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The Americas 59.3 (2003) 379-403

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Political and Socio-Economic Elites:
The Encounter of Provincials with Porteños in Fin-de-Siecle Buenos Aires*

Stephanie Bower


In 1880, following a two-generation-long civil war, Argentina embarked upon a critical period of nation-building, which culminated in the centennial celebrations of 1910. 1 In The Argentine Generation of 1880: Ideology and Cultural Texts, David Foster has commented upon the inconclusiveness of national cultural formation as Argentina turned from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the uncertainty of how much from the provinces would be incorporated into the elite-constructed culture emanating from the port city of Buenos Aires. 2 The recently published work of Roy Hora, The Landowners of the Argentine Pampas: A Social and Political History 1860-1945, and the work of Tulio Halperin, "The Buenos Aires Landed Class and the Shape of Argentine Politics (1820-1930)," which preceded it, further heighten the significance of provincial-porteño interaction at this point in Argentine history. 3 Halperin and Hora find that during these years, and beyond, the socio-economic and the political elite of Argentina was not a unified whole, but rather two distinctive groups. In the leadership of the socio-economic elite was a landed class based on the estancias of the Argentine pampa and overwhelmingly porteño in character. Provincials dominated the political elite, as the [End Page 379] provinces 'captured' the federal government in the years following their reunification with the province of Buenos Aires in 1861. 4 Participation in the federal government brought the provincial political elite into contact with the porteño estancieros who dominated the socio-economic elite, as these were almost universally resident in the federal capital. But Roy Hora has described the relationship between the two groups as "problematic." 5

An in-depth study of the demonstrably literate provincial male heads-of-household, 6 resident in district 15 of the federal capital at the time of the 1895 census, 7 reveals that integration of provincials into the porteño elite during this formative period did occur but that it was limited in both numbers and degree. For the entire thirteen-district central area of the city, only three percent of the household census forms indicate that the head-of-household was a male from the provinces. 8 These incomers from the provinces were overwhelmingly the engineers, doctors, escribanos and above all attorneys, upon whom James Scobie commented in his classic work, Argentina: a City and a Nation. 9 Establishing themselves in the federal capital on the basis of the political leverage of the provinces in the federal government, the provincial male heads-of-household [End Page 380] in district 15 did adopt the standard for civilized living set by the socio-economic elite of Buenos Aires. But only an environment which allowed for the presence of elites across a broad spectrum--elites of substantial, moderate and limited means--made their participation in this world possible.

For the purposes of this study the terms "provinces" and "provincials" will refer to the thirteen provinces of Argentina, which had challenged the dominance of the coastal province of Buenos Aires, and to the people whose origins were in those thirteen provinces. The term provincianos will refer specifically to the eighty-two district-fifteen provincial male heads-of-household. 10 Resident in a diverse and tentative setting at the time of the 1895 census, sixty-six of the provincianos still resided in the federal capital at the time of their deaths, while five others lived immediately beyond its boundaries in the outskirts of the city. 11

The Setting

Statistics on the incidence of houses of brick or stone construction extracted from the building census of Buenos Aires indicate that by 1895 the [End Page 381] solidly built city which radiated south, west and north of the Plaza de Mayo covered thirteen census districts (districts one through eight, thirteen through sixteen, and eighteen). 12 This central or downtown area of the city encompassed an urban reality far...


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