The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development

The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of  Development

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: Published: November 2003

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Latin American Studies

In The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development, María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo boldly argues that crucial twentieth-century revolutionary challenges to colonialism and capitalism in the Americas have failed to resist—and in fact have been constitutively related to—the very developmentalist narratives that have justified and naturalized postwar capitalism. Saldaña-Portillo brings the critique of development discourse to bear on such exemplars of revolutionary and resistant political thought and practice as Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Malcolm X, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, and the Guatemalan guerrilla resistance. She suggests that for each of these, developmentalist constructions frame the struggle as a heroic movement from unconsciousness to consciousness, from a childlike backwardness toward a disciplined and self-aware maturity.

Reading governmental reports, memos, and policies, Saldaña-Portillo traces the arc of development narratives from its beginnings in the 1944 Bretton Woods conference through its apex during Robert S. McNamara's reign at the World Bank (1968–1981). She compares these narratives with models of subjectivity and agency embedded in the autobiographical texts of three revolutionary icons of the 1960s and 1970s—those of Che Guevara, Guatemalan insurgent Mario Payeras, and Malcolm X—and the agricultural policy of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Saldaña-Portillo highlights a shared paradigm of a masculinist transformation of the individual requiring the "transcendence" of ethnic particularity for the good of the nation. While she argues that this model of progress often alienated the very communities targeted by the revolutionaries, she shows how contemporary insurgents such as Rigoberta Menchú, the Zapatista movement, and queer Aztlán have taken up the radicalism of their predecessors to retheorize revolutionary subjectivity for the twenty-first century.


"[A] rich and impressive book. . . . Saldaña-Portillo thus offers not only a powerful and important critique of development and postcolonial politics (both left and 'right'), but also a refreshingly hopeful vision of revolutionary projects for the twenty-first century. Her book should be required reading for students of social movements and Latin American politics. Saldaña-Portillo's writing is at times dense and presumes a familiarity with postcolonial and poststructural theory but could be used for teaching advanced undergraduates and for graduate seminars." — Maya Parson, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"[A]n insightful call for cultural decolonization. . . . Saldaña-Portillo's book demonstrates profound intellectual breadth and real political commitment and solidarity; its contribution to decolonizing efforts in the Americas cannot be overstated." — Katherine M. Hedeen, Latin American Research Review

"This is an ambitious work of discourse analysis, which offers many valuable insights about specific texts. . . ." — Nicola Miller, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Whether this book is cultural studies, development studies, discourse studies, or just plain history does not really matter because it is a great book. There is very little of the rather self-conscious "culturalism" and "politicism" that characterizes some other titles in this series and genre. María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo has something to say and tells her story in a most readable manner (no mean achievement). The book's topics are familiar, yet she manages to treat them in an engaging and relevant manner." — Ronaldo Munck , American Historical Review

“This is an important and strikingly original work on a topic of enormous contemporary importance. By bringing disparate phenomena together and insisting that they may all be analyzed as examples of the unexamined perpetuation of developmentalist narratives in discourses and practices of resistance in the Americas, María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo allows a fresh light to be shed on what appeared to be well-trodden ground.” — James Ferguson, coeditor of Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology

"María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo takes discourse studies where it needs to go and where few humanists are able to take it: toward an effective interfacing with political economy and ethnography. The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development sits at the center of the hemispheric paradigm that has been emerging in American Studies. Saldaña-Portillo is one of the key new architects of that paradigm."
  — Mary Louise Pratt, author of Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo is Associate Professor in the English Department and Ethnic Studies Program at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

Part I

1. Introduction 3

2. Development and Revolution: Narratives of Liberation and Regimes of Subjectivity in the Postwar Period 17

Part II

3. The Authorized Subjects of Revolution: Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Mario Payeras 63

4. Irresistible Seduction: Rural Subjectivity under Sandinista Agricultural Policy 109

Part III

5. Reiterations of the Revolutionary "I": Menchú and the Performance of Subaltern Conciencia 151

6. The Politics of Silence: Development and Difference in Zapatismo 191

7. Epilogue. Toward an American "American Studies": Postrevolutionary Reflections on Malcolm X and the New Aztlán 259

Notes 291

Works Cited 339

Index 357
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3166-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3178-0
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