Skip to main content

The Singer’s Needle

An Undisciplined History of Panamá

The Singer’s Needle offers a bold new approach to the history of twentieth-century Panamá, one that illuminates the nature of power and politics in a small and complex nation. Using novelistic techniques, Vierba explores three crucial episodes in the shaping and erosion of contemporary Panamanian institutions: the establishment of a penal colony on the island of Coiba in 1919, the judicial drama following the murder of President José Antonio Remón Cantera in 1955, and the “disappearance” of a radical priest in 1971. Skillfully blending historical sociology with novelistic narrative and extensive empirical research, and drawing on the works of Michel Foucault among others, Vierba shows the links between power, interpretation, and representation. The result is a book that deftly reshapes conventional methods of historical writing.

352 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: History of Ideas, Latin American History

Sociology: Social Institutions


The Singer’s Needle is a stunning achievement: Imagine if Foucault had studied Panamá and written as clearly and compellingly as Camus. Immersing himself in the social, political, economic, and cultural history of twentieth-century Panamá, Vierba combines careful and creative archival research, sophisticated theory, and compelling storytelling. His book is an extraordinary work of history, about both what happened in the past and what it means to think and write about it today. Historians of other places and times will marvel at, and learn from, Vierba’s bold and brilliant blend of scholarship and art.”

James Goodman, Rutgers University

The Singer’s Needle is a real page-turner—in fact, it’s a path-breaker. Reading Vierba’s unusual book is like playing hopscotch as you skid between its heterogeneous elements. The skill and artistry involved in sliding the different forms of writing and different voices on top of one another, and the intimate tone achieved, is astonishingly refreshing.”

Michael Taussig, Columbia University

"The Singer’s Needle is required reading for anybody interested in the history of Panama and the role that places like Panama have played in the history of Latin America and the world."

Hispanic American Historical Review

Table of Contents

Editor’s Preface

Part I: Coiba: An Introduction to the Panamanian Subject

Chapter One: Penal Colonialism and National Sovereignty: Porras and the Liberal Reforms, 1912–1924
Chapter Two: Punishment and Subject Formation
Chapter Three: The Singer’s Report: Text and Critique in Coiba, 1920–1935

Part II: Theaters of Authority

Chapter Four: The Remonato, a Hybrid State: 1947–1955
Chapter Five: Trials of Authority: Legal Consciousness and Formal Struggles in the Postwar Era

Part III: On the Way to Chumumbito, Santa Fe

Chapter Six: Héctor’s Hermeneutics: Radical Readings and Christian Liberation in Santa Fe de Veraguas, 1968–1971


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press