Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development

By Khan, Maryam | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development


Khan, Maryam, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development. By Felipe Arocena and Kirk Bowman. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781442605497

Arocena and Bowman's book, Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development, examines the political, cultural, and social contributions from Latin American countries that can help inform the Global North, especially the United States, in addressing its contemporary challenges. The chapters are written clearly in an engaging style that end with a chapter summation, discussion questions for reflection, and resources for additional reading. Throughout the book, Arocena and Bowman adopt critical and anti-colonial perspectives and present clear cases that show how Latin Americans and Latin American countries are sources of knowledge and leaders of innovation.

In the introduction and chapter one, Arocena and Bowman debunk common colonial and imperial tropes about Latin American people, regions and customs. The authors examine stereotypes embedded in the English literature, anthropological writing, caricatures and media images. They discuss the origins of stereotypes and myths about Latin Americans that were created by the U.S., and demonstrate how such tropes (especially in the Global North) have affected the perceptions of Latin American countries, customs, people and culture, There are two main stereotypes addressed in the chapter one: 'the enlightened stereotype of the savage' and 'the romantic stereotype of the savage'. The authors argue that these negative representations, and others, are being challenged by Latin Americans currently residing in the U. S. through many mediums, including print and image media, and arts and culture.

In chapter two the authors provide concrete examples of women's participation and representation in electoral reform (national parliaments) in Latin American countries, particularly, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Panama. They trace the "history of women's elected political representation" in these countries and show the shifts in attitudes, politics, culture and larger societal institutions that have occurred with regard to gender equality. They also reveal the sociological factors that have propelled, but also limited, the advancement of women and women's rights in the electoral architecture.

Chapter three addresses common problems that can arise during large scale elections, including, for example, the efficient counting of votes,, establishing voter confidence, the problem of partisan electoral officials, and fraud. The authors provide clear examples from Latin American countries (for example, "the PRI-controlled electoral institutions" in Mexico and the participatory government of Kuna peoples in Panama) of ways to ameliorate common problems experienced in elections processes, including by such democracies as the US and Canada.

In chapter four, Arocena and Bowman analyze militarization and demilitarization in some Latin American countries (Panama, Honduras, and Costa Rica) during the 1948-1990 period, with a focus on how demilitarization can occur, and the inter-militarization trade-offs that exist. They critically examine the role and use of militaries in general, and the differences between internally- and externally-focused militaries.

Chapter five offers an analysis of how the Indigenous populations in Bolivia have mobilized and gained recognition and political power in recent decades. …

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