The quest for modernity : a global/national approach to a history of design in Latin America

Lara-Betancourt, Patricia (2016) The quest for modernity : a global/national approach to a history of design in Latin America. In: Fallan, Kjetil and Lees-Maffei, Grace, (eds.) Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in the Age of Globalization. Oxford, U.K. : Berghahn Books. (Making Sense of History, (24)) ISBN 9781785331558


Design history studies in Latin America are just emerging, partly in response to the global reach that the discipline has experienced in recent years. This chapter asks what kind of design history seems relevant for the region in an age of globalization, and argues for a complementary approach where both the national and the global, in their interaction, are equally relevant. In historical discourse, and for over a hundred years, the nation has been the favoured unit of analysis. This methodological nationalism has been criticised for its tendency to think of the nation as autonomous and self-determining, lessening the significance and role of global factors in shaping history (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002). What I propose here is an example of altering the framework and discourse to consider how the global relates to the national, generating perhaps a richer way of analysing design’s relationship with history and society in Latin America. A shift in focus from the ‘only national’ to the ‘global and national’ includes exploring the effect of assimilation and appropriation within the context of sophisticated networks of trade, world exploration and cultural sovereignty, which by necessity transform local cultures, arts and traditions. Drawing from published work and from my current and past research on the history of design and decorative arts in Latin America I will refer initially to the debate about the role of the nation state in a globalized world and its methodological implications for a Latin American context. I will be proposing a dual global and national focus to the discussion of two examples—one from the nineteenth and the other from the second half of the twentieth century—exemplifying different approaches to design history, interpreted as quests for modernity and identity. Such focus, in attending to the interplay between global forces and national dynamics, highlights the way in which both shape, influence and respond to each other.

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