Substantial Movements, Substantive Democracy: Recent Comparative Studies of Andean Politics

By Prest, Stewart | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Substantial Movements, Substantive Democracy: Recent Comparative Studies of Andean Politics


Prest, Stewart, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


John Cameron

Struggles for Local Democracy in the Andes

Boulder, CO: FirstForumPress, 2010, xix + 383 pp.

Paul Drake and Eric Hershberg, eds.

State and Society in Conflict: Comparative Perspectives on Andean Crises

Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006, x + 324 pp.

Jose Antonio Lucero

Struggles of Voice: The Politics of Indigenous Representation in the

Andes

Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008, xvi + 236 pp.

Donna Lee Van Cott

Radical Democracy in the Andes

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, xv + 261 pp.

Events in the Andean region over the last decade have highlighted the fact that elections and political parties are not the only institutional and social entities through which citizens can participate in political discussions and processes. Social movements have become central elements of the political environment as well. The transformation has deeply affected all five Andean countries--Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Indeed, some of the most important questions facing the region in coming years will likely revolve around the relative degree to which the new patterns of movement-based representation will be integrated with previously dominant formal political institutions and their attendant political cultures. The authors under review here provide a variety of perspectives precisely on ongoing processes of democratization and the evolving relationship between social movements and the more traditional political institutions of the state.

Each of the works provides valuable insights into the tensions and complementarities that exist between these varied forms of representation. Given the relative emphasis placed on Bolivia and Ecuador in the works reviewed, I pay particular attention to these two promising cases, although the findings have relevance for the wider Andean region as well. Both Bolivia and Ecuador are countries that continue to move toward more inclusive democratic systems, an outcome that is appealing on both instrumental and normative grounds. In particular, the continuing growth of social movements in these countries have the potential, through their interaction with government and other political parties, to render concrete contributions to the durability of their democratic regimes. Though the emergence and consolidation of good governance and robust democratic institutions are by no means assured in the near future, the authors, taken together, provide a number of good reasons to think that the emergence of social movements will continue to be associated with both increasingly democratic and, in the long run, increasingly stable polities.

Given the depth and breadth of the theoretical and empirical issues addressed by the works under discussion, choices must be made as to what to focus on in this review. Accordingly, in the pages that follow I restrict myself to a consideration of the following. First, I examine the diverse purposes of the works, as the authors provide a surprising range of options regarding how to characterize the Andean region and why it warrants study as a region at this particular juncture. I then summarize the works, identifying the array of theoretical approaches brought to bear on the region. In the third section, I provide a critique of the works' arguments, anchoring the discussion around the various authors' respective handling of the relationship between structure and agency, though touching on other theoretically relevant issues as well. In so doing, I attempt to identify the explicit and implicit lenses informing the various analyses, and I draw attention to particular implications that flow from those choices for the resulting conclusions. In the fourth section, I examine the leverage that these various approaches provide with respect to a dominant and substantive political issue facing the Andean region, namely the incorporation of traditionally marginalized populations into the deliberative processes of the state. …

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