From May 2023 through July 2023, Kellogg PhD Fellow Aitor Valdesogo (history) traveled to the Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a Kellogg Institute Graduate Research Grant to conduct research for his project, “Middle-Class Women and the Justification of Violence in 1970s Argentina”. Upon his return, he sent the following summary of his work.
Argentine society went through the most violent period of its recent history in the 1970s. The emergence of revolutionary violence, as well as the extreme repression deployed by the military, defined a decade that still shapes Argentine collective memory. Over five weeks, I had the opportunity to conduct my first preliminary research trip to Buenos Aires. Intrigued by the middle-class attitude towards political violence, I explored several archives, attended conferences, and met local professors to establish the foundations of my dissertation project. Although some scholars have explored the role of the Argentine middle class in the normalization of violence, there is a lack of gender analysis in these works. Thus, the research questions that led my research trip were as follows: What is the relation of Argentine urban middle-class women to political violence? What were their understandings and their attitudes towards political violence?
Argentina is celebrating its fortieth anniversary of the transition to democracy in 1983. On that occasion, universities and scholars are gathering in round tables and conferences to discuss some of the key themes on the matter. At the conference “Transición y democracia: generaciones en diálogo,” celebrated at the University Torcuato Di Tella, I met scholars working on Argentine recent history and had the opportunity to discuss my project with them. My conversations with Maximiliano Ekerman, Marina Franco, and Valeria Manzano were especially helpful, as they set up the groundings for a substantial part of my research in Buenos Aires. One of the main challenges about this project is the definition of the corpus of sources. The reconstruction of attitudes and narratives about political violence from a broad sector of the population requires a diverse set of sources, from cultural production to oral histories. Thus, following these scholars’ advice, I explored different archives in Buenos Aires.
The Argentine National Library has one of the biggest periodical publications archives in the country. During my stay at this archive, I consulted some of the most widely consumed magazines in the 1970s, including Gente (a conservative, middle-class magazine), Para Ti (a conservative women’s magazine), and Palabra (a magazine published by the Argentine Catholic Action in the late 1960s). All of them contain frequent allusions to family, traditional values, and the need to combat “deviance” culturally and politically. Gente and Para Ti show a blunt support for authoritarian governments.
The Argentine National Memory Archive contains a wide array of sources, most of them produced by institutions related to repression during the last military dictatorship. Although it might seem challenging to trace nonactivist middle-class subjects in this type of archive, I came across different “psycho-social situation reports” produced in the early 1980s by the dictatorship, surveys conducted by the government to gather information about Argentine society more broadly. Likewise, some officials were assigned the task of reviewing publications from the main newspapers and magazines to get a sense of public opinion.
However, beyond periodical publications and governmental surveys, there is a cultural product that reflects middle-class behaviors and narratives about current affairs better than any other else: cinema. 1970s Argentine cinema told stories about urban middle classes, and was overwhelmingly consumed by those same middle classes. That is, it reproduced and reinforced narratives present in society, although they varied through time and different political contexts. Independent of how popular certain movies were, the fact they were produced gives us an insight on the public debates on morality, progress, gender, and violence, among many other themes. The Argentine National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) has done an extraordinary job over decades compiling information about every Argentine movie, including news clippings that reflect the reception of each film. During my visits to the INCAA, I gathered materials from more than twenty-five movies released between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, most of them telling stories about middle-class conflicts and dilemmas about morality, violence, and gender roles. The media coverage will be central to my analysis of these movies, one of the pivotal sources of my future dissertation.
Finally, oral histories will be another central source in my project. The ideal subjects of these interviews will be women who were between 18 and 50 years old in the 1970s. During my stay in Buenos Aires, I conducted two exploratory interviews with two women, an excellent opportunity to practice and outline my questions and interview structure.
During this trip, I had plenty of time to explore the potential archives for my future dissertation, as well as creating a network of local scholars whose advice is and will be key in the next steps of my PhD. Cultural history builds upon a wide array of sources; my research, a cultural history of 1970s Argentine middle-class women, will not be an exception. My stay in Buenos Aires was fruitful in defining and expanding my corpus of sources, from periodical publications to institutional documents and movies. In the near future, I will have to go back and expand on my research, consulting other archives and conducting more interviews.