As conceptual and analytical categories, region and state have begun to elicit considerable interest among Latin Americanists. Magnus Mörner, however, argues in his most recent book that area specialists only rarely define these terms or engage in discussions that might relate studies of specific regions or of state behavior to larger theoretical debates concerning the nature and function of the state and its relationship to civil society. The objective of this book is therefore to explore the question of “the relationship, over time, between the state in Latin America and civil society on the regional level” (p. xi) and to examine this relationship from both comparative and theoretical perspectives.
The author introduces his study with a brief historical overview of diverse theories of state and region. Michael Mann’s Weber-inspired conceptualization of the state, which distinguishes between “despotic” power (direct, forceful power exercised by the state and its elite) and “infrastructural” power (the state’s ability actually to penetrate society and impose centrally devised policies), becomes the basis of Mörner’s analysis of the evolution of specific Latin American states. To approach the question of region, Mörner opts for geographer David Robinson’s notion of the “meso” regional sphere, defined as “a city or town with a hinterland” (p. 7).
Having specified his analytical terms, Mörner proceeds with a short summary of the historiography of region and state in Latin America from the colonial period to the present. Finally, Mörner selects four case studies to illustrate the relationship: the colonial state’s segregation policy in Spanish America, the tension between race and citizenship in postindependence Venezuela, the Quebra Quilos movement in Brazil, and the impact of immigration on national politics in Argentina.
Although Mörner’s project is worthwhile and timely, this book is ultimately disappointing. It spends too much time filling in the historical background in each country-specific chapter, and too little exploring and articulating comparative and theoretical issues. The author’s conclusions are rarely more than a few sentences or a paragraph long. Moreover, no attempt is made to suggest an analytical framework or tentative hypotheses that might serve as the basis for future study. Thus neither of the author’s initially stated objectives—to link empirical work with theory and to compare the variations in the relationship between state and region over time and between countries—is satisfactorily achieved. This work certainly has suggestive aspects, but the text is simply too short (102 pages) and too broadly drawn to permit more than a very superficial analysis. Finally, the brevity of this tome and its elevated cost considerably restrict its potential audience.