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Sociology on Latin America in the 1960s: Developmentalism, Imperialism, and Topical Tropism

Abstract

This article reveals the emergence of the idea of development in the sociological study of Latin America in the United States as a specific product of history. We show how in the 1960s, it was the result of interaction between the economic, political, military, and scientific fields generated by the mobilization of resources based on their respective rules. We criticize the idea that sociology had clearly-defined goals during this period. Our research demonstrates, for instance, how the research conducted on Latin America during that period was rooted in “topical tropism”. Our investigation is based on the analysis of empirical data including institutional information, journal articles and historical archives.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In sociology, Modernization theory emerged from diversified theoretical currents that attempt to explain the inequalities between nations by looking at systemic social factors. Modernization theory views cultural referents as delays in the transformation of societies that are anchored in their traditions. Very popular among policy makers until the end of the 1960s, this evolutionary theoretical framework significantly marked the relations between the United States and Latin America. During these years, functionalism and Weberian sociology contributed to thinking about the reduction of inequalities between nations as well as topics within Modernization theory. The fields associated with Modernization theory are: means of communication, cultural reception of technology, the fight against corruption, and state reform, in addition to more micro-sociological subjects such as attitudes toward human reproduction.

  2. 2.

    Hereafter, these organizations viewed as a whole are referred to as ‘funding institutions.’

  3. 3.

    An investigation of the history of sociological theories and concepts would ideally complement our work, but for practical reasons, this paper is limited to the topography that made the idea possible. Should the reader be interested in reading a critical assessment of 1960s-era theories about Latin America, we suggest Cardoso and Faletto 1978, and Frank 1966.

  4. 4.

    See for example Hanke 1967, or Martz 1971.

  5. 5.

    We gathered information from the lists of various centers, research institutes, and Latin American studies programs on the history of approximately 30 organizational units devoted to Latin American knowledge. The information obtained from the organizations’ websites allowed us to create profiles based on historical information, disciplinary orientations, and working objectives.

  6. 6.

    We analyzed the most extensive list of research conducted on Latin America available, sampling the listings published in the “Current Research Inventory” section of the Latin American Research Review (LARR) journal between 1965 and 1967. Established in 1965, LARR became the official journal for of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) at its creation in 1966. LARR is dedicated to the study of Latin America from the diverse perspectives of human sciences, including political science, sociology, and history. The study of this sample allowed us to establish the quantity, importance, and origin of the funding of work on Latin America at the end of the 1960s.

  7. 7.

    We examined the disciplinary affiliations, departmental and national origin of all the authors of published articles in the Journal of Inter-American Studies (IAS) between 1959 and 1969. To this end, we concentrated our study on the contributors’ biographies in the journal’s quarterly periodicals. The journal published scientific articles from a broad variety of American and international researchers writing from political science, humanities, social science, geography, legal and journalism perspectives. The journal is now known as Latin American Politics and Society.

  8. 8.

    It is important to note that the NDEA program is only partially aimed at Latin American studies. LARR notes that in 1968, only one-eighth of the 240 grants from the NDEA program to students in higher studies were attributed to Latin American studies.

  9. 9.

    In the case of the Carnegie Foundation, these changes imply variation in the definition of scientific priorities between each presidential mandate. For instance, Charles Dollard, president of the Carnegie Foundation between 1948 and 1955, preferred quantitative and objective social sciences, while John W. Gardner, president between 1955 and 1967, was more interested in human behaviour. Thus, it is difficult to conclude that the Carnegie Foundation’s agenda for social sciences was oriented primarily by the requirements of foreign policies (Ludden 2000).

  10. 10.

    See Hispania, Vol. 44, No 1.1

  11. 11.

    Although Cuba’s radicalization originally signalled a certain rebirth for Latin American studies, the country is in fact minimally studied. This could be explained by the researchers’ lack of access to the island.

  12. 12.

    We consulted the archives of the Carnegie Corporation of New York located in the Columbia University library. From these archives, we established a list of projects on Latin America funded by this foundation during the 1945–1970 period. This information covers the foundations’ funding recipients, project participants, as well as project duration and countries studied. These documented sources are valuable signposts that enabled us to carefully calibrate the transformation in Latin American studies during the Cold War in the United States of America, with emphasis on the place occupied by sociology.

  13. 13.

    We thoroughly studied the data in the Notes and News section of the quarterly journal Hispania from 1951 to 1969. Established in 1917, Hispania is the official journal of the Association for American Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese Language (AATSP).

  14. 14.

    For further reading on the theoretical failings of Modernization theory, consult Frank 1966.

  15. 15.

    The Truman Doctrine was created in 1947 by then-President of the United States Harry S. Truman. This doctrine established the political foundation for the US position on the Communist Party and the USSR. It attempted to limit the number of countries that adopted communism by supplying military and technical assistance as well as financial support to ‘free countries.’

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Neil McLaughlin and Lawrence T. Nichols for their comments. Any errors or omissions, of course, are the author’s sole responsibility.

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Correspondence to Dimitri della Faille.

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della Faille, D. Sociology on Latin America in the 1960s: Developmentalism, Imperialism, and Topical Tropism. Am Soc 44, 155–176 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-013-9177-6

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Keywords

  • Latin America
  • United States
  • Sociology
  • Underdevelopment
  • 1960s