Citizen Views of Democracy in Latin America

By Lalander, Rickard | Ibero-americana, July 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Citizen Views of Democracy in Latin America


Lalander, Rickard, Ibero-americana


Roderic Ai Camp (Ed.) 2001, Citizen Views of Democracy in Latin America. University of Pittsburgh Press (294 pages).

Do Latin American citizens view and perceive the concept of democracy differently than, for example. North Americans? Since 1959, when Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba presented their now classic The Civic Culture on cultural attitudes and political behavior in a democratic context, researchers within social sciences have suspected differences in perceptions of democracy between citizens from distinct continents. A quantity of books on the civic and political behavior of North Americans have been published and debated, particularly those by Verba and his colleagues throughout the years. Although, until now, no deeper comparative study on the topic has been presented with a focus on the Latin American countries. In this context. Citizen Vie\vs of Democracy in Latin America, edited by 'Mexicanist' and democracy theorist Roderic Ai Camp, provides the result of a broad research project with the ambition to present approaches and comparisons that previously to a large extent have been ignored in single country studies.

In 1998. a research team carried out a survey consisting of 1200 citizens in Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico. The three nations present clear distinctions in the development of democratization, structure of the state, and of civil society, civic-military relationships, as well as with diversities in cultural traits and economic and socioeconomic development. It is thus not a book about democracy as a process, that is, with a mere concentration on accessibility to politics through elections, but rather perceptions of democracy as contents; values, trust, citizens behavior and opinions towards democracy and institutions, etc. in the best liberal-pluralist way. The work launches three major interrelated questions. First, it seeks to examine whether it is possible to present some hypothesis on why certain variables, in combination or individually, are more influential in the attempts to explain citizens views on democracy in the Latin American countries. Secondly, an ambition is to identify how the citizens conceptualize democracy, leaning towards the assumption that citizens from different societies (and within) define democracy heterogeneously. Thirdly, do citizens' perceptions about democracy of a have consequences for other perceptions, and if so, with what possible effects on political, economic and social behavior?

To further enrich the value of this splendid work, the data used by the authors is included on a CD-ROM attached to the book. As the editor argues, this will give scholars and students an opportunity to conduct comparative research projects related to the works of the book. One idea that springs into life is of course the possibility of using the material of the CD also for other Latin American countries, and then comparing the results with the research presentations provided in the book.

Regarding the structure and contents, the book is divided into six major thematic parts, or chapters; several of these divided in essays. Even if the contributors of the totally twelve essays vary in focus, they all base their findings on the same data set. The first part of the book, by editor Ai Camp, is both an introductory essay on the idea of the entire book and its background, and a focus on democracy through Latin American lenses. The second part launches the question: Is there a Latin American Democracy? and if new theoretic approaches and/ or tendencies are perceptible among Latin American researchers. Political scientist Alejandro Moreno here contributes with an essay on democracy in the context of mass belief systems in Latin America, also with some basic comparisons with the world outside the continent. Following the Tocquevillian tradition on political culture, institutional pluralism and democracy from the 1830's, and more recently research by, e.g., Robert Putnam and Roland Inglehart, political scientists Timothy Power and Mary Clark compare interpersonal trust and democratic values in Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico.

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