In the closing paragraph of a recent essay that asks "What's Left for Latin American Cultural Studies?," critic Sophia McClennen addresses the future trajectories of North American academics and their counterpart cultural practitioners in the region. For McClennen, the rise of Latin America's marea rosada (pink tide) governments compels critics to reconfigure the structures of power and loci of domination that were previously assumed to fall in the hands of the right-wing dictatorships that swept the region from the 1970s onward.
As the overt and covert US military influence in the region gave way to "dollar diplomacy," a number of Latin American nations found themselves led by governments that self-identified as left or socialist. Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Cuba became part of the "pink tide" of the twenty-first century socialism movement. While the actually existing Left politics of these governments has been analyzed and critiqued, and while not all of these governments were able to remain in power, it remains clear that this is an unprecedented moment for Left politics.(138)
Now no longer in the grips of right-wing tyranny, the state faces a categorically different challenge and, with it, so do North American cultural critics of Latin America. That challenge is to confront the new global configurations of capital under neoliberalism, which were first tested in the very Latin American countries that now resist them, and to strategize equally transnational modes of resistance that break with the now outdated leftist tradition of local armed factions and guerrilla groups. "The institutionalization of the Left that has taken place during these administrations will likely be one of the main areas of focus for future work on Latin American cultural studies," McClennen predicts:
The currently existing forms of political activism have taken on new modes of organization that no longer track to the idealized ideas of indigenous resistance movements and guerrilla groups, and they no longer take place wholly within the nation-state. These transformations call for new ways to engage the power imbalances that stem from neoliberal free-market practices.(138)
While the people, leaders, artists, and thinkers of the region have embraced this change, adapting their own methodologies and critiques to the new configurations of power ushered in by this supposed paradigm shift, the part of the North American academy that likes to think of itself as a critical check on Anglo-American ethnocentrism has categorically failed (or undoubtedly will fail) to follow suit. "One thing remains the same," warns McClennen: "Latin American cultural studies will continue to be guided by polemics, internal debates, fashionable trends, and a permanent desire to create new forms of academic knowledge and new modes of critique capable of advancing an ever-changing, constantly in question Left project" (138).
McClennen longs for a politically involved kind of Latin American cultural studies that bridges the divide between the professorial armchair and the revolutionary actor.1 To a certain extent, her appraisal of the situation is accurate: academics with leftist political interests often find themselves mired in the academy. But this phenomenon is by no means unique to Latin American cultural studies, and indeed one could argue precisely the opposite regarding the relationship between existing political praxis and academics who practice Latin American cultural studies. One might even go so far as to argue that Latin American cultural studies vis-à-vis its institutional counterparts in North American literary and cultural studies enjoys a relatively marked presence in political debates in the region of expertise. From the '70s and '80s to the present, Beatriz Sarlo, Ileana Rodríguez, Ángel Rama, Ernesto Laclau, and others have enjoyed prominent roles in Latin American politics as well as in the development of Latin American cultural studies. (Excepting Sarlo, all have held permanent positions in the North American academy and Sarlo herself has lectured widely and held numerous visiting positions in the US.) But McClennen's critique is sharper and more directed toward what she sees as a general tendency within the discipline in the Anglo-American academic world to overlook political developments in Latin America while professing both a politically Left stance as well as interpretative...