LatAm Readings: Incorporation into Nations and World-Systems

Books Read

This week’s readings are not as related to each other as past readings have been, due to outside circumstances preventing a meeting before now (thanks to Dr. Bristol for being understanding!). Nonetheless, the four do relate to a broad theme of incorporation of people and places into nation-states and world-systems.

Wallerstein, Immanuel Maurice. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

This is an overview of Wallerstein’s world-systems theory–a condensed version of the three volumes in which Wallerstein lays out his theory of how regions are incorporated into the latest, and most powerful, world-system: global capitalism. Wallerstein places regions in three categories: cores, semi-peripheries, and peripheries. We largely read this book because world-systems theory keeps coming up in other readings, and indeed it related well to the other three books for this week.

Mallon, Florencia E. Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Mallon studies two regions of Mexico and two regions of Peru, focusing on how they were incorporated into the rising nation-states in the mid-to-late 19th century. She challenges ideas that peasants did not feel a sense of nationalism, showing how they understood nation differently from the ways that elites did. At the same time, Mexican peasants in the regions she studies became much more part of the broader nation by the early 20th century than did those in Peru.

Guardino, Peter F. The Time of Liberty: Popular Political Culture in Oaxaca, 1750-1850. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Building on Mallon but studying an earlier period, Guardino focuses on how political culture among the lower classes changed in the city of Oaxaca and the Oaxacan region of Villa Alta in the wake of Bourbon reforms and then Mexican independence. He shows how lower orders, in this case, responded to changes coming from above by sometimes defending former rights–especially in Indian communities fighting attempts to incorporate Indians as individuals into the broader liberal state.

Weber, David J. Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

In this book, Weber expands his gaze from the borderlands at the northern part of Spanish America–his focus in previous works–to across the Spanish Empire to explore relations with independent Indians. He focuses on the period from Carlos III’s ascension in 1759 through independence, showing how Bourbon reformers attempted (and often failed) to understand conditions on the ground in the Americas, and how Spanish approaches evolved over time–and varied in different regions–with regard to Indian policy. Weber narrows the gap often perceived between British and Spanish Indian policies, showing how Spaniards actually did, for example, make treaties with independent Indians and, often, managed to keep the peace–peace that would fall apart in the 19th century.

Tying Things Together: Discussion Topics

Incorporation of Places and Peoples

All of these works focus on the tying of local communities and polities into broader systems. Wallerstein, of course, is working from a high level, showing the functioning of the global economic that constantly seeks to incorporate new regions. Mallon and Guardino focus on the incorporation of peoples–Indians, mestizos, and other castas–into New Spain in the late 18th century (in the case of Guardino) and new nation-states of Mexico (in both cases) and Peru (in the case of Mallon) in the 19th century. Weber discusses Spanish attempts to incorporate independent Indians into its empire–and the accommodations the power of independent Indians forced Spanish officials to make in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I’d like to talk more about different ways of incorporating distinct places and peoples into empires and nation-states in this period, particularly comparing Weber’s story of independent Indians with the stories Mallon and Guardino tell of Indians who had been largely incorporated into the Spanish Empire, albeit as parts of republicas de indios (under the Spanish corporatist system) versus citizens of nation-states (under liberal systems), as 19th century reformers would have them be.

Local/Regional Studies and Large Scale Studies

Two of this week’s books (Mallon and Guardino) were intensely local studies, while Weber focused on a wider picture–borderlands across the Spanish Empire in the Americas–and of course Wallerstein painted a global picture. I’d like to discuss how local, comparative studies like Mallon’s and Guardino’s are changing the bigger picture of Latin American history. What do we gain and lose with such intensely focused studies? What areas are being studied? Part of why I was so eager to read Weber was that he focuses on the borderlands, areas not seemingly covered as much as the cores of the Spanish Empire or its successor nation-states.

Cores and Borderlands

Along those lines, I’d like to discuss the differences between cores, where Indians were more incorporated into the Spanish system, and borderlands areas like those Weber made a career studying. How do their histories vary? How do sources on incorporated, core, settled Indian groups–and non-Indians–and on unincorporated Indians influence how historians study these groups?


Hegemony is a theme that has continued to come up in the studies we’ve read, especially in relation to history of subalterns and world-systems theory. It is a prominent theme in Mallon’s work. I’d like to discuss that idea further. What makes one a hegemon, a system hegemonic?

Cultural Political History

Both Mallon’s and particularly Guardino’s studies are deeply local political histories, in a trend of studying political culture. I’d like to discuss–and know more about–the evolution of this strand of study, particularly how it differs from, and builds upon, traditional political history and the social and cultural history that came before.


Guardino focuses on the period 1750-1850, which, from what I understand, is becoming more common–rather than the break at independence. This allows for a focus on broad trends that traversed the period of independence, and help to explain it. I’d like to discuss this periodization further–is the field moving away from seeing independence as such as “clean break” in continuity?

One Thought to “LatAm Readings: Incorporation into Nations and World-Systems”

  1. […] I should also read origin works: a basic primer by Immanuel Wallerstein on world systems theory (blog post here), and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (later president of Brazil) and Enzo Faletto on dependency theory […]

Leave a Reply