Imaginaries of Urban Threat: Perceptions of Collective Protest and Violence in the USA and in Argentina during the 20th Century

Klaus Weinhauer (Bielefeld University)

Abstract

This article studies 1960/70s imaginaries of urban social and cultural threat in their historical roots, and sees imaginaries as an important part of the social order and interprets violence as a pattern of communication. It focuses on imaginaries that state officials in the US and in Argentina formulated when confronted with collective protest and violence. Communism, mass consumer society and its inherent cultural changes (incl. gender relations), and fears of crowds were key imaginaries – in Argentina also among Catholic elites. These quite similar imaginaries did not change significantly during the 1960/70s. What was special in the US was the racialization of imaginaries of urban disorder. The melting together of European and US influences in the imaginaries of subversion and of crowds was a special Argentinean feature. Subversion was instrumental for justifying the military regimes’ enforcement of a total monopoly of violence in a cultural counterrevolution. US and French counterinsurgency policies helped to shape this imaginary. The strong presence of the imaginary of historically rooted, threatening urban crowds was an Argentinean legacy of the entanglement with European history, especially with crowd psychology. Finally, the wide scope of crisis that shaped the imaginaries of threat in Argentina stands out. While in the US law and order was mostly only threatened locally, and could thus be restored locally, in Argentina the whole nation seemed to be in decline and substantially endangered, which called for radical and far-reaching countermeasures.

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