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  • A Place in Politics: São Paulo, Brazil, from Seigneurial Republicanism to Regionalist Revolt
  • Roger A. Kittleson
A Place in Politics: São Paulo, Brazil, from Seigneurial Republicanism to Regionalist Revolt. By James P. Woodard. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Pp. xi, 237. Illustrations. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $24.95 paper; $89.95 cloth.

James Woodard provides a rewarding mixture of new and old political historical approaches in this confidently written and richly researched book. He looks beyond the most obvious political actors—leaders of parties and regional bosses—to portray São Paulo's public political sphere as diverse and vibrant, with vital contributions from a range of middling groups, from "Indian killers" to small-time journalists (p. 8). At the same time he insists on the central importance of ideas in these conflicts, particularly in the battles between the old Paulista Republican Party (PRP) machine and the emerging challengers to that system of rule in the early twentieth century. Ultimately, he presents a nuanced and powerful analysis of a lively political culture with wider and more ideologically-driven participation than previous scholarship has suggested. Using this approach, he offers revisions of the events that shaped the state's politics in the First Republic (1889-1930) and beyond.

Woodard's historiographical interventions will strike specialists as bold and intriguing. Three in particular stand out. First, he depicts Ruy Barbosa's 1909-1910 and 1919 presidential campaigns as less the quixotic adventures that they have become in much of the scholarship and more as a movement that tapped into real, evolving ideological struggles in São Paulo. In the author's reading of events, Ruy's passages in the state brought out tensions within the PRP and encouraged new opposition to the ruling party. Similarly, the military revolt of 1924, typically portrayed elsewhere as the uprising of idealistic young officers (tenentes), here emerges as a moment of complex jockeying among [End Page 130] a variety of traditional and novel political forces. Woodard convincingly argues, moreover, that 1924 served as foundational to the creation of competing visions of the state's past and, by extension, future political identities. A third analytical innovation centers on the formation and early life of the Democratic Party (PD), which Woodard insists was much more than an outbreak of class conflict between the established coffee oligarchy and newer interests. In his treatment of the PD and throughout the book, he argues against any easy, functionalist understanding of politics. Neither class nor regionalism, for instance, suffices to explain the rise of the PD or other aggressive new groups in this period.

Failures though these events were in a very basic sense—none overturned Paulista power structures—they all were key points in the evolving definition of São Paulo's politics and sense of its regional distinctiveness. Woodard makes this case through an impressively supple analysis of the context of these (and other) dramatic occurrences. He begins with two chapters on the overall social, economic, and political changes that São Paulo experienced in the early Republic. Throughout this overview, he retains a sense of the variations that marked the PRP machine across the state, as well as the ideological and clientelistic connections that kept that machine functioning. One of the strengths of these chapters, in fact, is the mixture of colorful examples of individual politicians' strategies with a sense of the Republican discourse that channelled them into the PRP. He notes, for instance, how a gendered ideal of independence coexisted with, and even supported, party discipline; the PRP offered a tempting opportunity for political figures to demonstrate their "manly liberty" (p. 46) through service to an overarching organization. He also argues that buzzwords like "independence" and "progress" were often more than empty rhetoric. Drawing on both personal correspondence and public declarations, he shows how deeply held such ideals were among many political figures in the first decades of the Republic. In the process, he captures the blend of partisan venality and civic idealism that pervaded debates on electoral reform and other issues of the day.

In the bulk of his book Woodard applies his multipronged approach to those events generally labelled the "crisis of...


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