Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-Visioning Latin American Social Movements

By Sonia E. Alvarez; Evelina Dagnino et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter One
Introduction: The Cultural and the Political in Latin American Social Movements

SONIA E. ALVAREZ, EVELINA DAGNINO, AND ARTURO ESCOBAR

As we approach the millennium's end, what future is in store for Latin American societies? Unprecedented levels of violence, poverty, discrimination, and exclusion would seem to indicate that the "performance" and indeed the very design of Latin America's "new" democracies are far from satisfactory. And it is precisely over possible alternative blueprints for democracy that much of the political struggle is being waged in Latin America today. Social movements, we will claim, play a critical role in that struggle. Fundamentally in dispute are the parameters of democracy -- to be sure, the very boundaries of what is to be properly defined as the political arena: its participants, its institutions, its processes, its agenda, and its scope.

Programs of economic and social adjustment, inspired by neoliberalism, have entered this dispute as formidable and pervasive contenders. In response to the allegedly "inevitable" logic imposed by the processes of economic globalization, neoliberal policies have introduced a new kind of relationship between the state and civil society and advanced a distinctive definition of the political domain and its participants -- based on a minimalist conception of both the state and democracy.

As civil society is charged with taking on the social responsibilities now eschewed by neoliberalism's shrinking state, its capacity as a crucial political domain for the exercise of democratic citizenship is increasingly being downplayed. Citizens, in this view, should pull themselves up by their own private bootstraps, and citizenship is increasingly equated with individual integration into the market.

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