Mariano Ben Plotkin
The life of Italian-Argentine scientist and intellectual José Ingenieros (1877–1925) has been considered a clear example of the potential for upward social mobility based on talent that existed in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century. Born Giuseppe Ingegnieros in Palermo, Sicily, from a working-class family, Ingenieros was able to become both one of the most internationally renowned Latin American intellectuals and scientists—his scientific and philosophical works were translated into several languages—and also a socialite of high visibility befriending some of the most prominent members of the Argentine social elite. His trajectory seems to be an example of unparalleled success. Nevertheless, a close look at recently unearthed sources, particularly his private correspondence, not only shows a different picture of Ingenieros’s life and works, but also forces us to reconsider accepted knowledge about the possibilities offered to immigrants by turn-of-the-century Argentine society. His trajectory constitutes an excellent case study for the analysis of both the potentials and the limits of social mobility in Argentina at the time, as well as the relationship between intellectuals and power during the transition from the oligarchic republic established in 1862, after the unification of the country, to the really democratic republic based on universal (male) suffrage introduced in 1912. An analysis of the context of production of his most popular work, El hombre mediocre, provides an opportunity to contrast his public image with the social insecurities he expressed to his relatives and friends.