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Measures of Equality

Social Science, Citizenship, and Race in Cuba, 1902-1940

By Alejandra Bronfman

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 illus. , notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5563-8
    Published: November 2004
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7624-4
    Published: October 2005

Envisioning Cuba

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In the years following Cuba's independence, nationalists aimed to transcend racial categories in order to create a unified polity, yet racial and cultural heterogeneity posed continual challenges to these liberal notions of citizenship. Alejandra Bronfman traces the formation of Cuba's multiracial legal and political order in the early Republic by exploring the responses of social scientists, such as Fernando Ortiz and Israel Castellanos, and black and mulatto activists, including Gustavo Urrutia and Nicolás Guillén, to the paradoxes of modern nationhood.

Law, science, and the social sciences--which, during this era, enjoyed growing status in Cuba as well as in many other countries--played central roles in producing knowledge and shaping social categories in postindependence Cuba. Anthropologists, criminologists, and eugenicists embarked on projects intended to employ the tools of science to rid Cuba of the last vestiges of a colonial past. Meanwhile, the legal arena created both new freedoms and new modes of repression. Black and mulatto intellectuals and activists, working to ensure that citizenship offered concrete advantages rather than empty promises, appropriated changing social scientific and legal categories and turned them to their own uses. In the midst of several decades of intermittent racial violence and expanding social and political mobilization by Cubans of African descent, debates among intellectuals and activists, state officials, and legislators transformed not only understandings of race, but also the terms of citizenship for all Cubans.

About the Author

Alejandra Bronfman is associate professor of history at SUNY Albany.
For more information about Alejandra Bronfman, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"An exciting and innovative study that will surely influence scholarship on twentieth-century Cuba for some time."--Hispanic American Historical Review

"Brilliant and entertaining . . . Takes us from such fractious beginnings to the construction of black political identities in the 1930s. A virtuoso performance that contributes a great deal to our understanding of Cuban social and intellectual history. . . . Sets out a provocative agenda for further research."--American Historical Review

"An important contribution to the historiography on the construction of race and political identity in Latin America and the Caribbean. . . . [This] ought to be required reading for scholars and graduate students who specialize in the construction of race and national identities in Latin America and the Caribbean."--The American Journal of Legal History

"Bronfman's subtle and nuanced exploration of the interplay between postcolonial state formation, social scientific knowledge production, and the transformation of racial subject positions significantly deepens our understanding of the emergence and conflicted nature of 'black' political identities in twentieth-century Cuba."--Stephan Palmié, University of Chicago

"Bronfman posits the relatively inclusive rather than exclusive nature of the early Cuban Republic, legitimizing hereditary views about the inferiority of those of African descent and also animating the critique of those views, especially by Cubans of color. She has marshaled her case with excellent, new, and at times chilling detail, contributing to the growing body of work that is countering the silences of much mainstream study of Cuban history. Her approach is sound and much needed."--Jean Stubbs, University of North London