Elites and Middle Classes: Rethinking Class Struggles in Cold War Latin America

Hosted by Department of International History and LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre

Online Public Event, United Kingdom


Professor Ricardo López-Pedreros

Professor Ricardo López-Pedreros


Dr Anna Cant

Dr Anna Cant

First seminar in a series of three talks on the subject of capitalism and class in the history of the Americas

The last decade has seen the publication of important scholarship from different disciplines on the making of the middle classes across the world. This presentation sought to bring together some of the arguments put forward by scholars to open up a critical interdisciplinary conversation on how to rethink the historical formation of the middle classes—as a social category, a political project, a subjectivity, and a material reality—in Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century. The presentation proceeded in three specific ways.

First, it offered a transnational genealogy of the idea of the middle class in the Americas to explain why, despite the increasing number of scholars committed to the study of the middle classes, such a class appears vestigial in what is considered a “proper” analysis of power relationships in Latin America. In so doing, it showed how the very disavowal of the study of the middle class as a question of power was in itself a product of middle-class professionals across the region who sought to naturalize binary explanations of class domination—the struggle between ruling classes and working masses—as a way to secure their classed status and gendered privileges.    

Second, by drawing on the Colombia case in a transitional framework during the Cold War, this presentation demonstrated how the study of the historical formation of the middle classes opens up a multiplicity of methodological and theoretical questions to rethink major historical processes in Latin America: meanings of citizenship, the relationships between state and society, experiences of (counter) revolutionary change, the growth of affective labor, the naturalization of different forms of material inequality, the class and gender of de-coloniality, and democracy as a sanctified methodology of domination.   

Third, as we question the role of the middle classes I also invited to think the social formation of elites as a way to see how neoliberal societies have become the dominant way to organize societies across the Americas in the last half century. Although scholars have recently privileged the study of neoliberalism from below, I proposed it is crucial to see how elites legitimize—acquire, preserve, shelter—their power and privilege in neoliberal societies. All in all, this presentation was an effort to stimulate a broader discussion on how we materialize interdisciplinary approaches to critically understand how a system of domination, rooted in a diversity of hierarchies and vast disparities in wealth, have become sanctioned as a reality.

Speaker and Chair

Professor Ricardo López-Pedreros is Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of the Americas. He is a historian of post-colonial and transnational histories of Latin America. His area of specialization focuses on the intersections of labour, class, gender, race, political economy, and political rationality of rule. He is the author of Makers of Democracy: A Transnational History of the Middle Classes in Colombia (Duke Univeristy Press, 2019).

Dr Anna Cant is Assistant Professor in the Department of International History at LSE. Her research centres on twentieth-century politics, cultural history and rural development in Latin America. Her first book, Land Without Masters: Agrarian Reform and Political Change Under Peru’s Military Government was published by University of Texas Press in 2021. Before joining the LSE in September 2018, Dr Cant spent two years as a visiting researcher at Los Andes University, Bogota (Colombia), where her postdoctoral research focused on radio education in rural Colombia during the 1960s and 1970s.

More about this event

The Department of International History (@lsehistory) teaches and conducts research on the international history of Britain, Europe and the world from the early modern era up to the present day.

 The LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre serves as a focal point for LSE’s research and public engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, the Centre builds upon the School’s long and important relationship with the region.

Sponsored by the Department's The Americas in World History research cluster.


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