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Reviewed by:
  • Café, sociedad y relaciones de poder en América Latina
  • Ross W. Jamieson
Café, sociedad y relaciones de poder en América Latina. Edited by Mario Samper K., William Roseberry, and Lowell Gudmundson> (Heredia, Costa Rica: Editorial Universidad Nacional, 2001. 510 pp.).

This volume marks the very welcome appearance of a Spanish translation of Coffee, Society and Power in Latin America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), originally edited by William Roseberry, Lowell Gudmundson, and Mario Samper Kutschbach. For the 2001 Spanish translation Mario Samper K. is listed as lead editor and coordinator of the translation. Mario Samper K. and the National University of Costa Rica should be congratulated for their efforts in producing a Spanish version of this important book. The Spanish-language edition consists of the same chapters as the 1995 volume, with each author having somewhat updated his contributions. There is a brief new preface and postscript, both written by Samper. He also provides a new bibliographic essay at the end of the volume, giving the Spanish-language reader an overview of the published literature (in various languages) on Latin American coffee production. This essay is far from comprehensive, but provides the reader with a good introduction to the major literature.

The cooperative effort that this book represents first originated fifteen years ago in conversations at a conference in Costa Rica, which blossomed into a 1988 conference in Colombia, and eventually into the 1995 edited volume. The time period covered is the century beginning with the initial production of coffee in Latin America in the 1830s up until 1930, in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Colombia. The idea was to analyze one commodity, coffee, in comparative Latin American perspective.

The production of coffee for export markets involved a variety of scales of landholding in different parts of Latin America during this time period, a fact that has had profound implications for comparative models of capitalism and agriculture in the region. There are many local studies of the history of coffee production, land, and labor in Latin America, but it was this volume that brought these issues into comparative focus. It is thus a very important milestone in coffee research, and an appropriate publication to make available to a Spanish-language audience throughout Latin America.

William Roseberry’s introductory chapter is a wide-ranging essay on the core ideas represented in this research. Roseberry died tragically in August of 2000 at age 50, only a year after moving from his position at the New School to New [End Page 775] York University. He did not live to see the appearance of this Spanish-language edition of the book he was a driving force behind. It is clear from the text that the book was in print before his death, and thus the only mention of his passing is in the cover material.

His introductory chapter is an excellent example of his work at the intersection of history and anthropology, looking at culture, history, and political economy. Roseberry saw the production of coffee in Latin America as having several commonalities, including its location in frontier regions, the alteration of tropical forest environments, and the internal migration of laborers as coffee production zones developed. Despite these commonalities, the solutions to the great need for land and labor were solved in various ways in different locales, and thus this volume is focused on the “comparative analysis of the history of capitalism in Latin America.” This is at heart a study of labor relations in the production of coffee, through the framework of historical materialism. At the same time, however, it is a study of Latin America’s “coffee republics” of the late nineteenth century, and the unique historical trajectory that the production of this commodity led these countries through.

Several of the chapters concentrate on landholding, labor relations, and the family from the mid-nineteenth century up to the mid-twentieth. Verena Stolcke and Mauricio Font each examine family smallholdings in São Paulo. Stolcke looks at this from the perspective of the use of mixed food-crop cultivation by family farms to weather downturns in coffee exports. This is an important gendered analysis of the...

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