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Workers Go Shopping in Argentina

The Rise of Popular Consumer Culture

Natalia Milanesio

Publication Year: 2013

In 1951 an Argentine newspaper announced that the standard of living of workers in Argentina was “the highest in the world.” More than half a century later, Argentines still look back to the mid-twentieth century as the “golden years of Peronism,” a time when working people, who had struggled to make ends meet a few years earlier, could now buy ready-made clothing, radios, and even big-ticket items like refrigerators. Milanesio explores this period marked by populist politics, industrialization, and a fairer distribution of the national income by analyzing the relations among consumers, consumer goods, manufacturers, advertising agents, and Juan Domingo Perón’s government (1946–1955).

Combining theories from the anthropology of consumption, cultural studies, and gender studies with the methodologies of social, cultural, and oral histories, Milanesio shows the exceptional cultural and social visibility of low-income consumers in postwar Argentina along with their unprecedented economic and political influence. Her study reveals the scope of the remarkable transformations fueled by the new market by examining the language and aesthetics of advertisement, the rise of middle- and upper-class anxieties, and the profound changes in gender expectations.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xi

During my time as a graduate student at Indiana University, I benefited from the expertise of a group of talented historians of Latin America. Arlene Díaz, Jeff Gould, Peter Guardino, and Danny James made graduate school unceremonious and intellectually stimulating. I want to thank Danny...

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pp. 1-15

In 2005, Juan Carlos Legas was seventy-three years old. He grew up in a small town in the province of Santa Fe where he lived until he moved to Rosario, the second largest city in Argentina, at the age of seventeen. It was 1949. That year, wages reached a record high in the country, workers...

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1. Industry, Wages, and the State: The Rise of Popular Consumer Culture

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pp. 16-50

In the early 1940s, the Corporación para la Promoción del Intercambio (Corporation for the Promotion of Trade), an agency whose executive board consisted of the directors of the most powerful industrial firms in Argentina, hired the U.S.-based Armour Research Foundation to conduct...

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2. Surveys and Campaigns: Discovering and Reaching the Worker-Consumer

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pp. 51-82

In 1949, the pro-Peronist magazine Argentina published an article about an ordinary day in the life of an Argentine worker. The piece, profusely illustrated with photographs detailing every activity from the moment the worker woke up in the morning, showed the man leaving the factory...

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3. Commercial Culture Becomes Popular: Advertising and the Challenges of a Changing Market

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pp. 83-122

In the mid-1930s, advertising experts believed that there were only a few qualified agencies in Argentina and high-quality advertising in the country was still exceptional. In its evolution, leaders in the field contended, Argentine advertising followed the same trends as the country’s productive...

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4. “How Can a Garbage Collector Be on the Same Level as We Are?”: Upper-and Middle-Class Anxieties over Working-Class Consumers

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pp. 123-157

For Arlt, the sorrowful worker and his child embodied a gloomy life of exploitation and dissatisfaction, a life without amusement. Life, however, would change for the characters of the story. Almost two decades later, headlines suggested that the penniless boredom and monotony...

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5. Love in the Time of Mass Consumption

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pp. 158-189

This chapter explores the role of consumption in the creation of gender stereotypes that manifested the tensions that arose between men and women in relation to working for a living, spending, and doing housework. It shows that the participation in a socially expansive consumer market...

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6. Tales of Consumers: Memory and Working-Class Material Culture

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pp. 190-219

One of the most remarkable components of the mid-twentieth-century imagination was the powerful awareness among Peronists, anti-Peronists, and those outside the great political divide that the historical process they were part of was both unique and unrepeatable...

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Epilogue: Consumer Culture Today

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pp. 220-232

Looking back at the almost six decades that have passed since Perón was ousted in 1955, one has the uncomfortable feeling that the collective search for a better life has suffered many setbacks for most of the population and that the recurring promises of social and economic...


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pp. 233-276

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 277-294


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pp. 295-307

Back Cover

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p. 321-321

E-ISBN-13: 9780826352439
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826352415

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013