Caudillo Machine Culture: The Rise of Machine Culture in Rural Argentine, 19th century

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Caudillo Machine Culture: The Rise of Machine Culture in Rural Argentine, 19th century

This presentation examines two cultural narratives developed by two distinct groups (urban elite and rural folk) in Argentina during the nineteenth century. In this period, liberal elites developed an economic plan to transform agricultural practices and integrate the use of farm machinery and tools in everyday forms of crop farming and livestock raising to modernize the farming sector. Among these elites, the urban intellectuals sought more than to build an economy; they sought to build a nation-state, and hence, created the language, literature, and aesthetics of a national culture. Among their nation-building efforts, they developed a genre of gauchesque writings that was intended to represent rural culture. These writings included poetry (Martin Fierro), lore (Don Segundo Sombra), and many other romantic written and visual narratives of the countryside. In this genre was the unspoken tale that perhaps the elites’ “progress and civilization” plans, including the use of heavy machinery, may have gone too far. Somehow, eradicating the “beloved” men on horsebacks (gauchos) left the nation without heroes or icons — this tale too became a lore. Drawing on archival materials, field work (2014-2017) in the campos of Santa Fe, Entre Rios, and Buenos Aires, literature, foreign and resident traveler accounts, local language, customs, and lore, as well as material culture, Prof. Pineda argues that by 1861 when the liberal elite consolidated power, the countryside farmer or low or semi-skilled rural workers were already users, repairers, and designers of farm machines, tools, and technology. It is highly probable that the liberal elite had limited exchanges with the countryside, contacting it only by trains that came to the interior beginning in 1870. To their chagrin, and perhaps surprise, the gaucho, who they had imagined, was no more. To be sure, over the course of the nineteenth century, rural people had indeed transformed their ways of thinking about rural economy and social life. The pampas now included a relatively small yet diverse population of foreigners and natives, estancieros, local caudillos, chacareros, herrereros, campesinos, peones, chinas, and changarines. By the 1860s, in some regions, to be a machine owner, mechanic, contratista, or herrerero, for instance, was a source of pride, and represented a new trope of masculinity. Each town and region had created their own narratives, lore, and aesthetics in this new age of machines and crop farming (Image 1). Thus, rather than being the bearer of civilization and modernization, the elite had to accept that the rural classes had already developed their own styles of machine-using and making. 

Dr. Yovanna Pineda is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Central Florida and author of Industrial Development in a Frontier Economy: The industrialization of Argentina, 1890-1930 (Stanford, 2009). Her upcoming book, Sensational Machine: Technē-Culture in Argentina, examines the ritual and myth-making in the design, maintenance, and repair of harvesters and tractors. Drawing on ethnographic methods, archival sources, oral histories, rumor, social media, and material culture, this transdisciplinary work charts the genealogy of technological culture in Argentina. It analyzes the 200-year development of peoples’ emotional and sensory meanings of cutting-edge technology.

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