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Volume 53 / Social Sciences


RENE SALGADO, Consultant to the Hispanic Division, The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
DAVID DENT, Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies, Towson State University

DEMOCRATIZATION IS CLEARLY THE DOMINANT SUBJECT of political science research on Latin America since HLAS 51. The complexity of regime type and policy outcomes is a major area of investigation now that civilian rule has become the dominant mode of governing in Latin America. The following topics and works illustrate the major trends in the literature that will no doubt continue well into the decade of the 1990s.

Democratic Theory.

Theoretical dimensions of the democratization debate provide the most salient research trends with a number of interesting findings and variations in analytical approach. The right and democracy in Latin America (item bi 92007034) breaks new ground in its treatment of the right's goals, organization, and commitment to democracy in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, and in its understanding of the politics of post-Cold War Latin America. A work valuable for its scope and methodology is Pastor's Democracy in the Americas (item bi 92010367) which attempts to locate the key variables that serve to explain democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a review of recent books on democratization in Latin America, Remmer argues that current research strategies have hampered rather than advanced the understanding of recent democratic developments (item bi 91021866).

Political Economy: Democratic vs. Authoritarian Outcomes.

Those studying policy outcomes will be interested in Sloan's "The Policy Capabilities of Democratic Regimes in Latin America" (item bi 89006104) and Remmer's "Democracy and Economic Crisis" (item bi 91006189), empirically-based studies which conclude that democratic regimes have distinct policy advantages over dictatorial regimes. Remmer, for example, maintains that Latin American democracies are more capable than dictatorships in effectively managing economic and political reform. Stephens (item bi 90013354) also argues the importance of structural variables in explaining democratic patterns in Latin America. Mainwaring focuses on presidentialism, arguing that this structural arrangement often inhibits democratic stability when the party system is not unified (item bi 90013814). In a systematic review of recent books on democratization, Stephens finds that scholars are not of one mind on the reasons for the return of democracy in the region (item bi 91000188). A Latin American perspective on the subject is provided by Huneeus (item bi 91021695), who argues that civilian regimes need to deal successfully with concrete social problems if they are ever to build an efficient and legitimate political system. Ascher contends that efficiency and equity are not contradictory goals of neo-classical economic policies and instruments (item bi 91015278). Guimar˜aes argues that the notion of a severely reduced public sector is less important than improving the State's technical and political capabilities (item bi 91006507). Despite the eclectic pattern of research in this area, a number of high quality studies of the subject are beginning to emerge.


The literature on Latin America's democratic resurgence continues to follow both optimistic and pessimistic currents. Falcoff (item bi 91007319), Narayanan and Karumanchi (item bi 92006721), and The democratic revolution (item bi 89016521) are optimistic in their assessments, while Weffort (item bi 91021645) and Zagorski (item bi 92010383) are less sanguine about the future of democracy and civilian rule. Karl is interested in the structural factors that make democratic regimes endure, examining how distinctive transition patterns affect subsequent political arrangements (item bi 91021853).

Studies that criticize the way democracy is measured are important because they force analysts to confront the complexities of democratic theory and the periodization of civil-military relations in Latin America. Martz provides a well-conceptualized, comparative analysis of electoral campaigning (item bi 91004794). Boström cautions that the 1950s and the 1980s can be considered periods of democratic blossoming only if the mere existence of electoral competition is used as the criterion (item bi 90000954).

Military and Democracy.

Studies devoted exclusively to the military as a key player in Latin American politics no longer dominate the literature, but useful works continue to appear. In a revised and expanded edition, Loveman and Davies argue that military antipolitics is still flourishing in Latin America despite the political efforts to sustain democratic rule (item bi 92010411). Stepan takes on the subject of "military prerogatives" in an interesting comparative analysis in which he concludes that Spain and Uruguay have made the most headway in consolidating civilian regimes (item bi 91009017). Moneta feels that inter-military cooperation in the production of arms may help to strengthen democracy and reduce intra-regional conflict (item bi 91023349).

Religion and Politics.

Research on religion and politics is not as popular as it once was, but the growth of the progressive Church and interesting developments at the grassroots level provide continuing themes of scholarly interest. Levine and Mainwaring (item bi 90011384) provide an interesting discussion of activities of religious grassroots organizations in Colombia and Brazil while Mainwaring and Wilde (item bi 92010372) examine the "progressive Church" in Central America where they find considerable variation in the politics of change and Church-State relations. Stewart-Gambino's review of several new books on the subject of religion praises the new approaches for their theoretical sophistication and empirical rigor (item bi 90002730).

Research on Research Trends.

Research on research trends and publications is an area that rarely receives the attention it deserves. However, in two recent studies John Martz shares some of his thoughts on the value of doing field research in Latin America (item bi 90014429) and the patterns and asymmetries that exist between the study of Latin America and the field of political science (item bi 90013808). Barrios offers a rare glimpse into the evolution of political science as an academic discipline in Venezuela, with an excellent bibliography devoted to the major works by Venezuelan political scientists (item bi 91025362). David W. Dent's edited reference book Handbook of political science research on Latin America is an excellent synthesis of the major trends in political science research on Latin America from the 1960s to the 1990s (item bi 93010900). It is obvious that political scientists need to focus more on "research on research" in order to understand better the government and politics of Latin America.

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