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Volume 53 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: CHILE


MANUEL ANTONIO GARRETON, Sociologist, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Santiago, Chile
MALVA ESPINOSA, Sociologist, Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Transnacionales (ILET), Santiago, Chile

AS IN THE REST OF LATIN AMERICA, sociology in Chile has been affected by sociopolitical processes. More than any other field, sociology is intrinsically vulnerable to such processes, its institutional development often thwarted by events which, ironically, are the field's primary subjects of study. Therefore, the political democratization that followed the termination of military rule greatly influenced the course of Chilean sociology, both in its institutional development and focus. Underlying much contemporary sociological work is an all-encompassing question: Is the change in Chile merely a change of regime, or are we witnessing a major change in the nature of Chilean society, a change from which will arise a new relationship between the State and society and thus new social actors, a new set of principles, and new types of social action?

At the level of institutional development, several universities have reintroduced careers in sociology and improved research opportunities. But independent academic centers as well as non-government organizations (NGOs) - institutions employing many sociologists - have been weakened, both as a result of the exodus of sociologists that now serve in government and the decline in public and private international support for such centers. Moreover, since there are no Chilean sociological journals, most articles have been appearing in multidisciplinary serials such as Estudios Públicos, Mapocho, Estudios Sociales, and Proposiciones. The most common publication vehicles have been working papers, articles printed in specialized foreign journals, and books, usually edited anthologies that compile various authors' work.

Since democratization, Chilean sociology has been enriched and revitalized by transcending its disciplinary boundaries in stimulating interaction with other fields, especially with political science in the form of political sociology, but also with anthropology, economics, history, and philosophy. Indeed, the most interesting developments in the discipline are now found in such multidisciplinary incursions, involving a great variety of approaches as well as new combinations of research methods and techniques. This constitutes an advantage for students of Chilean society for which single theoretical-analytical paradigms are no longer applicable, but a less positive development for the autonomous evolution of sociology as a distinct discipline. This threat, however, can be eliminated by opening up more university training centers in the field.

All of the above explains why, in contrast to the preceding decade, there is now less reflection on both the discipline itself (item bi 91025341) and the social sciences as a whole (item bi 93022327), as well as why there is a greater concern with the social use of social-scientific knowledge (items bi 93022117, bi 92013627, and bi 93022357).

Perhaps the principal theme of sociological studies is the democratization process, a concern which drives almost all analyses of more specific phenomena (items bi 93022580, bi 93022329, bi 93022155, bi 93022288, and bi 93022283). Democratization in Chile is examined from the perspective of collective evaluations of the transformations that occurred under the military regime, especially during its last phases (e.g., items bi 93022203 and bi 93022175) and from the perspective of initial evaluations of the Chilean transition and the new democratic regime (items bi 93022276, bi 93022187, and bi 93022321). The process of political democratization has also stimulated the manifold debate underway as to the causes and background of the democratic breakdown in 1973 (item bi 93022585).

The study of the nature and extent of domination in Chilean society goes beyond democratization. It is precisely at a time of relative consensus that sociology and the social sciences are taking a second look at the phenomenon of domination and resistance. There are in fact studies that explore, within a historical context, the exclusion and subjugation as well as the resistance and struggle of certain affected sectors in Chilean society (e.g., items bi 93021958, bi 93021965, bi 91002155, bi 93022275, bi 91001858, bi 91002164, bi 91002152, bi 93022579, and bi 93022330). And there are additional analyses of other sectors and groups that have yet to attain full recognition such as, for example, women (see items bi 91004971, bi 91009121, bi 93022271, and bi 93022280); youth (items bi 91002173 and bi 93022278); the world of the shantytown-dwellers and the urban poor (items bi 91002161 and bi 91002180); the peasantry (items bi 91002195, bi 93022294, and bi 91002163); and organized labor (items bi 93021895, bi 93022122, bi 91002171, and bi 91005295).

In addition to the above noted themes of exclusion, domination, and resistance, there are two other leading topics that command attention in the literature. One concerns the study of first-hand experiences of witness/participants in sociopolitical events (items bi 93022239, bi 91002190, and bi 93022612). The other topic concerns the formulation of policies, implemented by official and private entities, designed to combat poverty and marginalization (items bi 91002168, bi 91009382, bi 92004255, bi 91002159, and bi 93022613).

Despite the extent of the democratization process today, the impact of years of military rule continues to affect both the study and nature of Chilean society. For example, there are many studies of the military's neoliberal model of economic development and the pattern it set for relations between the Chilean State and society as a whole (e.g., items bi 91006419 and bi 91002166). These studies also examine additional issues such as human rights abuses (items bi 91002158, bi 91002176, and bi 91002167); protagonists and participants in sociopolitical events (items bi 91024244, bi 91025311, and bi 90012575); the agrarian sector (items bi 91002153 and bi 91009382); and the nature and scope of the Chilean State at both levels: national (item bi 91005387), and local (items bi 91002183, bi 91006707, and bi 93022574).

In most studies of political change, there is also considerable scrutiny of the role of the State as the dominant power in Chilean society, as a forger of national unity, and as agent of change in the promotion of democratization, development, and modernization. Several works reflect on the history of relations between the State and society in Chile (item bi 93022249). There are also a number of analyses that examine the transformation of the State as required by the emergence of a more decentralized society (items bi 90012338, bi 93022347, and bi 92000905). However, more focused and scholarly studies of specific State reforms are still at an incipient stage of development (item bi 93022617).

In this biennium, we also note a growing interest in the study of Chilean culture in all its manifestations. Examples cover a wide spectrum and range from general discussions of the meaning of cultural transformation (items bi 91002187, bi 93022290, bi 92014154, and bi 93022581), to works about popular culture (item bi 92003738), to examinations of popular religiosity (items bi 91002185 and bi 91002193), to analyses of the Chilean media (items bi 91002156, bi 91008355, bi 91002160, and bi 91002177).

There is also a growing interest in analyses of social behavior, based on quantitative methods. These are exemplified by electoral studies that cover both the 1988 plebiscite and the 1989 presidential election (items bi 93021889 and bi 92020301). Public opinion surveys have become the principal tools to measure and evaluate cultural and political behavior (items bi 93022134, bi 91002148, and bi 93022187), but naturally there are methodological debates as to the validity and limitations of such tools as well as to trends that point towards the emergence of a new political culture in Chile (items bi 93022201, bi 93021890, bi 93022337, and bi 93022321).

To conclude, we can state that despite the dramatic sociopolitical changes of recent years, there are, among the works annotated below, few publications that tackle the new challenges, upheavals, conflicts and projects of the new society that is emerging in Chile today. Unfortunately, one detects a certain tendency towards smugness and short-sightedness among many contemporary interpretations of Chilean society, limited interpretations that, in the long run, may mortgage the nation's future. It is precisely the opposite attitude that is required today, a rigorous and imaginative exploration and unveiling of new scenarios to fulfill society's potential. This should be the task of the social sciences as a whole and the specific goal of sociology itself.


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