The Mayan in the Mall

Globalization, Development, and the Making of Modern Guatemala

The Mayan in the Mall

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 8 photographs, 5 maps Published: April 2012

Author: J. T. Way

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Central America

In The Mayan in the Mall, J. T. Way traces the creation of modern Guatemala from the 1920s to the present through a series of national and international development projects. Way shows that, far from being chronically underdeveloped, this nation of stark contrasts—where shopping malls and multinational corporate headquarters coexist with some of the Western Hemisphere's poorest and most violent slums—is the embodiment of globalized capitalism.

Using a wide array of historical and contemporary sources, Way explores the multiple intersections of development and individual life, focusing on the construction of social space through successive waves of land reform, urban planning, and economic policy. His explorations move from Guatemala City's poorest neighborhoods and informal economies (run predominantly by women) to a countryside still recovering from civil war and anti-Mayan genocide, and they encompass such artifacts of development as the modernist Pan-American Highway and the postmodern Grand Tikal Futura, a Mayan-themed shopping mall ringed by gated communities and shantytowns. Capitalist development, Way concludes, has dramatically reshaped the country's physical and social landscapes—engendering poverty, ethnic regionalism, and genocidal violence—and positioned Guatemala as a harbinger of globalization's future.


“This is an excellent book, in part because it is a thoroughly researched consideration of the relationship between poverty, development, the trajectory of politics in Guatemala, and real life. But its excellence is also rooted in the author's success in writing a study infusing observations born of scholarly research with a heartfelt and sharply phrased c ritique that moves beyond a clichéd academic celebration of radical politics. . . . Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries.“ — J. M. Rosenthal, Choice

“The shift away from the highlands indigenous communities that have generally attracted North American scholarly attention opens a novel perspective on the making of what Way calls the ‘manmade ruin’ of Guatemala’s contemporary social and physical landscape.” — Carlota McAllister, American Historical Review

“Both scholarly and highly personal, J. T. Way’s book is too rich in original insights, skillfully developed examples, and provocative arguments to do it full justice in so short a space. It is enough to state that it should be required reading for anyone interested in Guatemala’s recent history. Also, it is highly recommended to all students of development and modernization in general.” — Stephen Webre, Hispanic American Historical Review

“…[A] fascinating narrative that complicates both sequence and chronology by weaving the hitherto hidden logic of everyday survival and resistance with the ‘rational’ logic of a demythologized and demystified ‘modernity.’” — Susan A. Berger, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Overall, Way’s book constitutes a solid critique of capitalism and national development ideology as it has been articulated in Guatemala. …[I]t has commendable strengths as a critical analytic exercise.” — Luis Fernando Angosto Ferrández, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research

The Mayan in the Mall is a complex and admirable work that explores how the violent world inhabited by Guatemala's poor majority came into being…. Way's combination of empathy and hard-bitten realism gives an incomparable view of how people live their lives when choices are few and opportunity is infinitesimal.” — Cyrus Veeser, Business History Review

“The strength of The Mayan in the Mall resonates from the author's use of personal stories to illustrate broader themes, his attention to metaphor, and his dialectical contemplation…. [T]his book will certainly appeal to scholars of Guatemala as the first English-language history of its capital city in addition to general readers of urban studies.” — Michael D. Kirkpatrick, Canadian Journal of History

“I suggest that The Mayan in the Mall should be placed at the top of the reading list of all visitors to Guatemala—professionals and, in particular, us 'Maya specialists' and tourists alike.” — Jessica Joyce Christie, Ethnohistory

“Scholars interested in urban history, gender history, and the history of development will find Way’s book enlightening and at times evocative in its treatment of Guatemala’s turbulent history. They will discover a well-researched work that sketches the interrelationships between urban growth, state formation, and capitalism.” — Bonar L. Hernandez, The Americas

The Mayan in the Mall, provides a welcome history of the making of modern Guatemala since the 1920s that innovatively melds historical research with analysis of contemporary cultural trends and ethnography. The author seamlessly narrates Guatemala’s conflicted past and fraught present through the stories of its diverse protagonists, whether using historical records, oral histories, or contemporary interviews and observations. The book deftly shows how larger structures and politics (from regional to national to transnational) impinged on everyday lives as everyday people like butchers, social workers, vendors, and activists also actively shaped the unfolding of history and the particular geography of Guatemala.”  — Rebecca Galemba, The Latin Americanist

"Gives us new insights into the historical events that preceded Guatemala’s 1954 coup and twentieth-century Guatemalan ideologies of race andethnicity, while bringing the reader closer to understanding how the civil war forever transformed Guatemalan culture and society."  — Ashley Kistler, Latin American Research Review

"Way’s decision to emphasize the transformation of the city during this time period enriches our understanding of the Cold War roots ofcontemporary Guatemala’s most pressing issues." — Andrew Kirkendall, Human Rights Review

"Finally, a history of Guatemala City, a place that most scholars flee from despite its centrality to Guatemala's history. J. T. Way has unearthed a wealth of material from archival, literary, and oral sources. In striking and vibrant detail, he skillfully traces the history of neighborhoods and individuals from the first half of the twentieth century to today and he uses this history to open up a remarkable and original discussion of the play of ethnicity and modernity in the making of a cultural texture and urban political economy that uses the 'Mayan' in the absence of Mayas, or worse, in the presence of their oppression. The Mayan in the Mall brings to life the city's residents in this 'society of vendors' and simultaneously delivers a devastating and brilliant critique of development." — Deborah T. Levenson, coeditor of The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics

“The quirky mind of J. T. Way reveals a Guatemala not even seasoned hands are likely to recognize, one deformed by development in myriad modernist guise, a curse to most of its citizens, the blessing of a venal few.” — W. George Lovell, Queen’s University, Canada


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

J. T. Way is Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Georgia State University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Grand Tikal Futura: "Put1. "Like Sturdy Little Animals": Making the Modern Anti-Modern, 1920s–1944ting the Mayan in the Mall" 1

1. "Like Sturdy Little Animals": Making the Modern Anti-Modern, 1920s–1944 13

2. Chaos and Rationality: The Dialectic of the Guatemalan Ghetto 41

3. Oficios de su Sexo: Gender, the Informal Economy, and Anticommunist Development 67

4. Making the Immoral Metropolis: Infrastructure, Economics, and War 94

5. Executing Capital: Green Revolution, Genocide, and the Transition to Neoliberalism 124

6. A Society of Vendors: Contradictions and Everyday Life in the Guatemalan Market 152

7. Cuatro Gramos Norte: Fragmentation and Concentration in the Wake of Victory 181

Appendix. A Grass-roots List of Transnationals in Guatemala, circa 1978 210

Notes 217

Glossary 277

Bibliography 279

Index 301
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Winner, 2012 C. L. R. James Award, presented by the Working Class Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5131-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5120-7
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