The Argentine Folklore Movement: Sugar Elites, Criollo Workers, and the Politics of Cultural Nationalism, 1900-1955

By Munarriz, Alberto | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Argentine Folklore Movement: Sugar Elites, Criollo Workers, and the Politics of Cultural Nationalism, 1900-1955


Munarriz, Alberto, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Oscar Chamosa The Argentine Folklore Movement: Sugar Elites, Criollo Workers, and the Politics of Cultural Nationalism, 1900-1955 Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2010, xi + 271 pp.

In this volume, Argentine-born historian Oscar Chamosa presents a detailed examination of some previously overlooked aspects of the folklore movement that developed in Argentina during the first half of the 20th century. Beyond following the trajectories of the actors and expressions defining this movement, Chamosa concerns himself with the entanglement of financial, ideological, and political interests that framed this particular moment in the history of Argentinean popular music. It was at this time when immigration and urbanization were radically altering the country's social structure that the traditions of a historically marginalized social group--criollo peasants from the country's northwest--were recast as symbols of genuine national culture. Chamosa combines historical, ethnographic, and sociocultural analysis to shed light on the intertwining of the three main currents that, he argues, led to the movement's emergence: cultural nationalism, the actions of the sugar mill owners of the country's northwest region who promoted local folklore research and education as a means of protecting their nationwide economic and political interests, and the work of a number of media producers and artists.

The concomitant emergence of folklore as an academic discipline is also critically examined. Chamosa focuses primarily on the various ways in which financial and institutional support from the sugar industrialists of Tucuman province predetermined the direction of the research conducted by those folklorists who would collectively come to establish the canons of Argentine folklore.

Bracketed between a short introduction and a conclusion, the book is divided into seven chapters that try to balance, although not always effectively in my view, thematic organization and chronological narrative. In Chapter 1, Chamosa begins by situating the intellectual discourses that shaped the rise of Argentina's nationalist and folklorist movement within the larger ideological frames established by the prevailing nation-building ideologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The author offers a concise description of the various and, at times, conflicting discourses existing within Argentina's nationalist movement. He argues, though, that beyond evident discrepancies, all currents of the movement evolved rooted in the belief that "the nation sustains itself on a spiritual force linked to the soil and expressed through ancient traditions" (39). Chamosa then traces the local evolution of these romantic ideals and examines how they influenced the conceptualizations that were giving momentum to the work of early folklorists. The chapter closes with an emphasis on the contradictions that existed between these sentimentalized views and the positivist, progressive ideologies at the forefront of Argentina's intellectual life at the time.

Chapter 2 focuses on the National Folklore Survey commissioned by the National Board of Education in 1921. Conceived with the aim of "creating an archive of popular culture while strengthening national feelings among students" (47), the study commissioned rural teachers across the country to document the customs of those living in their respective school districts. Upon examination of historical documents, Chamosa shows that the enterprise was in fact part of a broader plan where educating modern Argentines in criollo (i.e., mixed European and indigenous) traditions was thought of as a remedy against what the chair of the National Board of Education defined as "the subversive propaganda that attempted to undermine the unity of the nation" (47). Despite its ideological motivations and its many methodological flaws, the survey offered valuable insights into the life and customs of numerous communities. …

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