Books in 20th Century Latin America

Receipt: March 3, 2022

Acceptance: June 16, 2022

A History of Book Publishing in Contemporary Latin America

Gustavo Sorá, 2021 Routledge Taylor/ Francis Group, New York, 225 pp.

The history of books and publishing is a consolidating historiographical current, in which the development of print capitalism is often linked to the emergence of imagined national communities, in a process that dates back to the first century of the 20th century. xix (Anderson, 2006). Hence, the study of print culture has been developed within the framework of a methodological nationalism that must be overcome (Bourdieu, 2002). In Ibero-America we have works for countries such as Spain (Martínez, 2015), Argentina (De Diego, 2014) and Mexico (Bello and Garone, 2020). However, the phenomena of production, circulation and reception of ideas through printed media overflow the frameworks of the nation-state, as pointed out by Gustavo Sorá (2003; 2017), Antonio Largo and Nicanor Gómez (2006) and Alejandro Dujovne (2014). It is a transnational approach taken up on a Latin American scale in the new book by Argentine anthropologist Gustavo Sorá, A History of Book Publishing in Contemporary Latin Americapublished in February 2021.

The book examines the figure of the publisher as a protagonist of the symbolic unification of the subcontinent during the 20th century. xx. The Latin Americanist bet seems risky, but from the beginning there are editorial markers that generate confidence in the reader. The first corresponds to the foreword by British historian Peter Burke (p. xv), who praises Sorá's academic trajectory and his positioning in different academic environments. The second marker is the fact that the publication belongs to the series Routledge Studies in Global Latin AmericaThe third marker corresponds to the author's intellectual biography and his theoretical and methodological maturity, reflected in multiple research projects. The third marker corresponds to the intellectual biography of the author and his theoretical-methodological maturity reflected in multiple investigations. Thus, the volume is an effort to synthesize and update a fruitful academic trajectory.

The structure of the book is made up of eight chapters divided into four sections, corresponding to national cases -Argentina, Mexico and Brazil- and one on "transnational perspectives", although the title of this one may lead to misunderstandings, since the whole work really revolves around the transnationalization of publishing. The author overcomes the local-global dichotomy, as he shows the necessary participation of international interests in the construction of any printed culture, be it metropolitan or peripheral.

In the construction of the scale of study, Gustavo Sorá notes two apparently paradoxical movements: one of unification and the other of fragmentation. Hence, to speak of the history of the book in Latin America refers us to the Ibero-American space. The Hispanic and Lusitanian colonial legacy is a factor of both unity and discrepancy when thinking about the national in a regional/global perspective. In Hispanic America, Spanish has been the meeting place for the cultural agents involved, but at the same time it has made possible the dispute for the dominance of a market that is highly desirable due to its number of potential readers. Paris, New York, Madrid, Buenos Aires and Mexico were spaces that sought to become hegemonic publishing poles. Based on the comparison and interaction between the publishing dynamics of these cities, Sorá establishes an international cartography of the book.

One of the main virtues of the work is its interdisciplinarity, since in each chapter it establishes a dialogue between history, anthropology and sociology. The subjects studied - publishers, authors, translators - are at the center of this encounter, and printed matter are cultural artifacts that allow us to glimpse their capacity for agency; that is why delving into the material/symbolic dimensions of books required her to move away from pre-established schemes: linear chronologies, fixed categories and immobile contexts.

The intersectionality between publishing, economy, society, culture and politics is evident in the multiple methodological paths explored. Linking diverse perspectives of analysis leads the author to implement various instruments of information gathering: ethnographies, interviews, reconstruction of publishing catalogs, archival work, reading of letters, photographic records, among others; these sources allow him to put in dialogue diachronic and synchronic approaches from a look of the particular agents to the sociocultural, political and economic structures.

The book is not a complete history of publishing in Latin America, since that is not its objective, but it is designed for those who are new to the subject. We must remember that its original public is British, which is why the use of explanatory boxes is appropriate. Sometimes the story is interrupted, as a parenthesis, by contextual and theoretical clarifications that can be omitted or taken up again later. This editorial design gives the work a didactic character and may generate curiosity in the uninitiated reader.

The section dedicated to Argentina begins with a summary of the history of the book in that country between 1810 and 1950. The choice of long duration is justified in the search for thresholds of progressive differentiation of publishing practices. In the story, publishing begins to distinguish itself from printing and bookstore practices to the point of establishing a true publishing guild. For the author, the changes in the patterns of Argentine print production can be identified from three elements: the participation of foreigners in the domestic market, low-cost publications and the emergence of the Ibero-American book space, the latter significantly stimulated by the exile of Spanish intellectuals since the mid-1930s. It was a transnational platform that not only operated in an economic sense, but also fostered an international division of publishing genres. In this scenario, cultural producers and national states entered into particular relationships that led Mexico to opt for the social sciences and Argentina for literature.

Another element of analysis for the Argentine case is translation: a sociocultural practice that promotes the appropriation of general models of thought, which have served to distinguish ideas of national origin. The approach to this subject is made through Gregorio Weinberg's trajectory as the architect of the collection "El Pasado Argentino" (The Argentine Past). It was an editorial project published first only by the French house Hachette and then in co-publication with Editorial Solar. The collection received the Carlos Casavalle Award in 1957 for its contribution to Argentine culture, a recognition that was used by the French company for its positioning in the market. The author considers this experience a good example of the system of international relations present in any symbolic production of the national. Weinberg is represented as a book agent who knew how to mediate between foreign commercial interests and his own vocation.

For the Mexican case, Sorá analyzes the formation of the "Tierra Firme" series of the Fondo de Cultura Económica (fce). He argues that the Fund managed to establish itself as an arbiter of Latin American culture through such continental project. The author focuses on the publishing practices that its agents promoted in the symbolic construction of the Latin American. The formation of a library that articulated such an extensive imaginary community required different commercial and cultural actions, as well as a considerable number of negotiations between state agents and other social actors. Once again, international instances would come to play a preponderant role, since the link between north and south would prove to be extremely important for subjects in very varied geographies.

The second chapter dedicated to Mexico explores the "cultural cold war" in the field of print culture in the 1970s. The central figure in the analysis is Arnaldo Orfila Reynal: a publisher of Argentinean origin who successfully led to the fce between 1948 and 1965, but was fired due to official dispositions. His open sympathy for the Cuban revolutionary project, as well as the inclusion of critical titles on Mexican culture, caused him to be antagonized by the national elites. This situation was accentuated by the U.S. government's animosity towards the circulation of ideas considered subversive in the framework of the ideological control exercised in the region. Nevertheless, the social and symbolic capital accumulated by Orfila allowed him to embark on a new project, the publishing house Siglo xxi.

With respect to Brazil, the study focuses on the institutional developments in the publishing industry that made possible the establishment of a national market between 1936 and 1944. In those years there was an unusual rapprochement between publishers and state institutions. This rapprochement was due to the creation of favorable commercial agreements and to the public policy of turning the citizen into a reader. The perspective is spatial: we analyze the way in which regional markets, which operated in a fragmented manner, ended up yielding to a process of unification. In this process, the growing political authoritarianism did not lead to a stagnation of the book world. boom publishing. The imperative of cultural unity prevented the state bureaucracy from being too coercive with critical intellectuals and their publishing houses.

The preponderant figure in the mediation between the Brazilian State and critical intellectuals during the boom The author devotes an entire chapter to the analysis of the transformations undergone by this company in the long term. The author devotes an entire chapter to the analysis of the transformations experienced by this company in the long term. The exercise is based on a comparison between the early years and the state of the organization in the 1990s. In its early years, the house was a space of sociability in which practical and genealogical kinship were combined around Olympo as patriarch. José Olympo did not have high intellectual aspirations; rather, he was a cultural promoter who mediated between different instances involved in the world of books: creative, political and economic. However, in the last decade of the century xx Editorial Olympo had moved towards a marketing model. The figure of the publisher was transformed into that of a publishing professional, who responded to interests mainly oriented towards the commercial vector.

In the last part, Gustavo Sorá deals with two processes of intercultural mediation on an international scale. The first is Argentina's participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair, the second the translation of social science books between France and Argentina. These are spaces of exchange that show the asymmetry between the hegemonic centers of cultural production and the peripheral scenarios. It is a perspective shared in current academia, but which for the author still lacks finer and more empirically supported analyses. The entrepreneurial ethnographic approach allows him to trace a spatial scheme of distribution and fluidity of power among the participants of the German fair. In this way, he goes beyond the commonplaces in knowledge cartographies (Burke, 2012), which introduce the institutional dimension and the action of intellectuals to the analysis of cultural rivalry between countries, but which do not fully evidence the agency of intermediate social actors that reproduce or resist the asymmetries between the different points. Sorá's methodological approach allows him, for example, to establish the ways in which independent publishers have sought to participate in the global book market.

The book ends with an examination of the specific forms of symbolic domination that crystallize in the trade of translated ideas. For the author, the power relations implicit in the sale and practice of translation are often overlooked by academics, who perpetuate the differentiations between the centers of cultural production, while they are not empirically studied by those who advocate a change in such cultural asymmetries: for example, the representatives of the "epistemologies of the South" (De Sousa, 2009). In this regard, Sorá analyzes the concrete sociological and historical relations between the different actors of the editorial exchange established by Argentina and France. He does not deny symbolic domination, but extracts it from the merely ideological terrain. His approach is proactive in pointing out that empirical studies on translation can be used as inputs to promote more balanced international cultural policies.

Finally, I believe that the book could have closed with a conclusion presenting future prospects. Throughout the chapters there are other lines of research that deserve attention. For example, the way in which peripheral national spaces were related to the major cultural producers. et al., 2018) and for Chile (Subercaseaux, 2010), these have not yet been articulated in a Latin American overview. Likewise, the inclusion of less worked editorial genres -religiosity, spirituality, applied science- is still pending; on religion, the work coordinated by Joaquín Algranti (2013) for the Argentine case contributes theoretical-methodological elements, which should be expanded with empirical works of transnational perspective; and as for applied knowledge, the proposal put forward by Fernando García Naharro (2019) for Spain could be followed. These are new research undertakings that are necessary and that will surely receive much guidance from this work by Gustavo Sorá.


Algranti, Joaquín (ed.) (2013). La industria del creer. Sociología de las mercancías religiosas. Buenos Aires: Biblos.

Anderson, Benedict (2006). Comunidades imaginadas: reflexiones sobre el origen y la difusión del nacionalismo. México: fce.

Bello, Kenya y Marina Garone, (coord.) (2020). El libro multiplicado. Prácticas editoriales y de lectura en el México del siglo xx. México: uam Cuajimalpa.

Bourdieu, Pierre (2002). “Les conditions sociales de la circulation internationale des idées”. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, núm. 145, pp. 3-8.

Burke, Peter (2012). Historia social del conocimiento, vol. ii: De la enciclopedia a la Wikipedia. Barcelona: Paidós.

Diego, José de (dir.) (2014). Editores y políticas editoriales en Argentina (1880-2010). Buenos Aires: fce.

Dujovne, Alejandro (2014). Una historia del libro judío: la cultura judía argentina a través de sus editores, libreros, traductores, imprentas y bibliotecas. Buenos Aires: Siglo xxi.

García Naharro, Fernando (2019). Editar ciencia y técnica durante el franquismo: una historia cultural de la editorial Gustavo Gili (1939-1966). Zaragoza: Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza.

Guzmán, Diana et al. (ed.) (2018). Lectores, editores y cultura impresa en Colombia, siglos xvixxi. Bogotá: Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano / cerlac.

Martínez, Jesús (dir.) (2015). Historia de la edición en España (1939-1975). Madrid: Marcial Pons.

Largo, Antonio y Nicanor Gómez (2006). Un viaje de ida y vuelta: la edición española e iberoamericana (1936-1975). Madrid: Siruela.

Sorá, Gustavo (2003). Traducir el Brasil: una antropología de la circulación internacional de ideas. Buenos Aires: Libros del Zorzal.

— (2017). Editar desde la izquierda: la agitada historia del Fondo de Cultura Económica y de Siglo xxi. Buenos Aires: Siglo xxi.

Sousa, Boaventura de (2009). Una epistemología del Sur: la reinvención del conocimiento y la emancipación social. México: Siglo xxi.

Subercaseaux, Bernardo (2010). Historia del libro en Chile. Desde la colonia hasta el Bicentenario. Santiago de Chile: lom.

Juan Carlos Gaona Poveda D. candidate in History from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mérida, México. M.A. in History from Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia; theologian from Fundación Universitaria Bautista, Cali, Colombia, and B.A. in Psychology and Pedagogy from Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Bogotá. He has taught in the History program of the Universidad del Valle, in the Theology program of the Fundación Universitaria Bautista and in the Social Work program of the Fundación Universitaria Claretiana in Cali, Colombia. Author of the book Religious dissidence and sociocultural conflict. Evangelical tactics and strategies in the struggle for the shaping of the public sphere in Colombia (1912-1957).. He is currently finishing his doctoral thesis: "A history of the evangelical book in Spanish America. Mexico City and the Río de la Plata, century. xx”.


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