This reviewer first encountered Nils Jacobsen and his work at a Bielefeld symposium on the late colonial economies of Mexico and Peru held in 1982, the year Jacobsen received his Berkeley Ph.D. for his much-cited dissertation on land tenure and society in the southern Peruvian province of Azangaro in the period 1770-1920. Since then, occasional sightings of the man and of infrequent, but important, articles and essays have prompted the question, What happened to the book? At last we have it, covering the same region and essentially the same period as the dissertation. In one sense it is overdue, although an advantage of the long maturation process is that the author has been able to enrich his analysis by assimilating the findings of a significant number of other scholars, including a new generation of Peruvian historians who, during the last 15 years or so, have published key works on the social and economic structures of rural Spanish America since the late eighteenth century.
The province of Azangaro lies in the northern altiplano northwest of Lake Titicaca. Its low, scattered, largely indigenous population (32,000 in 1798, 97,000 in 1940); its fragile, livestock-based economy; and its vulnerability to national and international political and economic forces make it arguably an important test site for the analysis of caste and class relationships and, at a broader level, the links between commercial stimuli and relations of production or power.
The time frame embraces three significant conjunctures. The first is the structural crisis of the late colonial period (when social and racial unrest, coupled with the commercial dislocation caused by Upper Peru’s separation from the old viceroyalty and the independence wars, put a brake on the expansion of estates at the expense of communities). The second is the rising international demand for wool from the 1850s on (which provoked some semicapitalist development, characterized by the more rigorous appropriation of Indian land and labor by Hispanized landowners and officials). Third is the post-World War I commercial and social crisis, sparked by the collapse of international wool prices and characterized by the decline of sheep-raising estates and the rise of rural unrest. The unrest, in turn, although particularly serious in the 1920s, unleashed conflicts that would remain unresolved until the post-1968 agrarian reform.
At one level, this monograph makes a major contribution to the debate, particularly fashionable in the 1980s, about the relationship between the existence of “feudal” estates and underdevelopment: it shows that in Azangaro, clientelism, paternalism, and other “colonial” vestiges not only survived independence but intensified during the late nineteenth-century period of relative prosperity. The relationships between landowners and dispossessed community dwellers, however, which often stemmed from a variety of leasehold arrangements, were more subtle and complex than simplistic models often suggest. Moreover, kinship networks could be more important than communities for the collective defense of Indian rights.
Readers looking for a simple, all-embracing conclusion might be disappointed by this rich, detailed analysis, which tends to qualify and elaborate its arguments rather than reduce them to easily digestible pieces. Its essential finding is that the creeping introduction of market forces, instead of transforming older social relationships, tended to reinforce them, primarily because the particular economic features of Azangaro restricted and qualified the province’s transition to capitalism. The extent to which this northern altiplano experience was typical of Peru as a whole, let alone other parts of Spanish America, is not explored in any depth. What is certain is that this particular study is essential reading for any serious student of Andean social and economic history of the last two hundred years.