Civilizing Argentina

Science, Medicine, and the Modern State

By Julia Rodriguez

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5669-7
    Published: February 2006
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7724-1
    Published: December 2006
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8048-2
    Published: December 2006

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After a promising start as a prosperous and liberal democratic nation at the end of the nineteenth century, Argentina descended into instability and crisis. This stark reversal, in a country rich in natural resources and seemingly bursting with progress and energy, has puzzled many historians. In Civilizing Argentina, Julia Rodriguez takes a sharply contrary view, demonstrating that Argentina's turn of fortune is not a mystery but rather the ironic consequence of schemes to "civilize" the nation in the name of progressivism, health, science, and public order.

With new medical and scientific information arriving from Europe at the turn of the century, a powerful alliance developed among medical, scientific, and state authorities in Argentina. These elite forces promulgated a political culture based on a medical model that defined social problems such as poverty, vagrancy, crime, and street violence as illnesses to be treated through programs of social hygiene. They instituted programs to fingerprint immigrants, measure the bodies of prisoners, place wives who disobeyed their husbands in "houses of deposit," and exclude or expel people deemed socially undesirable, including groups such as labor organizers and prostitutes. Such policies, Rodriguez argues, led to the destruction of the nation's liberal ideals and opened the way to the antidemocratic, authoritarian governments that came later in the twentieth century.

About the Author

Julia Rodriguez is associate professor of history and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire.
For more information about Julia Rodriguez, visit the Author Page.


"An important contribution."--Hispanic American Historical Review

"An original approach to the roles of science and medicine in civilizing Argentina in the twentieth century."--Journal of the History of Medicine

"Provides a thought-provoking introduction to some key questions in Argentine historiography, and will interest all students of the history of criminology, legal medicine and the rise of the modern interventionist state."--Social History of Medicine

"A valuable contribution to Argentine historiography and to current discussions of the arrival of modernity on the periphery of the industrialized world."--American Historical Review

"[A] multifaceted portrait . . . [and] a welcome approach. . . . Useful as a first glimpse into the ideas and practices of Argentine scientists at the turn of the twentieth century.--Journal of Latin American Studies

"Civilizing Argentina constitutes part of a wave of new studies that will finally 'decolonialize' the history of criminology by establishing its importance and autonomous development in nations outside of Europe and North America."--Theoretical Criminology