Civilization in 19th Century Latin America: The “Modernization” of Cities and the Use of Prisons as a Form of Racial Control

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Daniella Dávila Dávila Aquije


In the mid to late 19th century, Latin American states adopted European ideals of “civilization.” These ideals were foundational for several state projects that looked to “improve” the aesthetics of Latin American major cities, which were modelled after Paris, the epitome and embodiment of modernization. This “civilizing” reform of the cities caused the ghettoization of non-white communities, given that modern cities were conceptualized as white cities. Thus, to “Europeanize” Latin American cities, Indigenous, Black and Asian peoples needed to be contained and displaced. This was achieved through the creation of the prison system, which came to represent a new form of slavery and a state mechanism for the continuous control of racialized communities. This presentation will examine how criminality was socially constructed to justify the imprisonment of a specific “type” (or race) of person, which is evident given the prison demographics of the time. It will also analyze the theories of eugenics which provided justification for the project of civilization, which only served to worsen the social ills

Article Details

Session I: Prisons
Author Biography

Daniella Dávila Dávila Aquije, Department of Political Studies and History

Moderator: Dr. Pam Dickey Young, Religious Studies