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Rise and Demise: Latin American and Hispanic Studies

by Robert Austin on May 19, 2016

A spectre is haunting Latin American and Hispanic Studies (LAHS). Their Australasian elite has made it possible, as Marx once said of Napoleon, for “a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part”. Whilst this demise has its roots in the malaise of the late capitalist academy, LAHS’ path from rebelliousness and integration with the Left intelligentsia to a comfortable chair at the summit of the new conformism also has unique characteristics, which explain the paradox of its once-unthinkable subordination to the corporate managerial model.

Replete with elements of philanthropic interventionism and cultural imperialism, presumptions about the deaths of Marxism and the emancipatory metanarrative, as well as the exoticisation of Latin America as a laboratory at the service of stellar Western careers, the elite’s de-coupling of intellectual work from international solidarity work has been accompanied by direct collaboration among the LAHS elite with the dual projects of imperialism in Latin America and neo-colonialism at home. Whilst we agree with E.P. Thompson that there is never a Book of Answers, this study offers some modest insights into this rise and demise, and explores where the discipline might begin to recover its academic autonomy and develop an intellectual practice which confronts capitalist globalisation, rather than meekly acceding to TINA dictates and proliferating a springtime for sycophants.

Robert Austin
Robert Austin holds a Ph.D in History & Latin American Studies (La Trobe). His books include The State, Literacy and Popular Education in Chile, 1964-1990 (2003); (ed.) Diálogos sobre Estado y Educación Popular en Chile: de Frei a Frei, 1964-1993 (2004); (ed.) Intelectuales y Educación Superior en Chile: de la Independencia a la Democracia Transicional, 1810-2001 (2004, 2005); and (ed.) Imperialismo Cultural en la Historiografía Latinoamericana: Teoría y Praxis (2007). Over the past decade and with invaluable collaboration from Viviana Ramírez, he has been developing, inter alia, a history of Australian-based solidarity movements with Latin America since the 1970s.

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