Since the beginning of the American independence movements at the end of the 18th century, the region was configured as a kind of extension of Europe while at the same time engaged in the overlapping and parallel processes of becoming national political-cultural units. Meanwhile, since the Renaissance, the Old World had already been transformed culturally, socially, economically, and politically through a transatlantic trade that, in addition to merchandise, circulated morals, visions of the world, gestures, ideas, sensibilities, and tastes. During the colonial period, books were used as practical instruments for evangelization, education, and social control. However, as the Americas and its burgeoning nations confronted their European origins and sought to define their singularity, books soon became arms for political liberation, international cultural projections, and imagination.

Given the subordinate place of Latin America in the structures of the global system, the history of the production and the uses of print in this region allows us to understand the interdependent relationship between peripheral Latin American and metropolitan European and North American cultures. The dominant cultures cannot be understood without their relationships with the dominated ones. In order not to treat these poles as homogeneous entities, it is necessary to consider a good number of variations between different cultures and national publishing markets distributed in all latitudes. The writing of “national” book stories is certainly significant from a scientific point of view and unavoidable from a moral or political one. The same applies to the study of some aspect of the book through the lens of specialists, and to publishing on an urban, regional, or national scale. But it is time to expand the horizon and embrace the connections between markets, languages, and cultural traditions. I prefer to talk about interdependencies rather than connections.

Exchange, as is well known (Malinowski 1922; Polanyi 1944; Braudel 1949; Mauss 1967; Ortiz 1973), transforms all the ports it brings together. Therefore, the analysis must proceed in two directions: towards concrete, delimited local realities, but also expanded to the confines towards which products, producers, actions, and ideas driven from some point of the planet arrive. For agreements and dominations, alliances and competitions, attractions and rejections between empires, States, markets, and cultures, books were and are like chromosomes. Their combinatorics (libraries, series, exhibitions, bibliographic lists, etc.) structure and transport thoughts and feelings in space and time, cross borders, and overlap between species (cultural realities). Books, not coincidentally, were the most commonly used representations to speak about the world and the universe (Borges 1942). But the social sciences do not advance much by reifying metaphors, so easily used since postmodernism.1 What we seek to know is the force that unites and separates cultures through cultural objects - printed ones in this case. It may be concluded that the observation of international cultural relations should not be the next step to the analysis of singular units but an initial and final factor in the study of any aspect of national cultures. This hypothesis, which is inspired by enlightening references (Heilbron 1999; Thiesse 1999; Bourdieu 2002; Miceli 2003; Garcia 2011; Sapiro 2013; Burke 2017; Dezalay and Garth 2017), runs through the studies gathered in this book, almost as a mantra. I hope that taken together, the chapters demonstrate that Latin America always has more weight than is normally assumed for the understanding of the metropolitan cultures of the North Atlantic. “European studies” in the United States and the “American” dream on the part of European researchers produce a successful alliance of transnational domination with a high cost - that of ignoring a view of the peripheries (those tristes tropiques) as the materialization of their own borders and desires. The end of the Cold War and the triumph of the neoliberal order go hand in hand with the denial of the Third World. Looking at the book and publishing in Latin America can be an antidote to the intellectual laziness of refusing to look beyond one’s nose and below one’s navel. The actions, decisions, and illusions of Latin American publishers are completed in Frankfurt (Chapter 7); some Latin American capitals, such as Mexico, Sao Paulo, and Buenos Aires, are strategic for the worldwide irradiation of “French theory”; if English is the international lingua franca, books by English-speaking authors are not necessarily the most translated (Chapter 8); In Latin America there have been successful enterprises (not only because of the common or related language in the case of Spanish and Portuguese) to unify intellectuals and publishers from all over the continent - a scale, achievement, utopia that does not seem to have many homologous cases in other regions of the globe (Chapter 3). Perhaps readers are still imagining cultures as separate, discrete entities, with well-defined and exclusive boundaries. They should not. Universal authors are the complementary opposite in whom the contours of our thinkers, the uniqueness of our way of thinking, and the cultural traditions that characterize and differentiate us from others are revealed (Chapter 2). This is a critical view insofar as it involves confronting the national-centric intellectual inertia (Elias 1989: 27) that still prevails in the Western humanities.

Decentralize, deconsecrate, look away. Social history and anthropology are the most powerful tools for transcending tradition and expanding understanding. Writing and publishing have always been vectors of differentiation, inequality, and centralization of power (Goody 1977) and also objects for integration and emancipation, inclusion and citizen training, even if capitalism and other political-economic regimes often work in the opposite direction. In short, printed matter affects all individuals and groups among whom it circulates in different ways, regardless of literacy, and the predominance of oral communication or other intellectual technologies. It was therefore essential to counteract the genius of scribes, philosophers, and great thinkers, in order to observe reading as a practice that also articulated in a deferred manner the thinking of the most subordinate sectors of the social structure (Lyons 2013). Finally, I return to the anthropological resource of observing distant realities to look at ourselves closely. An attitude both comparative and integrative, to approach the other and to accept the inescapable presence of the other among us.

The studies gathered in this book are the product of a number of research projects unified by a conviction that it is not only possible but also necessary to rethink a regional frame with significant empirical facts and original analyses. Some chapters privilege a historical approach to longterm processes; others focus on the ethnography of specific events. By varying the scale and using an array of empirical sources and methods (from statistics to the hermeneutics of correspondence), the book seeks to show a diversified landscape. This work illustrates how Latin American publishers became the protagonists of a symbolic unification of their continent from the 1930s through the 1970s. The Latin American focus responds to a central point in its history: the effective interdependence of the national cultures of the continent. As can be seen in several chapters, Americanism, until the 1950s, or Latin Americanism, from the onset of the Cultural Cold War, were moral frameworks that guided publishers’ thinking and actions and had concrete effects on the process of regional integration. The study of how Latin American publishing markets were articulated opens up broad and comparative questions regarding the ways in which the ideas embodied in books may be used to unify other continental realities.2

Far from offering the illusion of writing a general history of this large, unequal, and diverse continent,3 A History of Book Publishing in Contemporary Latin America offers a panorama of the evolution of the book and publishing in its most prominent and influential national cultures: Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. Casting doubt on the notion that these cultural-political units could be considered in isolation, within their own geographic and political limits, all of the chapters of this book privilege a transnational approach. The central focus is on understanding the history of both the unification and the fragmentation of Ibero-America, through the book and its publishers. Here, the word Ibero-American is used rather than Latin American4 to account for the relevance of Spain and Portugal, countries with colonial legacies that affected the languages and traditions of the peoples of Latin America. These European enclaves not only influenced this cultural history but they were also, in turn, influenced by the actions and ideals of Latin American cultural producers and consumers. In considering the contexts of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and Portugal, we find editions, events, institutions, practices, and, of course, agents that directly or indirectly influence the cultural histories of all Latin American countries. Ibero-America has been understood as an immense space of diversity, produced not only through shared cultural ideals but also, sometimes, through brutal forms of symbolic opposition and domination. If Latin America has always been the dream of Spanish publishers, the power of the Iberian market has always been the dilemma of Latin American book producers.

However, as stated earlier, the interpretations proposed in this study are necessarily placed in a global frame: it would be illusory to think that the publishing and uses of books in Latin America are merely linked with colonial cultures or are confined within its internal geography. Frankfurt, Paris, London, Bologna, Los Angeles and other metropolitan cities are marketplaces where the publishers of Latin America developed their trade; they are also the settings for the economic and symbolic transactions that guided, transformed, and generated the possibility for the burgeoning literary tastes of readers in Latin America. In light of this, the final chapters focus on studies of Latin American publishers in Europe, and of Latin American and European intellectuals working across the Atlantic. Two arenas of study are highlighted: international book fairs and the practices of translation.


The theoretical proposal is based on 30 years of research on the sociology and history of publishing and the book in Latin America. An invitation from the directors of the Routledge Studies in Global Latin America granted me an opportunity to consider my achievements in light of the evolution of an academic specialization that, when I began at the beginning of the 1990s, was in its nascent stages in both Europe and North America, and hardly existed at all in Latin America. Studies on book publishing have become, over the last two decades, one of the most dynamic fields for theoretical innovation in the humanities and social sciences.5 First in Brazil and then in Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia, and eventually in all of the countries of Latin America, research on the subject has multiplied.

Nonetheless, studies with a national focus have predominated. Studies with transnational, comparative, or continental perspectives are still very rare. This book brings together a series of works that I wrote on the three central markets of Latin America: Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. The juxtaposition elucidates contrasts and comparisons and helps extract a general explanation on the singularity of each case through a frame of difference. But it also allows us to observe interdependence: connections between contexts are generated through economic mediations, such as the expansion of enterprises’ branches and the formation of transnational publishing groups, or through international events such as fairs or regional associations, as well as symbolic ties, such as the moral power of Americanism or Latin Americanism in guiding some of the most ambitious and successful projects in the cultural history of a region (e.g. the Fondo de Cultura Economica publishing house). The coherence and articulation of the empirical material and the theoretical premises are the product of the evolution of research over time.

One of the contributions of this work is its multidisciplinary spirit, to be observed throughout its chapters. The cultural history of the book in Latin America presented here places particular emphasis on the agents in the field: booksellers, publishers, and intellectuals who were the protagonists of the evolution of print culture in various countries. This history, for that reason, uses a sociological lens, considering it essential to objectify actors’ social origins, education, professional experiences, political orientations, commercial interests, the international reach of their projects, and the moral utopias that motivated them. Each chapter reconstructs spaces, practices, experiences, and pertinent events in a micro-historical and ethnographic manner. The result is a combination of texts in which diachronic processes predominate and texts in which synchronic ethnography serves as a methodological guide.

But how to convey the reasons that guided the construction of the research problems of each chapter? Twenty years have passed since the first versions of some of the texts gathered here were written. I am not going to force the reader to consider my formation and evolution as a researcher. But my choice of themes and perspectives is a consequence of institutional conditions. My first approach to the world of books was focused on publishing in Brazil, based on projects developed at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where I studied for a master’s degree (1991-1994) and a doctorate (1994-1998) in social anthropology. In the tradition of the best British anthropology, in this rigorous institution original data are required to support any theoretical claim. There I had the privilege of being directed by Afranio Garcia and Luiz de Castro Faria. Castro, who in 1938 accompanied Claude Levi-Strauss for eight months on his famous expedition to the Serra do Norte, seemed to synthesize the whole history of the discipline and was an inexhaustible source of imagination crossed by erudition and by his capacity to renew questions about “Brazilian social thought” based on Foucault, Bachelard, or Bourdieu. Garcia was a permanent member of the Centre de Sociologie Europeenne (CSE) since the late 1980s. Through him I was linked to Pierre Bourdieu, to the researchers of the CSE, to professors of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) such as Roger Chartier, and to European colleagues such as Jean Yves Mollier and Joseph Jurt. When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, Garcia was promoting debates inspired by his own research on the crisis and transformations of rural elites and by his participation in CSE seminars. It was during these years that the premises of the sociology of the international circulation of ideas were set in motion, renewing Bourdieu’s thinking about publishers and other “creators of creators”. In Argentina I had trained in rural anthropology with Roberto Ringuelet, but I found no real interest in that area of study. I was only aware of the need to perfect my skills as an anthropologist acquired at the La Plata Museum. I wanted to soak up ethnography, to go out into fieldwork. That’s how Garcia suggested that I observe a phenomenon that awoke his interest: the international book fairs. The ethnography of the “biennials” in Rio and Sao Paulo led me to Frankfurt. When I observed the Sao Paulo event in 1992, Brazil was beginning preparations as the guest of honour at the German fair. If the actions of Brazilian specialists were spreading throughout Europe, how could we not accompany such a movement? The Brazilian book market was defined between Rio de Janeiro and Frankfurt (Sora 1996). For my doctorate, I wanted to venture into a study of the “Brazilian publishing field” in those years of intense professionalization and internationalization. I was faced with a twofold problem: the absence of academic research on the subject and the lack of legitimacy of books and publishing as a social problem, as an item on the cultural agenda. Book professionals (or intermediaries) were not an object of academic interest. A researcher’s demand for attention was not among their expectations. When one approached a publisher for an interview, one was either turned down or barely accepted for a brief encounter. In the frenetic search for information, I visited the Jose Olympio publishing house, once central to the stabilization of a canon of Brazilian literature and social thought and decadent in the 1990s. Impregnated by the work of Robert Darnton, I felt I had discovered something important: my Neuchatel!,7 a fabulous archive abandoned in a suburban warehouse, a gold mine to explore Brazilian publishing at the time of consolidation of the national publishing market (1930s and 1940s). The object of research for my PhD thus turned towards history to reconstruct the emergence of the Brazilian publishing field in the period when structures were set up for the existence of a national market (Chapter 5).

As I hope the reader can appreciate in the various chapters, Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of fields was always the most active instrument, the incessant stimulus, my “intellectual stenography” for undertaking fieldwork and laboratory analysis. When I migrated to Cordoba (Argentina) in 2001, I ventured into another of the subjects emerging from the sociology of the international circulation of ideas: translation. In interpreting the bibliographical trajectories of Brazilian authors, I discovered another fact worth investigating: Argentina was the publishing market where Brazilian authors were often translated for the first time. Although this fact is “ignored” (denied) by Brazilian and Argentine intellectuals, throughout the 20th century Buenos Aires was, after Paris, at a short distance from the French capital, the place where most books by Brazilian authors were translated (Sora 2003).

When I set out to investigate publishing in Argentina, I was aware, from the Brazilian experience, of the difficulties of carrying out a sociological study of a structural nature. It was also very arbitrary to think of a case comparable to Jose Olympio, a publishing house so hegemonic in imposing a canon of national thought. What made the inseparable fibres of intellect and emotion pulsate was the life of Arnaldo Orfila Reynal, an Argentine publisher who stood out as manager of the Mexican Fondo de Cultura Economica, the most powerful institution in the history of Latin American culture. His trajectory fully demonstrates the impossibility of, as already mentioned, isolating the publication of books in Spanish by national markets. And since no good research topic is the result of chance, in the course of the research I discovered that he was born in my city, that he had been a student of the high school I went to, that he had been a fellow activist of my maternal grandfather in the Socialist Party... In this way I was able to complete the virtuous circuit of anthropological thought that argues the need to look far away in order to understand what is close, to examine things very different from one’s own tradition as well as intimate things that are sociologically understandable.

Along the way, I stopped at other stations in the same thematic region: other studies on translation (Chapter 8), on the history of the social sciences, on Americanist intellectuals such as Gregorio Weinberg (Chapter 2), and on independent publishing (Chapter 7). And every now and then, I return to the starting point, to observe fairs (Buenos Aires, Paris, Guadalajara, Madrid, and always Frankfurt). Sometimes systematically, and other times just as a cultural ritual that, as such, has the power to order reference systems that periodically become unbalanced.

It has been almost 20 years since I moved to Cordoba and from there, I am part of an already large group of peers with whom I can now gauge the specific truths that lie behind books and publishing practices.8 I hope that the future directions of my inspiration will also be stimulated by the potential feedback from the readers of this book in English.

  • 8 Introduction Notes
  • 1 On a critique of the “abuse” of translation as a metaphor, in the contemporary humanities and social sciences, see Sora (2017).
  • 2 In the frame of Interco-SSH, an international project directed by Gisele Sapiro and funded by the European Community, vve compare the history and conditions for the transnational regionalization of social sciences and humanities in Europe and in Latin America Cf. Sora and Blanco (2018) and Heilbron, Boncourt and Timans (2018).
  • 3 An ideal only achieved in convincing form by a handful of notable historians and intellectuals, such as Pedro Henriquez Urena, Enrique Anderson Imbert, and Tulio Halperin Donghi.
  • 4 As is suggested above in reference to “Americanism” and “Latin Americanism”, America(s), Latin America. Hispano-America, Ibero-America, etc., are treated in this work as historical categories (in function of their uses and meanings attributed by the agents objectified in diverse contexts) as well as analytical categories, which is to say as descriptors of integrated (articulated, united) geographies, for the practices, representations, and commerce that are revealed in the research, observations, and analysis of events and concrete structures.
  • 5 One could mark the beginning of this area of study with the founding of SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Readership and Publishing) in 1996. See note 4 in Chapter 1 of this book.
  • 6 All the chapters were previously published in academic journals and as book chapters. They were all retouched in order to clarify facts little known to English readers. I would like to thank the editors of the original publications for permission to translate and publish the texts in this volume.
  • 7 The innovative work of Robert Darnton on the clandestine book circuits that dug up the pillars of the French Ancien Regime, was based on the rich files of the Societe Typographique de Neuchatel, Switzerland.
  • 8 The central hypothesis of this study (the national-international dialectic) is also applied to understand the evolution of this community of specialists. On the one hand, its integration with similar communities in other Latin American countries. On the other hand, the stimulus that many researchers from other continents had for many academic spaces in the region, especially the French Roger Chartier, Jean-Yves Mollier and Gisele Sapiro.


Borges, Jorge Luis. 1942. “La biblioteca de babel”. El jardtn de los senderos que se bifurcan. Buenos Aires: Sur.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 2002 (1990). “Les conditions sociales de la circulation inter- nationale des idees”. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 145: 3-8.

Braudel, Fernand. 1949. La Mediterranee et le monde mediterraneen a I’epoque de Philippe II. Paris: Armand Collin.

Burke, Peter. 2017. Loss and Gains. Exiles and Expatriates in the History of Knowledge in Europe and the Americas, 1500-2000. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press.

Dezalay, Yves and Bryant Garth. 2017. Sociologia de la internacinalizacion. Villa Maria: Eduvim.

Elias, Norbert. 1989. El proceso de la civilizacion. Investigaciones sociogeneticas у psicogeneticas. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica.

Garcia, Afranio. 2011. “Les souvenirs d’un Europeen: entre Le Bresil, terre d’avenir et Le Monde d’hier. Les derniers ecrits de Stefan Zweig”. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 186-187: 112-131.

Goody, Jack. 1977. The Domestication of the Savage Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heilbron, Johan. 1999. “Toward a sociology of translation. Book translation as a cultural world-system”. European Journal of Social Theory 2 (4): 429-444.

Heilbron, Johan, Thomas Boncourt and Rob Timans. 2018. “The European research area in the social and human sciences between national closure and American hegemony”. In Johan Heilbron, Gustavo Sora and Thibaud Boncourt, eds. The Social and Human Sciences in Global Power Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan: 153-182.

Lyons, Martyn. 2013. The Writing Culture of Ordinary People in Europe, c. 1860-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. The Argonauts of Western Pacific. London: Routledge.

Mauss, Marcel. 1967 (1925). “La Nation”. Oeuvres vol III. Paris: Minuit.

Miceli, Sergio. 2003. Nacional estrangeiro. Historia social e cultural do mod- ernismo artistico em Sao Paulo. San Pablo, CA: Companhia das Letras.

Ortiz, Fernando. 1973. Contrapunteo Cubano del tabaco у del azticar. Barcelona: Ariel.

Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

Sapiro Gisele. 2013. “Le champ est-il national? La theorie de la differentiation sociale au prisme de l’histoire globale”. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 200: 70-85.

Sora, Gustavo. 1996. “Os livros do Brasil entre о Rio de Janeiro e Frankfurt”. BIB. Revista Brasileira de Informacao Bibliogrdfica em Ciencias Sociais 41: 3-33.

Sora, Gustavo. 2003. Traducir el Brasil. Una antropologia de la circulacion internacional de ideas. Buenos Aires: Libros del Zorzal.

Sora, Gustavo. 2017. “Traduction: potencial heurfstico у desvios teoricos de un topico eficaz para pensar realmente la globalization”. Revista de Estudios Sociales 61: 99-105.

Sora, Gustavo and Alejandro Blanco. 2018. “Unity and fragmentation in the social sciences in Latin America”. In Johan Heilbron, Gustavo Sora у Thibaud Boncourt, eds. The Social and Human Sciences in Global Power Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan: 127-151.

Thiesse, Anne-Marie. 1999. La creation des identites culturelles. Europe, XVUle-XXe siecle. Paris: Seuil.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >