Reflecting the Outside World in Everyday Consumption: Material Culture and Identity in Late Nineteenth-Century Urban Latin America


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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Following the end of the colonial period, Latin America became a thriving market for goods from the industrializing world, particularly the United States, Great Britain, and France. This thesis explores the sociocultural implications of importation into Mexico City and Caracas, Venezuela, situating the flow of commodities within cultural processes. It analyzes how ordinary people in the two cities interacted with goods from abroad. While most studies of this phenomenon focus on elites, this research suggests that they did not comprise the only group to desire, acquire, and display imported commodities. In Mexico City, non-elites could achieve upward mobility by displaying European items. In Caracas, powerful external commercial ties allowed city residents of most classes to obtain foreign commodities and construct their identity by way of them. Thus, people throughout the social strata associated with imported goods, leading to internal and external effects on cultural identity.