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 Sixteen
Toward a Culture of Participation and Citizenship: Challenges for a More Equitable World

ELIZABETH JELIN

In the 1970s and 1980s, the emergence of new forms of collective action in Latin America coincided with military dictatorships that closed down the institutional channels for the expression of social demands, denied political parties their right to act freely, repressed labor unions and other popular organizations, and transformed state agencies into entities unresponsive to the demands of the population. For analysts and researchers, the issue then became whether these forms of collective action were a genuinely "new" phenomenon or only a temporary response to the closing of institutionalized channels of participation.

The intellectual enthusiasm generated by the new forms of collective expression in the 1980s is now a thing of the past. Democratization implied giving priority to political parties and making a renewed commitment to institution building, a trend that emphasized the construction of institutions within the political system, guided by the logic of "governability." This effort often clashes with the less institutionalized collective means of expressing old and new social demands, and even with the more participatory pressures in the process of democratization. At the same time, neoliberalism and the expansion of a market-oriented economy tend to weaken the basis of collective action and movements. In fact, adjustment policies and economic restructuring postpone social demands and exclude social justice and equity from the priorities of the political agenda.

In this context, one could expect an eclipse of collective action and a halt in the emergence and symbolic strengthening of the identities of "new" collective actors.

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