Contesting the Boundaries of Citizenship: Politics and Policies in Contemporary Latin America/Definir Les Frontieres De la Citoyennete : Enjeux et Politiques Actuels En Amerique Latine

By Jenson, Jane | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Contesting the Boundaries of Citizenship: Politics and Policies in Contemporary Latin America/Definir Les Frontieres De la Citoyennete : Enjeux et Politiques Actuels En Amerique Latine


Jenson, Jane, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Over the last two decades, the concept of "citizenship" has become a key component of political discourse and claims-making in Latin America. Since the 1970s, social movements have made claims for recognition and rights for groups previously excluded and for expanded political and social rights. The end of military regimes and the rise of new democratic frameworks in the 1980s opened further possibilities for articulating such struggles by broadening the political associational space. But, at the same time, the rise of neo-liberal politics and the efforts to de-legitimize acquired rights and practices of social and economic citizenship have resulted in significant changes in the relationship between citizens and states and among citizens. The articles in this issue examine both sides of this change: the rise of new claims-making, their failures and successes, and the pressures and practices for limiting and reorienting citizens' rights.

Such analyses are captured by the idea of "contested boundaries of citizenship." The concept of citizenship used in these articles goes well beyond the notion of nationality and of passport rights. It focuses instead on the ways in which citizenship practices identify who has rights, what those rights are, and who is responsible for ensuring they are truly accessible. Through their actions, states not only establish the conditions for full membership in the community, they also set limits on the rights and access of groups that can be termed immigres de l'interieur, those who do not yet possess full and equal citizenship. Indigenous peoples, women, Afro-descendants, sexual minorities, and immigrants have all fought for inclusion, and on their own terms. Such struggles over the boundaries of citizenship may result in significant shifts and expansion in the very way that citizenship is understood. But it is also important to recognize that it is states that confer rights, and they may, under some circumstances, seek to contract the space for citizenship and--perhaps even more importantly--for claimsmaking about citizenship. Neo-liberal politics would contract those boundaries while individuals and groups struggling for rights seek to expand them.

The first article, by Evelina Dagnino, sets the stage for the contradictions involved in (re)defining citizenship in the region by providing a rich analysis of the Brazilian story of social movements' struggles to extend the boundaries of citizenship, and the use of the concept itself as an umbrella for linking diverse claims for social, cultural, and political rights. She also describes the ways in which the Brazilian state is currently seeking to retract the boundaries of citizenship by assigning more space to markets and the third sector, each of which functions according to a logic different than that implied by an understanding of citizenship as conferring equality on members of a community.

The next pair of articles provides concrete examples of the deployment of new citizenship practices by Latin American states, influenced by neo-liberalism. These include practices of "social investment," "public-private partnerships" and "decentralizing to the local level."

Lucy Luccisano reviews the experience of a Mexican cash-transfer program designed to shift responsibility for well-being away from the state. The principles of the program follow the widespread international enthusiasm for "investing" in human and social capital and decentralization, often by downloading new responsibilities to the families. As such it brings a significant redesign to the meaning of social citizenship. John Jairo Bedoya examines another key dimension of citizenship--personal security and social order--and describes the ways in which the Colombian state has abandoned its responsibility for security to private contractors controlled by drug cartels. His analysis of "commodified public security" highlights an extreme case of a more general phenomenon in Latin American societies: a dramatic increase in criminality and insecurity. …

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