This article focuses on the nexus between state infrastructural power and legitimacy. A comparative case study of nationalism in mid-twentieth-century Mexico and Argentina provides the basis for theorizing the impact of state infrastructural power on transformations of official understandings of nationhood. Both countries experienced a transition from liberal to popular nationalism. The extent to which popular nationalism became a regular product of state organizations varied between the two cases, depending on the timing of state development. The temporal congruence between the expansion of state infrastructural power and ideological change, as exemplified by Mexico under Cárdenas, facilitated the full institutionalization of the new official ideology, whereas a disjuncture between state development and ideological change, as exemplified by Argentina under Perón, inhibited such a comprehensive transformation of nationalism.
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See Rueschemeyer (1983, chap. 4) for a more general perspective on the relationship between legitimacy and formal organization.
This point does not neglect that nationalism is equally important to contest state power. Yet the role of social movements in constructing national narratives and fashioning ideological transformations is beyond the scope of this article. See Itzigsohn and vom Hau (2006) for a theoretical and empirical treatment of this issue.
This approach owes much to Eugen Weber’s (1976) study of nineteen-century France that carefully disentangles the role of schooling in the “nationalization” of the rural population.
In this larger project, I use textbooks because public schools are arguably the major nationalizing institution of the state during the twentieth century. State authorities put major efforts into regulating the content of these texts, for instance, through special approval commissions. The textbook analysis starts with the implementation of obligatory public schooling during the late nineteenth century, a period that witnessed the prevalence of liberal nationalism, and ends with the comprehensive (or contained) institutionalization of popular nationalism. This study traces trajectories of nationalism as state ideology over substantial periods, from 1884 to 1955 in Argentina, and from 1888 to 1960 in Mexico. In each country, the study reviewed between 50 and 70 textbooks for these periods, collecting at least five publications each decade.
For exploring teachers’ role in this process, I focused on the activities and outlooks of primary school teachers during the main transformative periods: the transitions toward popular nationalism under Cárdenas in Mexico (1934–1940) and Perón in Argentina (1946–1955).
This definition provides a basis for distinguishing between nationalism and other forms of discourse involved in the legitimation of state power. For instance, agrarianism is distinct from nationalism because it evokes an imagined community of peasants rather than nationals.
This is not to neglect other possible avenues of conceptualizing state infrastructural power and its role in ideological change (see Soifer, this issue). Yet, taking a weight of the state approach runs into the danger of conflating explanans and explanandum as transformations of nationalism are the very outcome of interest. A subnational variation approach would be more suitable to investigate a different research question, such as local differences and similarities in the extent of ideological change in Mexico or Argentina.
This latter trajectory is not explored empirically here, yet it constitutes a logical possibility.
In Argentina, this economic bonanza was accompanied by the equally dramatic demographic reorganization of society based on massive European migration.
An exception to this trend can be found in the visual arts. Under Vasconcelos, the SEP provided many artists with generous financial and organizational resources to pursue their work, exemplified by Diego Rivera’s status as “official painter” (Azuela 2001: 67).
In 1922, around 8.9% of the federal budget was spent on education, in 1928 it were 8.0% (Vaughan 1982: 149).
The number of primary schools decreased from 12,271 in 1907 to 9,222 in 1920, and reached 16,692 in 1928 (Vaughan 1982: 153).
This section draws on interviews with teachers from the Archivo de la Palabra and periodicals from independent teacher associations, combined with relevant with secondary literature (vom Hau 2007).
Public secondary school teacher (history), Mexico City, March 6, 1979
Public primary school teacher, Villahermosa, May 3, 1979
Public secondary school teacher (history), Mexico City, March 6, 1979
To reconstruct the activities and outlooks of public school teachers under Perón, I combined semi-structured interviews with a textual analysis of La Obra as a periodical written by teachers for teachers (vom Hau 2007).
La Obra, No. 486, October 15, 1949, p. 58x
Public primary school teacher, Buenos Aires, August 11, 2004
Secondary school teacher (history), Buenos Aires, August 25, 2004
Accounts from secondary literature provide additional support for these findings and paint a similar picture of teacher opposition against Perón and popular nationalism (e.g., Cucuzza and Somoza 2001; Plotkin 2002), and the grounding of the resistance in their professional identity and middle class status (Bernetti and Puiggrós 1993).
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This research was supported by an IDRF fellowship from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). A previous version was presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Chicago. I would like to thank Matthew Lange, Daniel Schensul, Dan Slater, and Daniel Ziblatt for helpful comments. I also greatly benefited from the continued intellectual exchange with Hillel Soifer.
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vom Hau, M. State Infrastructural Power and Nationalism: Comparative Lessons from Mexico and Argentina. St Comp Int Dev 43, 334 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-008-9024-x
- Infrastructural power
- Latin America