of the endeavour, Fordlandia the book (also the name of the first plantation, est. 1927) tells of the obstacles that stunted and eventually overcame Ford’s obsession with propagating Fordism in the tropics. From Villares’ swindle in the concession negotiations, to the labour riots, failed attempts at social regulation and the lost battle against Microcyclus (cause of South American Leaf Blight), the plantations at Fordlandia and Belterra (est. 1936) are presented as embodying the contradictions of Fordism itself, a utopian ideal that represented “Ford’s efforts conceived in disregard or ignorance of Ford’s limitations” (17, quoted from the Washington Post).

Thus, Grandin offers a pathology of Fordism, beginning with its roots as a project to engineer a consumer class with the 5-dollar day and demonstrating its evolution into the efficiency obsessed private autocracy governed by Harry Bennett’s iron fist (e.g. 1932 Bennett massacre, Chapter 16). To tell the story of Fordlandia’s rise and decline against the backdrop of an evolving Fordism, Grandin resorts to numerous analytical frames, a tactic that gives the reader an archeology of defeat rather than suggesting one explanation for this quixotic project’s failure (like Dean does).

Miller, Shawn

Miller, Shawn. Fruitless Trees: Portuguese Conservation and Brazil's Colonial Timber. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Miller is focused on the Brazilian timber industry and royal conservation policy throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. Taking on Dean, he argues that the history of the Brazilian Atlantic forest is not one of exploitation and destruction, but one of utilization and that royal policy, which established the many madeiras de lei as the sole property of the crown and mandated their preservation as well as prohibiting their private sale, actually facilitated deforestation. By limiting the chance for profit to the Portuguese Crown and privileged licensees, colonial conservation from the protection of madeiras de lei to the late-1700s Planos, forced land owners to fell forest giants and, rather than exploit their value to shipbuilders, craftspeople and sugar exporters (Brazilian hardwoods were used to build sugar crates), burn the evidence before royal inspectors could fine them. Once boiled down, this argument reveals Miller’s predilection for free markets over monopolies and monopsonies, a bias that he is able to locate within his period by going to Adam Smith and José Joachim da Cunha de Azeredo Coutinho.

Weinstein, Barbara

Weinstein, Barbara. The Amazon Rubber Boom 1850-1920. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983.

Drawing indirectly from Articulation Theory and often directly from Mallon, Weinstein explores the reasons why the rubber boom did not result in any significant socio-economic transformations, as other booms that mark the history of the Amazon have. She argues that in large part the boom did not produce a shift to a capitalist mode of production. Instead, and despite the intervention of highly capitalized foreign exporters, she finds that the system production and exchange mirrored pre-capitalist colonial structures. (Here she is working with Laclau’s definition of pre-capitalist or “feudal” as a mode of production in which 1) surplus is produced by a labor force coerced by extra-economic means, 2) that surplus is privately appropriated by someone other than the direct producer, and 3) the means of production remain in the hands of the direct producer.) For the most part she focuses on the systems of production and exchange in the várzea, emphasizing the role of aviadores—the middle-men, suppliers of goods and rubber traders of all sizes from itinerant traders to commercial houses—in the maintenance of the status quo. 

Grove, Richard

Grove, Richard. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996.

Grove gives an account of the rise of early environmentalism as a corollary to the maritime colonial expansion that began in the late fifteenth century. His focus is on the importance marked by islands, not only in the spread of the Portuguese, Dutch and English empires, but also as symbolic and practical manifestations of the possible course of human-triggered ecological change.

Grove’s periodization ranges broadly from Ancient Greece—with Theophrastus’ linking of climate alterations and deforestation— to the rise of capitalist modes of production and to Worster’s post-Romantic imperialist scientists in the mid nineteenth century. More specifically, he concentrates on the period between 1660 and 1860, marking 1700 as a crucial turning point when observation of environmental decline was turned into conservationist policies based on scientific theories of environmental decline and climate change. During this period he focuses on the expansion of the Dutch, French and British empires, particularly as regards the measures taken by colonial governments anf the English and Dutch East India companies in India, St Helena, Mauritius and the Eastern Carribbean. 

Squeezed within a World System frame, Grove highlights the interplay between various poles: the Humanist vision of writers like Daniel Defoe or that Edenic portrayals of island paradises and the dessicationist theories of an emerging scientific elite; that scientific elite as opposed to the colonial state; the policy of the metropole and the resistance posed by the periphery; etc.

Sweet, James

Sweet, James. Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship and Religion in the African-Portuguese World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

There are two main arguments being advanced here: one of which I accept and I feel is in line with other thinkers whose ideas I embrace—Taussig, Mbembe, Bakthin, Rouch—the other, as much as I resist, I cannot help but qualify as rubbish. Sweet’s far-reaching gloss of a main argument rejects ideas of hybridity, creolization and syncretism to instead claim that African religious and cultural practices crossed the Middle Passage in tact, and were reproduced in colonial Brazil in a way that reflected resistance more than assimilation. The first part of this—that Africa was “recreated” in Brazilian slave societies—is the rubbishy part; the second idea—that religious and cultural customs could serve a counter-hegemonic function—sits better with me.

To try and support his argument, Sweet introduces a rich swath of material that forces us to ponder the significance of Africa in Latin American history. Divided into three parts, the presentation of inquisition cases and engenho records offers up some fantastic fodder. First he demonstrates the existence among Brazilian slaves of kinship networks and gender constructions (the case of the jinbandaa) that had their equivalents in Africa. In a drastic betrayal of his own thesis, however, he shows how both were retooled to fit the new and brutal circumstances that slaves faced under Portuguese colonialism.

Crist, Raymond and Charles Nissly

Crist, Raymond and Charles Nissly. East from the Andes: Pioneer Settlements in the South American Heartland. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1973.

As a shining example of academic substantiation for selva boosterism, East From the Andes is a useful read. The section on Peru provides cursory info on colonization schemes by region: The Apurímac Valley; Yurimaguas-Tarapoto; Pucallpa; Iquitos. It also provides a 1973-view of La Marginal (of note: the stats listed below, and the ironic equating of Bagua to El dorado, also below), as well as brief overviews and updates on significant projects like the Plan Peruvía in the Apurímac, the San Ramón plantation outside Yurimaguas—description of its role in pioneering upland and wet rice cultivation on a mass scale, sharecropping settlement—and the Oriente program. This book is developmentalist to the core. It’s also a useful source of out-dated bibliography.

From the section on La Marginal:

"Perhaps this is indeed the bridge into the land of spices, the future El Dorado, which already produces cotton in Bagua." (115)

—First surveys and reconnaissance reoprt done by a New York-based engeneering firm and presented to a Joint Comission on 9/4/65 at the Government Palace. (114)

—Total projected span: more than 3,500 miles, including Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia (113)

—A portion incorporated the dilapidated Lima-Pucallpa in 1962, making it the first paved roadway in the Peruvian east. (117)

—In 1973 (when this was written), the projected course of La Marginal would connect it with 24 extant penetration roads. (114)

Grandin, Greg

Grandin, Greg. Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. The American Empire Project. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

Here Grandin argues Latin America served as the crucible in which what he calls the new American imperialism was forged. Imperialism being the lens through which he frames things, his narrative uses case studies from Latin America to tell what is, in essence an American story: that of the convergence of free-market fundamentalism, militarism and right wing populism into what has become the Bush doctrine of intervention (155, 194).

In each chapter Grandin advances his narrative by posing a set of opposites that demonstrate important shifts in relationship between US politics and Latin America. As context, we see how the pendulum of American diplomacy shifted between blunt interventionism and Roosevelt’s good neighbor policy for the first half of the twentieth century. The next dichotomy addressed is of an ideological nature: one of Hobbesian hard power and Kantian notions of progress, a binary successfully fused in Jean Kirkpatrick’s approach to Central America. Next Grandin address the Cold War context posing the Regan-era “rollback” approach to communism against Nixonian containment / détente. On the political front, the Regan Administration’s tripartite strategy of using the office of “Public Diplomacy” to wage the PR struggle while circumventing domestic surveillance laws and forging a New Right grassroots mobilization is credited with marking a shift in American foreign policy from a starkly anti-millitarist post-Vietnam position to one of outright militarism. The final dichotomy emerges on the economic front as the ideological predilection for markets over states.

Melville, Elinor G.K

Melville, Elinor G.K. A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

(Ungulate irruption(Portmanteau biota + Valle del Mezquital) – World system) – indigenous landscape = “conquest landscape” (p. 39) 

Melville looks at the environmental and social transformations that resulted from the introduction of sheep into the Valle del Mezquital over the second half of the sixteenth century. A seriously in-depth analysis of the ungulate irruptions and institutionalization of private land tenure, this study consists of a bipartite periodization: one, sectioned off according to the individual sub-regions of the valley, demonstrates the process of soil degradation and differs by sub-region; the other spans the 1540s to 1600 and deals with the process by which land tenure emerged and transformed into privately held latifundia.

Melville argues against a variety of positions in A Plague of Sheep.

She takes on the World-System approach arguing that environmental transformation and degradation (distinction clarified on p. 88) and the generation of latifunia were the result of local phenomena: namely the production of a “conquest landscape,” foreign to both the colonizers and the colonized, and the process of land granting to regulate grazing.

She challenges Garrett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” model by demonstrating that the problem was not one of open-access commons, but of the fact that the same commons were subordinated to 2 distinct use-rights regimes: that of the Indians and that imposed by the Spanish to regulate grazing. Likewise each of these regimes gave way to a different process of land privatization. Next, she argues the “tragedy of the commons” model relies on a notion of “perfect knowledge” to prove that self-interest will always beat out the long-term communal good. Melville asserts this could not explain the overstocking of grazing lands in the Valle del Mezquital since pastoralists would first have to understand the long-term consequences of their actions in order to act in a short-term, self-interested way.

O’Brien, Thomas

O’Brien, Thomas. The Century of U.S. Capitalism in Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

As an encyclopedia of multinational activities in Latin America, The Century of U.S. Capitalism in Latin America is a useful tool. However, beyond that, the book’s scale, treatment of actors and focus and the framework of imperialism leave it lacking any substantial utility. O’Brien takes on the intervention of US business elites since the mid-part of the XIX, periodizing almost a century and a half as a linear progression from the time of initial individual interventions (before 1872), through a “golden age” of corporate growth—the second conquest eluded to by Grandin—from 1876 to 1921, the emergence of resistance first in the form of populist and later nationalist state action, and finally closing with the rise of neoliberalism, which O’Brien suggests looks eerily like the late XIX golden age.

For such a wide breadth to be covered in 170 pages, O’Brien has to resort to a cursory telling of the feats of great men—US robber-barons like James Stillman and Michael Grace, or Latin American leaders from Porfirio Diáz to Haya de la Torre, Allende, Castro and Perón—in which all other actors are reduced to the essentialized categories of “Latin Americans” or “workers” or “small business men.”

As the title suggests, this is a story of US capitalism, and Latin America only appears as one of many stages on which American businessmen and corporations acted. While the vignettes of striking workers at Cerro de Pasco and the Cuban sugar plantations, or of nationalization under Cárdenas, Velasco—never mentioned by name—Castro and Allende, do make this a Latin American story, the general narrative arch subordinates those vignettes to the larger tale of American corporate imperialism and the efforts of business elites to shape Latin Americans to fit a US corporate mould.

Galeano, Eduardo

Galeano, Eduardo. The Open Veins of Latin America. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997 [1971].

In a telling example of Latin American history as seen through a dependency lens, Eduardo Galeano writes:

"Latin America is a region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European—or later United States—capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power … To each area has been assigned a function, always for the benefit of the foreign metropolis of the moment, and the endless chain of dependency has been endlessly extended."

Severing his narrative in two parts, Galeano uses the past to speak to his present, always stressing the impact of foreign intervention at home. In his first section he traces the pillage of natural resources from silver to sugar, guano to oil as though they represented an uninterrupted continuum from the time of the Conquest until the time of writing (1971). His next periodization begins with another foreign imperialism: that of English hegemony since the end of the eighteenth century. This section, rather than recounting the bleeding of material wealth, deals with the subjugation of the region to asphyxiating financial regimes—first British, then US—that paralyze national markets.

In both cases, the dichotomy of core-periphery remains in tact (the mines of Potosí, Huancavelica and Zacatecas fed the European core, and the loans from AID, EXIMBANK and the IDB were filtered back to the American metropole through contracts granted to US coprorations) but the imperium is no longer a fixed point from which the reader views Latin America. Instead the point of view is from Latin America, watching a revolving door of foreign intervention as it bleeds the region dry.       


Fagan, Brian

Fagan, Brian. The Little Ice Age; How Climate Made History 1300-1850. 2000.

Chapter One: The Medieval Warm Period

This section follows a trajectory of climate to culture, tracing the cultural expansion that climate sparked in the period between roughly 800 and 1200 A.D. On the one hand, with receding ice flows in the tenth-century North Atlantic, explorers such as Eirick the Red (Greenland ) and his son, Leif Eirickson (Labrador), were able to traverse the seas, aiding the spread of Norse hegemony. On the other hand, warmer climate allowed for increased agricultural output across Europe, which, in turn, translated to greater concentrations of wealth and the construction of monumental testaments to cultural growth such as cathedrals.

Chapter Two: The Great Famine

Following a similar trajectory, this chapter begins with a description of the roles played by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index and downwelling phenomena in dictating Europe’s climatic conditions.

1.    NAO high = low pressure systems over Iceland / high pressure off Portugal = warmer climate for Europe;

2.    NAO low = pressure systems reversed = cold Europe;

3.    Fast downwelling = faster /warmer Atlantic current = warmer climate for Europe;

4.    Slow downwelling = slower / colder current = cold Europe   

The chapter situates us in the period of high NAO index between 1315 and 1322, when extraordinary rains devastated crops and lead to severe famine. We are led through the resulting socio-economic turmoil—huge influence on military campaigns: the Flemings beating off French Louis X, the Scotts resisting Edward II; reduction of cultivatable land, abandonment of rural towns, etc.—and the chapter finishes with a discussion of how the famine was construed as divine punishment and how this influenced a sizable spike in revenue for Canterbury priory.

Chapter Three: The Climatic Seesaw

Chirif Alberto y Margarita Benavides

Alberto Chirif y Margarita Benavides analizan el video de Hernando de Soto 

In reaction to Hernando de Soto’s documentary El misterio del capital de los indígenas amazónicos (2009), Alberto Chirif takes issue with four central arguments in favor of what I see as a wholesale transfer the tenets of The Other Path to the Amazonian context. As de Soto’s title makes clear, the documentary advocates for the direct application of his now nearly 30-year-old free-market reforms to an objectively distinct reality; now his program of institutionalizing individualized property title is not to be implemented in the pueblos jóvenes outside Lima (where no form of legal tenure existed) but among the native communities of the Amazon (where since 1974 a system of collective tenure has been in place). His main argument is that collective property cannot be leveraged as an asset and that native communities should be able to divide territories into individuated properties in order that they be more thoroughly integrated into the market. (As both Chirif and Margarita Benavides point out, this right was already included in DL 20653.)

Gómez Tovar, Laura, Lauren Martin, Manuel Angel Gómez Cruz, and Tad Mutersbaugh

Gómez Tovar, Laura, Lauren Martin, Manuel Angel Gómez Cruz, and Tad Mutersbaugh. “Certified Organic Agriculture in Mexico: Market Connections and Certification Practices in Large and Small Producers.” Journal of Rural Studies 21 (2005): pp. 461–474.

As with “Just-in-Space,” this article depends heavily on dichotomies. Based on a dyadic periodization of organic production in which early (1990s) certification regimes emerged as an attempt to reconcile bio-socio-economic concerns only to be co-opted beginning around 2000 by market-oriented, large-scale producers, this article consistently advocates one side of a series of binary constructions. The authors juxtapose all sorts of aspects of organic production—geographical, technological, bureaucratic, economic, ecological,, etc.—and roots them all in the bipartite division of large-and small-scale producers. While a lot of theory has taught me to treat binaries with suspicion, there is no question that this bifurcation of Mexico’s certified-organic industry serves a specific agenda that I no doubt support: that of preserving the initial emphasis placed by the organic movement on sustaining small, ecologically minded producer co-ops.

Miller, Shawn

Miller, Shawn W. An Environmental History of Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 2007.

Despite the supposed irreconcilability of impassioned critique and scholarly rigor (as implied by Coates, for example), Miller uses his scholarship to indict a millennial trend of environmental degradation. Sparse on citations (I assume the fault of the press) but rich in compelling imagery, An Environmental History of Latin America tells a declentionist (as Carey rightly points out) tale in broad strokes, colorful vignettes from across the region and most of the last millennium. While his general focus is narrowed to Mexico, Peru and Brazil, with memorable anecdotes of sugar-related deforestation in Barbados, the nineteenth-century hurricane-related ebb of coffee cultivation or twentieth-century rise of organic agriculture in Cuba, Miller’s thesis relies on the relatively simplistic and starkly humanist dichotomy of nature and culture. Episodes from the swidden, or slash and burn agriculture, practiced by the Tupi, to the global exploitation of guano, the four-century-long project of Mexico City’s Gran Canal, or the birth of highways, are all subordinates of a continual bout in which human endeavors come up against the work of the non-human world in a way that echoes some of the most detrimental aspects of modernization discourse.

Mutersbaugh, Tad

Mutersbaugh, Tad. “Just-in-space: Certified Rural Products, Labor of Quality, and Regulatory Spaces.” Journal of Rural Studies, 21 (2005): pp. 389–402.

“Just-in-Space” begins by laying out a series of dichotomies—notional standards versus certification procedures, products versus services, extrinsic versus intrinsic qualities, rural versus industrial products, private versus 3rd-party certifications—and situating Mutersbaugh’s theoretical innovation firmly on one side of each. The phrase just-in-space, then, will be used to underline the significance of space in the certification process, emphasizing the “where” over the “when,” (391) in the (neoliberal, p. 391) regulation of extrinsic qualities of 3rd-party certified (mostly rural) products.

Mutersbaugh’s primary locus of interest is the space of certification generated by 3rd-party inspectors. He addresses this space by looking at where it arises on the public-private spectrum; the social, personal and professional tensions that arise within it; and the transnational, regional and national regulatory frameworks that help constitute it.

In the second half of the article, Mutersbaugh briefly outlines the various political and economic factors that account for the rise of 3rd-party, or semi-public, certification. Neoliberalism, defined by Mutersbaugh as “a retrenchment of government regulatory authority over labor, safety and environmental codes at the same time as global trade is expanding,” (391) is presented as setting the stage for the rise of 3rd party certification by eliminating public oversight. However, this can’t fully account for 3rd party regulation, as the entrenchment of a neoliberal framework has generally meant a shift to the private—not semi-public—sphere. Thus, two other factors to consider are the rising concern over the origins of food commodities amongst consumers of “ethical” products, and the role of social activism—both in lobbying national governments to certify, and in actually setting up certification programs—in forming certification regimes.

Stephen, Lynn

Stephen, Lynn. Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California and Oregon. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Generally speaking, Transborder Lives relates the experience of Oaxacan immigrant (pay attention to her point on p. 148) and migrant workers living in Oaxaca, California and Oregon: their histories, migratory routes, labor and domestic lives, political organizing, and the ways in which the ambiguous and often contradictory relationship they have with the US and Mexican states requires a new, more flexible theorization. Her decades of work in Oaxaca afford her ample ethnographic fodder, drawn primarily from the towns of San Agustín Atenango and Teotitlán del Valle and Woodland, Oregon. These interviews are supplemented by organizational ethnographies of Woodland-based groups like Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Mujeres Luchadores Progresistas (MLP), and Organización de Comunidades Indígenas Migrantes Oaxaqueñeos (OCIMO).

Stephen’s general approach relies on a distinction between structure—usually constituted by political (immigration policy), economic (geographies of agricultural production) or even technological (e-mail and the Web) phenomena—and experience. The interpretive thrust of this book, then, rests in the way Stephen juxtaposes ethnographic material with structural analyses. Her analysis in and of itself stems from on her idea of the transborder: a concept that accepts the multiplicity of the transnational, while veering away from the binaries implicated in a base-level dependence on a nation-state framework. This is achieved through a synthesis of Arturo Escobar’s “meshworks” and Nina Glick Schiller's variant of social fields. According to Stephen’s formulation of the transborder, borders are sites of hybridity (Canclini/Anzaldúa) and the people she works with cross and carry multiple borders with them. Below are questions relevant to the individual chapters. 

Joseph, Gilbert M., Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore

Joseph, Gilbert M., Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore, eds. Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

Close Encounters of Empire marks a significant watershed in history’s so-called cultural turn, particularly within the specific trajectory of Latin American historical studies. An edited collection with contributions from many well-established Latin American historians—such as Steve Stern, William Roseberry, Catherine LeGrand, etc.—this volume tries to reconcile a tradition of dependency and world-systems approaches with the revelations of such post-post-structuralist concepts as subjectivity, indeterminacy and the significance of historicity. The book itself is divided into three sections: two of a theoretical proclivity and one dedicated to empirical studies.

As mentioned above, the general theoretical concerns that drive this project have to do with formulating a response to dependency and world-systems theories that accounts for the specificities and contradictory particularities uncovered by historicizing those meetings of “foreign” and “local” that characterize U.S. imperialism in Latin America. This objective arises not from a general collective desire to do away with dependency theory—with its immutable dualistic structures of colonizer and colonized, foreign victimizer aided by local elites to victimize plebeian Latin America—but from an attempt to problematize some of its core assumptions. This effort is spearheaded by deconstructing two central components of the dependency / world systems approach: the center-periphery model and the emphasis placed on political and economic social fields.