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  • The Mayan in the Mall: Globalization, Development, and the Making of Modern Guatemala by J. T. Way
  • Gisela Mateos (bio)
The Mayan in the Mall: Globalization, Development, and the Making of Modern Guatemala. By J. T. Way. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. Pp. 328. $89.95/$24.95.

J. T. Way’s original book traces the way in which modern Guatemala has become what it is today. It explores the different discourses and political projects of development and modernism “in the land that modernity forgot,” emphasizing that this “is a human history, as cultural and social as it is political and economic” (pp. 1–2). The author focuses on the formation of Guatemala City’s neighborhoods from the 1920s to the present. This allows him to construct a narrative where multiple actors participate in social, economic, and cultural relations: e.g., in local markets that play a central role, not only for the movement and exchange of different commodities, but also as a place where “development coalesces” (p. 152). Through the history of Guatemala’s different political regimes, which transitioned from revolutionary governments and coups d’état to neoliberal rule, development projects and discourses reappeared continually, thus mobilizing money and people, but in different directions.

Although the book is not a history of a specific technology, the Inter-American Highway reappears time and again. This huge infrastructure project, one of the chief expressions of Pan-Americanism, was proposed at the end of the nineteenth century as a way to connect the American continent [End Page 283] from Alaska to Patagonia; while large sections have been built, it still is not complete. During its construction in Guatemala it was linked with modernism, progress, and development through policies that were aligned with the business culture of the United States. Via this highway new economies and social relations were established, and commodities were moved. In addition, as the author highlights, it was fundamental for land reforms and helped shape the agrarian movement, as well as playing an important role in Guatemala’s failed green revolution. It also has been a facilitator for the implementation of state terror, a route for immigration, and a site for social protest. A history of this transnational infrastructure needs to be written to help us understand the different meanings of development projects in both local and global contexts.

To research this project, Way visited national and regional archives in Guatemala as well as U.S. archives, finding a variety of sources from government documents to photographs and periodicals, and he was able to conduct interviews with a number of inhabitants of Guatemala City. He advises the readers that research in one of the archives, in particular, Archivo General de Centro América, was difficult since some of the documents were not numbered or indexed or shared the same identification title. This is important since it represents some of the ways in which Latin American historic sources have been stored and valued. At the end of the book there is a glossary that reminds us how tricky translation can be; sometimes the only possibility is to give an approximation of the meaning of words.

For scholars working on the history of science and technology in the so-called third world, this book reminds us that development and modernity are interwoven with technology and science and that more interconnected histories, where power asymmetries are made visible, are central for understanding the ways in which people, material culture, and knowledge continuously move and reshape each other. The scope of the work cannot be exhaustive, but it achieves its goal of making visible the violence of development, and the consequences for social, economic, and gender relations.

Different studies have shown how development creates underdevelopment, reconfigures geographies and landscapes, and becomes a big business for transnational corporations and capital. One of the more dramatic consequences is that the poor, and in this case the Maya, are continually marginalized and redefined as anti-modern and underdeveloped, revealing the deep contradictions of globalization, modernization, and development. As Way writes, “[p]erpetuating the myth that Guatemala is underdeveloped perpetuates the myth that development can solve the very problems it has created and continues...


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pp. 283-284
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