Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico / Edition 1

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Everyday Forms of State Formation is the first book to systematically examine the relationship between popular cultures and state formation in revolutionary and post-revolutionary Mexico. While most accounts have emphasized either the role of peasants and peasant rebellions or that of state formation in Mexico’s past, these original essays reveal the state’s day-to-day engagement with grassroots society by examining popular cultures and forms of the state simultaneously and in relation to one another.
Structured in the form of a dialogue between a distinguished array of Mexicanists and comparative social theorists, this volume boldly reassesses past analyses of the Mexican revolution and suggests new directions for future study. Showcasing a wealth of original archival and ethnographic research, this collection provides a new and deeper understanding of Mexico’s revolutionary experience. It also speaks more broadly to a problem of extraordinary contemporary relevance: the manner in which local societies and self-proclaimed "revolutionary" states are articulated historically. The result is a unique collection bridging social history, anthropology, historical sociology, and cultural studies in its formulation of new approaches for rethinking the multifaceted relationship between power, culture, and resistance.

Contributors. Ana María Alonso, Armando Bartra, Marjorie Becker, Barry Carr, Philip Corrigan, Romana Falcón, Gilbert M. Joseph, Alan Knight, Florencia E. Mallon, Daniel Nugent, Elsie Rockwell, William Roseberry, Jan Rus, Derek Sayer, James C. Scott

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The essays in Everyday Forms of State Formation brilliantly shift the understanding of the Mexican Revolution to a new analytical framework that highlights the mediations between power and everyday forms of resistance and organization. Drawing on new theoretical approaches to the processes of hegemony, the authors go beyond analyses that posit either a reified oppressive state or a homogenized, often romanticized notion of ‘the people’ as heroic subjects of revolutionary change."—George Yúdice, Hunter College

"This book represents something eminently new and original. I believe it will have a great impact and draw Mexico and its evolution into the general discussion of state formation, popular culture and revolution from which it has been significantly absent for a long time."—Friedrich Katz, University of Chicago

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822314677
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 6/28/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gilbert M. Joseph is Professor of History and Chair of the Council of Latin American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of Revolution From Without: Yucatán, Mexico, and the United States, also published by Duke University Press.

Daniel Nugent teaches anthropology and Latin American studies at the University of Arizona and is a managing editor of the Journal of Historical Sociology.

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Read an Excerpt

Everyday Forms of State Formation

Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico

By Gilbert M. Joseph, Daniel Nugent

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9666-6



Popular Culture and State Formation in Revolutionary Mexico

* * *

A central feature of the Mexican and Latin American past has been the continuing tension between emergent popular cultures and processes of state formation. Paradoxically, this relationship has for a long time been poorly understood, drawing the attention of scholars primarily when it has broken down, and particularly when it has erupted into sustained or apocalyptic episodes of mass insurrection or state-managed repression. Meanwhile, the dynamics of the state's day-to-day engagement with grassroots society have largely been ignored; indeed, Latin Americanists have rarely examined popular cultures and forms of the state simultaneously, let alone in relation to each other The present volume brings together a series of studies and reflections that provide a new perspective on this complex issue.

Friedrich Katz engagingly set forth the terms of a paradox that we, as Mexicanist historians, anthropologists, cultural critics, and sociologists must address in our own work. Mexico is the only country in the Americas where "every major social transformation has been inextricably linked to popular rural upheavals" (Katz 1981b). In fact, three times within a century—in 1810, in the 1850s and 1860s, and again in the 1910s—social and political movements emerged that destroyed the existing state and most of the military establishment, then set up a new state and army. Nevertheless, in every case the changes in the countryside that these popular movements ultimately wrought were rather modest. Each of the upheavals resulted in the formation of states in which campesinos (and urban workers) played a subordinate role. Armies that began as preponderantly campesino-based forces soon became the guarantors of an increasingly oppressive social order, an order which, in time, was itself challenged and ultimately toppled. Why have Mexico's embattled power-holders repeatedly called upon campesinos, and why have the latter so often followed? Perhaps more important, what were the terms of engagement between the very different social groups involved, and how were those terms negotiated? These, Katz believes, remain the most tantalizing questions with which social historians of Mexico grapple. And while they are couched within a particular national-historical context, they simultaneously raise the broader theoretical problem of the state's contested relationship with popular culture.

The original essays collected here all address this problem. They combine empirical analysis of developments in Mexico from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present with theoretical arguments that go beyond the specific case materials at hand. The volume's purposefully ironic title juxtaposes "everyday forms" from James Scott's penetrating analysis of peasant resistance in rural Southeast Asia (Scott 1985) and "state formation" from Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer's study of the formation of the bourgeois state in England as a cultural revolution (Corrigan and Sayer 1985). While until now the important contributions of Scott, Corrigan, and Sayer to the study of power and resistance have largely been overlooked by Mexicanists, the contributors to this volume have all found that their work helps open up new routes toward understanding longstanding, seemingly intractable problems in the history of revolutionary Mexico.

In this introductory essay, we first review—briefly and, we hope, contentiously—some centrally important themes and currents in the recent historiography of modern Mexico and its twentieth-century revolution. We then discuss theoretical controversies related to the contested meanings of popular culture, resistance, and consciousness on the one hand, and state formation on the other. Throughout, we draw on a diverse range of comparative social theorists—as well as Mexicanist and Latin Americanist scholars—in an effort to fashion an analytical framework for understanding the relationship between popular cultures and state formation in revolutionary and postrevolutionary Mexico.


Perhaps no other event has given rise to such an abundant and methodologically sophisticated historiography among Latin Americanists as the Mexican revolution of 1910. Yet despite its strengths, this rich literature has suffered from a marked tendency to isolate and privilege the revolution as event —as the supreme moment of popular resistance in Mexican history—rather than to study it as a culturally complex, historically generated process. Ironically, if most often unintentionally, many professional scholars have joined the ruling political party in Mexico (the PRI or Revolutionary Institutional Party) in transforming the Mexican revolution into "The Revolution." That "event" is variously described as having occurred between 1910 and 1917, 1910 and 1920, or 1910 and 1940, and the debates about how to periodize the revolution not only highlight its complexity as a historical process during which popular resistance figured significantly, but also point to another process simultaneous in space and time: revolutionary and postrevolutionary state formation. How, then, might one characterize the relationship between popular mobilization and the culture(s) that inform it, and state formation in twentieth-century Mexico?

This pivotal issue was for many years ignored or elided in the early orthodox, "populist" vision of the revolution that appeared in the pioneering works of participants and observers writing in the 1920s and 1930s. That orthodoxy depicted the upheaval in schematic and uncritical fashion as a unified event, a virtually spontaneous, agrarian revolution that swept up the entire nation in a clean break with an essentially "feudal" past. "The people" rose up indignantly, "anonymously," out of the Mexican earth and overthrew their old dictator, Porfirio Díaz, along with more visible local "bosses" (los caciques). And although the social struggle lost its way for years at a time while "The Revolution's" caudillos fought among themselves, it ultimately bestowed its expected fruit—land to the peasantry and the nationalization of foreign-controlled extractive industries—under President Lázaro Cárdenas in the late 1930s.

In the hands of foreign commentators such as Frank Tannenbaum, Ernest Gruening, Eyler Simpson, and even John Steinbeck (who scripted the film Viva Zapata!), or those of José Valadés, Jesús Silva Herzog, and countless other cronistas veteranos, such populist renditions at times assumed epic—even mythic—proportions, and were in short order neatly codified by the new Revolutionary State (O'Malley 1986; T. Benjamin 1994). The empathetic and committed character of much of this early work, written when the social revolution was at high tide and the regime's revolutionary myth was just beginning to crystallize, certainly must frame (and mitigate) our criticism of it. Nevertheless, however much we might still enjoy late-night reruns of Viva Zapata!, the old orthodoxy has long since become a historiographic artefact.

More recent interpretive currents represent significant advances over the earlier orthodoxy, above all because they question the seeming singleness of purpose that is built into the conceptualization of social revolution articulated in the first wave of studies of the Mexican revolution and codified by the rulers of the state since the 1920s. At least two conceptual approaches can be identified in the work of scholars who have investigated the Mexican revolution since the late 1960s For purposes of exposition, we will designate these approaches as "revisionist" and "neo-populist" (or "postrevisionist"), contrasting both with the older, orthodox view.

Revisionist studies (see, e.g., Bailey 1978; Carr 1980; Fowler-Salamini 1993; S. Miller 1988 for detailed discussions) have paid special attention to the relationship between the revolution and the state, portraying the revolution's significance in decidedly darker hues. The avalanche of mostly regional-level studies that appeared in the 1970s and 1980s indicated in compelling fashion that although the revolution may have begun with the active participation of truly popular groups in different regions of Mexico, it rapidly witnessed the ascendancy of aspiring bourgeois and petite bourgeois elements. These chiefs sometimes employed traditional patterns of authority based on patron-client exchanges to co-opt and manipulate the masses of peasants and workers. By the 1930s, the more independent of these regional and local power holders were themselves subordinated (if they had not already been eliminated) by the emerging Revolutionary state. A modern Leviathan, the new state swallowed up regional political configurations, eventually perfecting—in a manner reminiscent of Tocqueville's revision of the French revolution—the formula of political centralization and dependent capitalist development that had begun under Porfirio Díaz's version of the ancien régime during the three-and-a-half decades preceding 1910. (See, e.g., R. Hansen 1971; Córdova 1973; J. Meyer 1976; Ruiz 1980; Brading 1980; Jacobs 1983; Ankerson 1984; Falcón 1984; Pansters and Ouweneel 1989.)

An unfortunate consequence of revisionists' identification of the rise of the Mexican Revolutionary state as the decisive accomplishment of the decade of violence has been to relegate popular participation to a subordinated, almost inconsequential role. For example, in his essay on the Mexican revolution in the Cambridge History of Latin America (1986), John Womack advanced a revisionist thesis in particularly provocative, unequivocal terms. While admitting that peasant movements and labor unions became significant forces and that Mexican society underwent "extraordinary crises and serious changes" from 1910 to 1920, Womack argues that continuity clearly took precedence over change: "The crises did not go nearly deep enough to break capitalist domination of production. The great issues were issues of state." Drawn (kicking and screaming, one assumes) to the conclusion that "the subject is therefore no longer so much social revolution as political management," Womack explains that his essay is "short on social movements because however important their emergence, their defeat and subordination mattered more" (Womack 1986:8182).

Few would deny that most popular social movements in twentieth-century Mexico were, in the final analysis, defeated or co-opted by the state, or collapsed and imploded owing to contradictions internal to the movements themselves. Nor is it difficult to recognize the value of an approach such as Womack outlined in the 1980s for situating the Mexican revolution in relation to world-scale political and economic structures and forces. Finally, focusing the analysis on the political dimension of the revolutionary decade and the very material consequences the exercise of power had in reshaping—and destroying—the lives of millions of people, is a useful corrective to the romanticization of revolution and of putatively authentic popular and peasant insurgency that plagues much of the literature on Latin American social movements and rural protest.

Revisionist interpretations of the Mexican revolution themselves appeared in large part as a response to the historical crisis of the Mexican state after 1968. That year (which Marshall Berman would probably call "a great modernist year"; see Berman 1992:55) started out with the hope and promise of the first Tet offensive in Vietnam, the Prague Spring, the days of May in Paris, and student mobilizations throughout Asia, Europe, and North America; it ended up with an intensification of bombing throughout Southeast Asia, police riots in Chicago, Russian tanks in Czechoslovakia and, in Mexico City, the massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in the plaza of Tlatelolco. Small wonder that in the 1970s and 1980s revisionists sought to stand the old revolutionary orthodoxy on its head. Nor is it coincidental that it was within this political climate that the new regional history of Mexico also came of age, with many revisionists among its charter members. Challenging the conventional wisdoms that reposed within a fraying historiografía capitalina, demystifying official interpretations of regional events while reclaiming local heroes, searching for historical roots and analogies that might inform the political activity of the present, the new regional and microhistorians issued a strong indictment of the stifling centralization of the postrevolutionary state (Martínez Assad 1990, 1991; Joseph 1991b; Van Young 1992b; Lomnitz-Adler 1992; Fowler-Salamini 1993).

Yet if revisionists have made important advances in reinterpreting the larger events and the political-economic context of the Mexican revolution from regional—rather than metropolitan—standpoints, they have been much less successful in extending the analysis down to the grassoots. Indeed, not only have they failed to understand the political consciousness of the revolutionary rank and file and the culture that informs that consciousness; in some revisionist accounts the popular dimension of revolutionary practice has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

But, as one of the premier critics of revisionist accounts has put it bluntly, surely the revolution was something more than "a series of chaotic, careerist episodes, in which popular forces were, at best, the instruments of manipulative caciques, of aspiring bourgeois or petty bourgeois leaders" (Knight 1986a:xi). Adolfo Gilly, in his seminal study, La revolución interrumpida (first published in 1971 and translated into English in 1983 with the somewhat unfortunate title The Mexican Revolution), demonstrated how popular armies from the south and the north came together (however fleetingly) in 1914-15 to directly confront the bourgeoisie. Where Womack underlines the "defeat and subordination" of popular social movements, Gilly draws attention to the vitality and efficacy of the popular presence during the period of armed rebellion in Mexico, 1910-1920. Adding fuel to this particular fire, Alan Knight emphatically argues that "there can be no high politics without a good deal of low politics. This is particularly true since, I believe, the Revolution was a genuinely popular movement and thus an example of those relatively rare episodes in history when the mass of people profoundly influenced events" (1986a:x-xi, emphasis added). Thus, he contends, the regionally diverse popular movements informing the "low politics" of the 1910-1920 period must be seen as "the precursor, the necessary precursor, of the étatiste 'revolution'"—the "high politics"—that followed in the 1920s and 1930s (1986a:xi).

Still, a challenge of this type to revisionist interpretations can be persuasive only if it specifies what is meant by popular, and who or what such phrases as the mass of people are intended to designate. Broad invocations of "the people" may naively play into the hands of Mexico's ruling party, a political party that, despite the definitive discrediting of its populist dream in the 1980s, still insisted into the 1990s that it was the party of an institutionalized revolution of the popular classes. Indeed, invocations of "the people," "the popular," and so on come dangerously close to resuscitating the romanticism so characteristic of the early studies of the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, the more recent work of the new populists and critics of the state does have the virtue, at least potentially, of taking seriously the grassroots social movements that have appeared intermittently throughout Mexico since 1910, as well as in preceding decades.

In characterizing interpretations of the Mexican revolution advanced by revisionists and their successors, we have thus far underscored their salient differences as historiographical currents. Yet those differences mask the fact that at a fundamental level both lines of interpretation attempt to draw together the same set of issues; both seek to articulate popular culture, revolution, and state formation in the analysis of modern Mexico.

For example, revisionists and neopopulists alike have written volumes about local grievances and agendas and the capacity of local actors to give voice to them (e.g., Knight 1986a; Tutino 1986; Nugent 1988a; Joseph [1982] 1988; Katz 1988a). The role of larger structural determinants, including ecological and economic crises that characterized Mexico's subordination within an unevenly expanding capitalist world system at the start of the twentieth century, has also been considered (Katz 1981a; Hart 1987; Ruiz 1988; Joseph [1982] 1988). Patterns of authority, recruitment and mobilization, and the gamut of relations between revolutionary leaders and followers that figured in the manifold process of mediation between the state, regional powers, and local society have all been explored to one degree or another (Brading 1980; Katz 1988a; Nugent 1988a; T. Benjamin and Wasserman 1990; Rodríguez 1990).


Excerpted from Everyday Forms of State Formation by Gilbert M. Joseph, Daniel Nugent. Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii

Preface xiii

State Formation xvii

Popular Culture and State Formation in Revolutionary Mexico / Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent 3

Weapons and Arches in the Mexican Revolutionary Landscape / Alan Knight 24

Reflections on the Ruins: Everyday Forms of State Formation in Nineteenth-Century Mexico / Florencia E. Mallon 69

Force and the Search for Consent: The Role of the Jefaturas Politicas of Coahuila in National State Formation / Romana Falcon 107

Rethinking Mexican Revolutionary Mobilization; Yucatan's Seasons of Upheaval, 1909–1930 / Gilbert M. Joseph 135

Schools of the Revolution: Enacting and Consenting State Forms in Tlaxcala, 1910–1930 / Elsie Rockwell 170

Multiple Selective Traditions in Agrarian Reform and Agrarian Struggle: Popular Culture and State Formation in the Ejido of Namiquipa Chihuahua / Daniel Nugent and Ana Maria Alonso 209

Torching La Purisima, Dancing at the ALtar: The Construction of Revolutionary Hegemony in Michoacan, 1934-1940/ Marjorie Becker 247

The "Comunidad Recolucionaria Instituctional": The Subversion of Native Government in Highland CHiapas, 1936–1968 / Jan Rus 265

The Seduction of the Innocents: The First Tumultuous Moments of Mass Literacy in Postrevolutionary Mexico / Armando Bartra 301

The Fate of the Vanguard under a Revolutionary State: Marxism Contribution to the Construction of the Great Arch / Barry Carr 326

Hegemony and the Language of Contention / William Roseberry 355

Everyday Forms of State Formation: Some Dissident Remarks on "Hegemony" / Derek Sayer 367

Bibliography 379

Index 413

Contributors 429

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