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  • Wandering Paysanos: State Order and Subaltern Experience in Buenos Aires during the Rosas Era.
  • José Antonio Sánchez Román
Wandering Paysanos: State Order and Subaltern Experience in Buenos Aires during the Rosas Era. By Ricardo D. Salvatore . Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Illustrations. Map. Tables. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. xiv, 523 pp. Cloth, $59.95.

The historiography on the first half of the Argentine nineteenth century is one of the most advanced in the Latin American field. Studies by Juan Carlos Garavaglia, Jorge Gelman, Carlos Mayo, and José Carlos Chiaramonte, among others, have enriched our knowledge of the period in issues such as economic development, labor relations, and the political and juridical formation. Ricardo Salvatore's Wandering Paysanos is an important contribution to that historiography, dealing with the role of the subalterns in the construction of the Rosista state.

Salvatore aspires to recuperate the "voices" of the paysanos—job-seeking, wandering peons and peasants looking in the Buenos Aires pampas or army draftees— and show their contributions to the formation of the new state. Salvatore's book achieves its objectives thanks to a powerful interpretative narrative and to an impressive collection of quality primary sources—the filiaciones and clasificaciones, or personal records—of the prisoners and draftees collected by state authorities.

The author claims to offer just a partial reconstruction of the subalterns' experience, but it goes beyond that. Salvatore in fact makes a general interpretation of the Rosista state, dealing with the subalterns' experience of the market, their labor relationships, their contribution to the army and to the civil war, their conflicts with the law and the judicial system, and their participation in popular festivities designed by the authorities to commemorate the federal state.

Salvatore reinforces the now abundant literature that shows the existence of a free labor market in the Buenos Aires pampas and the advantages that the peasants derived from it, adding rich empirical evidence to something we already knew: namely, that the labor market in Rosas's Buenos Aires was characterized by the scarcity of workers and their mobility.

The recent historiography has also criticized the traditional view of the Rosista regime as a paternalist dictatorship, eager to reestablish the old colonial order. Works by Marcela Ternavasio have illustrated that Rosas tried to build a regime of political unanimity based on the legitimacy of the male universal suffrage and popular sovereignity. Wandering Paysanos enhances this hypothesis by arguing convincingly that Rosismo was a particular form of republicanism. Salvatore interprets the federal festivities as communicative political rituals between the state and the "people." These were occasions of public display of republicanism, as the state presented itself as the legitimate inheritor of the Revolution of Independence and the ultimate guarantor of republican values. It is worthy mentioning the comparison between the federal festivities and the republican festival held during the French Revolution as one of the most original contributions of the work.

The author's interpretations of the subalterns' perception of the market, the [End Page 563] war, and the political and judicial system are suggestive and ambitious. The paysanos seemed to have adapted smoothly to the conditions of a free market, participating enthusiastically in it, both as an economic and social space. Salvatore demonstrates that subalterns developed a sort of "popular liberalism," attempting to avoid the intervention of the state in the market. Salvatore links this popular liberalism to the subaltern's experience of the revolution and new ideas.

The wandering peons were the main target of the justice and the army; however, they did not receive passively the messages emanated from the authorities. In fact, for the author, they were able to reinterpret them for their own benefit. Therefore, they recognized the importance of the law, but following the official egalitarian rhetoric claimed their right to fair treatment and due justice. In addition, these paysanos stated publicly their federal patriotism but demanded and bargained for reasonable material and moral conditions in their services to the fatherland, namely, in the army.

Ricardo Salvatore shows that subalterns were political agents of the history they lived, rather than the passive and easily malleable class the Rosista state and some part of the historiography of the period...


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pp. 563-564
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Archived 2004
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