Between 1829 and 1852, under the leadership of Juan Manuel de
Rosas, the province of Buenos Aires underwent a peculiar experi-
ment in republicanism, one characterized by strong centralization of au-
thority, factionalist politics, populist gestures, and an unmitigated cult of
personality. The period witnessed an unprecedented mobilization for war
of the rural population, the consolidation of stereotypical political identi-
ties (unitarios and federales), and an increasing intrusion of the state into the
lives of ordinary folks. Persuaded that the laws had to govern social inter-
actions, Governor Rosas emphasized the enforcement of existing legal
statutes, making the return to tranquility and order in the countryside a
major objective of his administration. This was also a period of economic
growth based on the export of livestock goods (hides, tallow, wool, jerked
beef ). Naturally, this export bonanza produced an impact on the internal
circulation of commodities and on labor markets. A fourfold increase in
the value of exports, combined with a significant increase in population
and a substantial expansion of land appropriation, provided the context
for an intensified demand for labor power that, in turn, reinforced preex-
isting patterns of internal migration.
These forces—military mobilization, federalist politics, the juridifica-
tion of social relations, and expanding markets—increased the spatial and
occupational mobility of rural folks and put them in close proximity to
state judicial and military authorities. A reorganized provincial state, with
a strong centralized authority (particularly after 1835) and an enhanced
capacity for legal enforcement at the local level, took upon itself the tasks
of registering, classifying, training for military duty, and disciplining the
rural (male) population. The strengthened provincial state tried to impose
order on the rural subaltern and to prepare reluctant peasant-citizens for
war against the unitarios. This produced frequent disciplinary encounters
between state authorities and migratory workers, ex-soldiers, and ‘‘delin-
quents,’’ encounters that enriched the state’s knowledge of this rural
Other, collectively called the ‘‘country peon class’’ (la clase de peón de campo).
In this book I o√er an interpretive reconstruction of this ‘‘class’’—its
experience, sensibilities, opinions, claims—through a double interroga-
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