The introduction starts by defining the theoretical framework in the context of recent and current debates on ‘multiple modernities’, which often fail to include Latin America. This section then moves on to discuss the relevance of and relation between key categories, primarily those of ‘civilisation’ and ‘decadence’ − which were increasingly used in association with each other − with respect to the more recent notion of degeneration which provided them with a scientific analytical foundation. In the late nineteenth-century, many started to feel that ‘modern civilisation’ carried within itself the danger of deviance, especially as the medical model of social analysis became established. I discuss here how these debates culminated in the years between the mid-1890s and the early 1900s, when the process of nation-building and economic prosperity reached its peak in the Southern Cone as the rapid changes that had taken place during the previous two decades became consolidated. Among the main consequences were the growth of the urban population and the consequent rise of the so-called ‘social question’. It was during this time that the need to rethink how the idea of civilisation should be approached acquired for the first time such huge prominence in Latin America.
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