Bringing the Revolution to the Dam Site: How Technology, Labor, And Nature Converged in the Microcosm of a Northern Mexican Company Town, 1936-1946 (Report) - Journal of the Southwest

Bringing the Revolution to the Dam Site: How Technology, Labor, And Nature Converged in the Microcosm of a Northern Mexican Company Town, 1936-1946 (Report)

By Journal of the Southwest

  • Release Date - Published: 2011-03-22
  • Book Genre: Social Science
  • Author: Journal of the Southwest
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Bringing the Revolution to the Dam Site: How Technology, Labor, And Nature Converged in the Microcosm of a Northern Mexican Company Town, 1936-1946 (Report) Journal of the Southwest read online review & book description:

Long after they are built, grand infrastructure projects--renovated city centers, parks, overpasses, Olympic stadiums, freeways, mass-transit expansions, suspension bridges, mega-canals, dams--often come to stand as monuments to specific moments in history and to the prevailing social, cultural, and ideological values and technological prowess associated with them. Among these, large dams, as structures explicitly designed to fundamentally alter complex and fragile natural processes--namely, rivers and their hydrological cycles--for the purposes of agricultural modernization and industrialization, particularly represent the social, economic, and political goals at the heart of a nation's development agenda. For example, the historian Marc Reisner described (with some hyperbole) the dams of the New Deal era in his classic book Cadillac Desert as the United States' "temples"--with the Hoover Dam symbolizing the fight against the Depression and the Axis enemy during the Second World War. (1) Similarly, the Mexican anthropologist and historian Claudio Lomnitz, citing the Brazilian literary critic Beatriz Jaguaribe, called dams and other infrastructure designed to legitimize Mexican presidents "modernist ruins," regardless of whether they were completed, or were even useful if completed. (2) While there is a large literature on dam-building and its place in economic development and state formation, as well as its attendant social and ecological consequences, (3) there are far fewer histories focusing on dam sites--that is, the temporary locales where workers, technicians, and their dependents and others live and work during the time dam construction is under way. This is especially so for Mexico, which undertook considerable hydraulic development in the twentieth century. (4) In this article I examine the postrevolutionary period of the 1930s and 1940s and how the Mexican government's National Irrigation Commission (CNI) brought the Mexican Revolution to remote dam sites by constructing "company towns" adjoining them. I argue that these towns served as microcosms of the larger national efforts of the Mexican state to deploy technology, labor, and nature in the name of a reified revolution. (5) As a case study, I detail the process by which the CNI attempted to transform "El Palmito," or the Lazaro Cardenas, dam site deep within the Sierra Madre of Durango. From 1936 to 1946 this dam site was the flagship laboratory for the CNI's revolutionary social mission of uplifting and civilizing its hired hands as they toiled to tame the torrential flow of the Nazas River. The Nazas was the lifeblood of the Comarca Lagunera, or Laguna, a region of lagoons located in southwestern Coahuila and northeastern Durango in north central Mexico (see map 1). Its name belies the arid desert landscape through which the Nazas flowed, delivering rich upstream sediments and organic detritus to vast irrigated fields of cotton grown hundreds of kilometers downstream since the early nineteenth century.

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