Culture of Class

Radio and Cinema in the Making of a Divided Argentina, 1920–1946

Culture of Class

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: May 2012

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone, Music > Sound Studies

In an innovative cultural history of Argentine movies and radio in the decades before Peronism, Matthew B. Karush demonstrates that competition with jazz and Hollywood cinema shaped Argentina's domestic cultural production in crucial ways, as Argentine producers tried to elevate their offerings to appeal to consumers seduced by North American modernity. At the same time, the transnational marketplace encouraged these producers to compete by marketing "authentic" Argentine culture. Domestic filmmakers, radio and recording entrepreneurs, lyricists, musicians, actors, and screenwriters borrowed heavily from a rich tradition of popular melodrama. Although the resulting mass culture trafficked in conformism and consumerist titillation, it also disseminated versions of national identity that celebrated the virtue and dignity of the poor, while denigrating the wealthy as greedy and mean-spirited. This anti-elitism has been overlooked by historians, who have depicted radio and cinema as instruments of social cohesion and middle-class formation. Analyzing tango and folk songs, film comedies and dramas, radio soap operas, and other genres, Karush argues that the Argentine culture industries generated polarizing images and narratives that provided much of the discursive raw material from which Juan and Eva Perón built their mass movement.


“Karush’s book is a key contribution to the analysis of the deep connections between mass culture and politics in the contexts of Latin American ‘alternative modernity’ at large. To Argentine historiography, it adds a refreshing culturalist view of long-running discussions about the origins of Peronism and, more prominently, it helps expand decisively our knowledge of the heterogeneous popular classes through the lens of their cultural consumptions.” — Valeria Manzano, Journal of Latin American Studies

“This innovative book builds on and goes beyond recent scholarship on the rise of mass culture in Latin America.”  — Bryan McCann, Hispanic American Historical Review

“The book's strengths lie in Kamsh's careful and compelling accounts of the way media worked in inter-war Buenos Aires…. [T]he book's marvelous rendition of a key moment in Argentine history and its persuasive placement of media at the centre of analysis. It will enjoy broad appeal, for undergraduates and graduate students, for scholars of Latin America and those interested in radio, cinema, and the vagaries of political life.” — Alejandra Bronfman, Canadian Journal of History

“[Karush’s] rich analysis of tango and cinema shows the tension between melodrama’s inner conservatism and its subversive message regarding the moral superiority of the popular classes.” — Paula Halperin, American Historical Review

"One of the more impressive publications treating radio and cinema in Latin America." — Justin Castro, Latin American Research Review

"Culture of Class is composed masterfully. With engaging prose, it forces us to re-examine the causes of Peronism. Published in 2012, it remains a huge contribution to our understanding of the interplay of mass culture and politics in early-twentieth-century Latin America." — J. Justin Castro, Technology and Culture

"In Culture of Class, Matthew B. Karush provides a new cultural history of interwar Argentina and the origins of Peronism. His point of departure is the proliferation of new forms of popular mass media, which he argues simultaneously intensified class conflict and bolstered populist forms of respectability. In this outstanding book, Karush also shows how the popular mass media enabled the peripheral 'modernization' of Argentine national culture." — Federico Finchelstein, author of Transatlantic Fascism: Ideology, Violence, and the Sacred in Argentina and Italy, 1919–1945

"This is an extremely important study. Matthew B. Karush transforms the way we think about private lives and political conflict by weaving together research on the working-class origins of populism, commoners' understandings of consumption, and representations of social roles on the big screen and over the airwaves. Class identities, he argues, were central to Argentina's deep changes in the lead-up to Perón's triumph. Tracking the fascinating evolution of film and radio gives us a whole new way to think about how culture, politics, and market life intersected to remap Argentine society. Karush has written a tremendous book." — Jeremy Adelman, Princeton University


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Matthew B. Karush is Associate Professor of History at George Mason University. He is the author of Workers or Citizens: Democracy and Identity in Rosario, Argentina (1912–1930) and a co-editor of The New Cultural History of Peronism: Power and Identity in Mid-Twentieth-Century Argentina, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Class Formation in the Barrios 19

2. Competing in the Transnational Marketplace 43

3. Repackaging Popular Melodrama 85

4. Mass-Cultural Nation Building 133

5. Politicizing Populism 177

Epilogue: The Rise of the Middle Class, 1955–1976 215

Notes 225

Bibliography 251

Index 269
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5264-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5243-3
Publicity material