Theses Doctoral

Labor, Race & Visuality in Argentina’s Sugar Industry 1868-1904

Allen-Mossman, Anayvelyse

In Labor, Race & Visuality in Argentina’s Sugar Industry 1868-1904 I examine the relationship between racialization and mechanization in the growing sugar industry in Argentina’s northern province of Tucuman in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I argue that the sugar industrial project yielded an important visual record which foregrounded machine labor at a time when demands on human labor reached a fever pitch. This emphasis on machine labor obscured the existing labor conditions in these industrial landscapes, which involved race-based forms of exploitation. I focus on the particular strategies (posing, framing, lighting and emplacement) that photographers and engravers used to incorporate workers into images of railroad construction sites, factories and plantations—in booster books and state reports related to the sugar industry. Reformers and state officials used these photographs to illustrate arguments that advocated the primacy of one race of worker—creole or European—over the other, and picture ideal labor conditions that contradicted the observations of critics at the time.

Laborers in these photographs were often discussed in terms of their capacity for industrial labor and categorized by race. Given the interdependence between the state and private capital on this industrial project, the distinction between creole, indigenous and European workers was not only believed central to the growth of the sugar industry but also to the unity of the nation-state. The photographic and textual records, including political speeches, express the importance of race as an unstable proxy for the forms and conditions of labor. Labor, Race & Visuality in Argentina’s Sugar Industry 1868-1904 is divided into three parts, each addressing the different relationships between the state and industry. In my first chapter, “The Instruments of a New Argentina,” I focus on railway photography depicting the construction of a project intended to connect the plantations of the North to the expansive littoral market. Here I focus on how the figure of the capitalist was instrumentalized by statesmen to argue for increased immigration from Europe as a means of industrializing the nation. In the second chapter, “Beyond the Frame,” I explore the graphic documentation of the sugar industry in Tucumán to show how the representation of masses of workers heralded the mass migration of European workers to Tucumán was an ultimately failed project—creole workers predominated in the industry, and in the images the heralded masses built only to a small crowd. Finally, in “His continuous force makes him the machine,” I examine how the first state-commissioned report on the working class depicted relationships between factory workers and the new industrial machines, aestheticizing European workers through their physical proximity to machines and creole workers through their capacity for machine-like labor.

Although many studies about labor and race in industrializing Argentina are historiographical and limited to particular regions, my approach is to mobilize the comparative history of visuality to situate imaginaries of capital within a national and hemispheric context. In addition, by setting my investigation in the context of the Caribbean and North America, my work compares the formation of capital across the Atlantic world and shows how these processes are key to the formation of the Argentine nation-state. By emphasizing the role of creole workers in industrial production, my dissertation challenges commonly-held focus on European immigration in narratives about industrialization and race in Argentina. My dissertation demonstrates that creole workers were in fact central to debates about industrialization and labor within the expanding Argentine nation-state, and that photography is a critical site for understanding how their role was minimized in state narratives.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for AllenMossman_columbia_0054D_16657.pdf AllenMossman_columbia_0054D_16657.pdf application/pdf 3.88 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Montaldo, Graciela Raquel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 15, 2021