In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Latin American intellectuals began to question why their countries had failed to modernize and produce the type of economic prosperity and democratic societies that they desired. Influenced by the scientific theories of their time, many of the explanations offered by these intellectuals centered on a single issue—race. Yet scientific and historical definitions regarding “race” have varied greatly ranging from a conceptualization of race as a cultural to a biological construct. This same time period also saw the emergence of two new literary genres which addressed “racial” conflict in their own right—indigenismo and neo-indigenismo. In the last thirty years, postmodernist and postcolonialist readings of these texts have tended to articulate these interethnic conflicts in highly racialized terms which diminish the importance of any cultural differentiation that may exist (i.e. attitudes, aptitudes, norms, religions, expectations) while simultaneously augmenting perceived racial discord between groups—even where racial difference barely exists.
This dissertation is an analysis of Pueblo enfermo (1909) and Raza de bronce (1919) by Alcides Arguedas, as well as Sociología guatemalteca: el problema social del indio (1923) and Hombres de maíz (1949) by Miguel Ángel Asturias. By taking an interdisciplinary approach and drawing on texts from history, anthropology, economics and literature I challenge many of the commonly held notions regarding the issues of race in these texts. I argue that, despite tinges of what social scientists have termed “scientific racism” that these works should be interpreted as criticisms of what the authors understood as cultural problems and deficiencies within their societies. Additionally, I argue that this highly politicized cultural criticism of their countries by Arguedas and Asturias was meant to challenge the mestizo and Ladino hegemony of their times as a means of making their countries more democratic, and that the strident postmodernist and would-be postcolonial readings reveal actually hidden anachronistic and ahistorical bias of their authors.
- Raza y cultura en el proceso de modernización y democratización: [re]visiones del debate interétnico Latinoamericano