Linda Seligmann, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Center for the Study of the Americas at George Mason University, has written an uncommonly rich and important ethnographic study of the Peruvian Andes. She sets out to show how political life in the countryside changed after the sweeping agrarian reform carried out by the Velasco regime in 1969. By carefully tracing the impact of the reform in the Quechua- and Spanish-speaking district of Huanoquite, whose capital is 65 kilometers southwest of Cuzco, Seligmann offers the best analysis to date of the social and political changes brought about by reform at the local level.

In examining the reform’s impact on Huanoquite, the author also challenges some of the principal explanations scholars have offered for the explosive advance of Sendero Luminoso and its so-called People’s War during the 1980s and early 1990s. For Seligmann, Sendero’s early success in penetrating Andean communities resulted from the failure of the state’s agrarian modernization policies, which led to the growing fragility and fragmentation of state influence at the local level. The deteriorating relationship between peasants and the state and the ensuing political vacuum opened up political space for Sendero and led some peasants in the district initially to support the movement. The author also shows, however, that in the end it was the Huanoquiteños who, creatively and tenaciously, succeeded in organizing and defending themselves against both the state and Sendero.

Seligmann moves effortlessly from national to local events, weaving a fascinating story of peasants’ struggles to shape the reform in their own interests. Her chapter analyzing the agrarian reform and its failures is the best I have seen on the subject, while her biographies of “two lives coming to power” poignantly reveal the human dimensions of the larger historical drama. Between Reform and Revolution eschews both structuralist and voluntarist explanations, as well as general theoretical approaches to state-local relationships (dependency, world systems), opting instead for an emphasis the role of internal class and ethnic differences in structuring the relationships between agrarian societies and the state. Such an emphasis reveals the power of peasants’ own agency as they “relied on everyday forms of resistance, tactical defenses, the use of law and the courts, and participation in local and supralocal organizations in order to create sufficient political leverage to shift their relationship with the state in their favor” (p. 10).

In sum, this is a masterful ethnographic study in which the thick description delineates some of the deeper historical processes and fault lines of Andean rural society. It is must reading for all students of the culture and the region.