Salt in the Sand

Memory, Violence, and the Nation-State in Chile, 1890 to the Present

Salt in the Sand

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 13 illustrations, 5 maps Published: July 2007

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Salt in the Sand is a compelling historical ethnography of the interplay between memory and state violence in the formation of the Chilean nation-state. The historian and anthropologist Lessie Jo Frazier focuses on northern Chile, which figures prominently in the nation’s history as a site of military glory during the period of national conquest, of labor strikes and massacres in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, and of state detention and violence during World War II and the Cold War. It was also the site of a mass-grave excavation that galvanized the national human rights movement in 1990, during Chile’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. Frazier analyzes the creation of official and alternative memories of specific instances of state violence in northern Chile from 1890 to the present, tracing how the form and content of those memories changed over time. In so doing, she shows how memory works to create political subjectivities mobilized for specific political projects within what she argues is the always-ongoing process of nation-state formation. Frazier’s broad historical perspective on political culture challenges the conventional periodization of modern Chilean history, particularly the idea that the 1973 military coup marked a radical break with the past.

Analyzing multiple memories of state violence, Frazier innovatively shapes social and cultural theory to interpret a range of sources, including local and national government archives, personal papers, popular literature and music, interviews, architectural and ceremonial commemorations, and her ethnographic observations of civic associations, women's and environmental groups, and human rights organizations. A masterful integration of extensive empirical research with sophisticated theoretical analysis, Salt in the Sand is a significant contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on human rights, democratization, state formation, and national trauma and reconciliation.


Salt in the Sand is a nuanced, thoughtful, and elegant book. . . . Frazier’s book speaks to broader issues of violence, memory, power, and politics. It will undoubtedly draw the keen interest of scholars across disciplines and geographic concentrations.” — Patrick Barr-Melej, EIAL

“[A] very solid monograph, and will be beneficial to professional historians and anthropologists alike, as well as graduate students. Indeed, this review of nation-state formation and the subjective uses of history comes at an appropriate time in world politics.” — Kim Richardson, Itinerario

“Could not have been timelier . . . [T]he material culled from [Frazier’s] oral history research and participant-observation with human rights groups makes for a gripping tale.” — William E. Skuban, The Americas

“Frazier has produced a fine and thought-provoking study that creatively engages issues of memory, violence, and power in the process of nation-state formation on Chile’s often neglected northern frontier.” — William E. Skuban, A Contracorriente

“Some of the points made by Frazier in regard to nation-building are, by now, commonly accepted by historians and social scientists. . . . There are, however, few Anglophone studies that analyse how such ideas play out in the Chilean experience, so Salt in the Sand is a welcome piece of scholarship, particularly given its richness of detail and its cross-cultural approach to history. The book also provides an insightful account of the state as a mediator of ‘national’ memories and helpfully underscores the fact that this state is not a homogenous whole. . . . [This is a] very accomplished work on nation-state formation and the politics of memory.” — Jo Crow, National Identities

“There is a lot to commend in this study. The author makes an important contribution to memory studies encompassing historical, political, sociological, and psychological aspects of collective memory and using a wide range of sources. . . . [T]he book provides an excellent analysis of Chilean memory and, especially, its political use. Any course on Chile and its transition to democracy should include the book in its reading list.” — Luis Valenzuela, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“This is a welcome and serious substantiation of the significance of emotion, soul, and heart that constitutes popular identification with, or rejection of, or outcry against the state.” — Katherine Hite, Latin American Politics and Society

“A path-breaking study of history and memory in Chile’s legendary nitrate north that ties together the massacres of miners in the early twentieth century and the human rights abuses of the Pinochet era. A highly original contribution to memory studies, gender studies, and Chilean history.” — Peter Winn, editor of Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973–2002

“The hot winds of the Atacama desert in northern Chile have not succeeded in erasing what has become the territory of Lessie Jo Frazier’s Salt in the Sand, a book centered on the meanings of the deep memories of repression, massacres, and executions that contributed to the formation of Chilean popular identity. Well written and theoretically and historically original, Salt in the Sand reveals the continuous dialogue between events and subjectivities throughout the Chilean twentieth century.” — Francisco Zapata, El Colegio de México

“The modern Chilean state has been linked to violence since its inception, despite official historiography’s assertion that the 1973 coup and the Pinochet regime that followed were ‘aberrations’ in an otherwise democratic order favoring peace. Lessie Jo Frazier illuminates the competing uses of the past across cultural, racial, and class lines. Through her brilliant analysis of memory as a dynamic category employed by clashing collectivities, Frazier demonstrates how the use of memory in post-dictatorial regimes is not in and of itself liberating or new, but rather modeled on previous historical instances of remembering and forgetting.” — Licia Fiol-Matta, author of A Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lessie Jo Frazier is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is a coeditor of Gender’s Place: Feminist Anthropologies of Latin America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Ethnography, History, and Memory 1

Part I. Templates

1. Memory and the Camanchacas Calientes of Chilean Nation-State Formation 21

2. Structures of Memory, Shapes of Feeling: Chronologies of Reminiscence and Repression in Tarapaca (1890-Present) 58

Part II. Conjunctures

3. Dismantling Memory: Structuring the Forgetting of the Oficina Ramirez (1890-1891) and La Coruna (1925) Massacres 85

4. Song of the Tragic Pampa: Structuring the Remembering of the Escuela Santa Maria Massacre (1907) 117

5. Conjunctures of Memory: The Detention Camps in Pisagua Remembered (1948, 1973, 1990) and Forgotten (1943, 1956, 1984) 158

6. The Melancholic Economy of Reconciliation: Talking with the Dead, Mourning for the Living 190

Conclusion: Democratization and Arriving at the “End of History” in Chile 243

Notes 261

Selective Bibliography 355

Index 365
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4003-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3986-1
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