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Volume 57 / Social Sciences


DAVID W. DENT, Professor of Political Science, Towson University
PAUL C. SONDROL, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

SCHOLARLY LITERATURE ON THE GOVERNMENT and politics of Latin America continues to flourish, offering interesting research questions and cross-national comparisons touching on a variety of themes from the recent past. While there continues to be little agreement on specific variables, theories or characteristics that are most essential for understanding the political landscape, a vibrant eclecticism in the research agenda continues to offer interesting observations on politics and social change in Latin America. The following themes and recent works illuminate the major research trends in the literature since HLAS 55.

Democratization and Transitology. The process of institutionalizing democracy continues as the crux of current scholarship, but remains a difficult topic of study given the enormous range of structures and practices across the region. Taking the long view, Huber and Stephens' "Agrarian structure and political power in comparative perspective" stresses the importance of historical contingencies and multiple paths to development, and illustrates how landlords, peasants, and class-State constellations interact and inform different, but largely authoritarian, political trajectories in Latin America (item bi 96007687). More optimistically, Remmer's "The process of democratization in Latin America" summarizes much of the democratization literature over the past decade and argues that the current polyarchic cycle is a distinct phase in which broad electoral participation and respect for opposition rights have become durable features of politics (item bi 94010577). Press freedom may be seen as a common and indispensable element of democracy, but Salwen's Latin American journalism breaks new ground in examining government-press relations and describing impediments to democracy within the context of mass communications (item bi 96017108).

Institutional Design. Monographs on State reformation and political structures or institutions continue apace as Latin American governments attempt to blend and reconcile workable elements of both tradition and modernity. Mauceri's excellent case study "State reform, coalitions and the neoliberal Autogolpe in Peru" argues the Fujimorazo of 1992 was an elite attempt to refashion the Peruvian State and its relations with society via economic reform and repression (item bi 95010690). Loveman’s “‘Protected democracies’ and military guardianship” notes how consolidating democracies vest residual authority (constitutional or supraconstitutional) in military "political guardians" (item bi 95005907). The old "presidential versus parliamentary" debate regarding system-type as efficacious for democracy receives renewed attention in Thibaut's "Presidencialismo, parlamentarismo y el problema de la consolidación democrática en América Latina" (item bi 94008952). Often overlooked in the analysis of consolidating democracies is political decentralization at the community or municipal level. Palma Carvajal's "Decentralization and democracy" examines this nexus and urges political subdivisions to take on new functions and responsibilities in these difficult transitions (item bi 96005614). Finally, Mainwaring and Scully's Building democratic institutions focuses on the degree to which political party systems in Latin America are institutionalized, and examines consequences for sustained democracy derived from differing party systems (item bi 95007681). Using a comparative perspective, Lijphart and Waisman find many similarities in the institutional design of democratization in Eastern Europe and Latin America (item bi 96013487). Tulchin’s edited volume, The consolidation of democracy in Latin America, includes a chapter arguing that multilateral diplomacy and international organizations have helped to consolidate democracy by pressuring the remaining authoritarian and recidivist democracies in Latin America (item bi 95014623).

Social Movements. The interaction of social movements and elite reformers in shaping newer democracies permeates scholarly discourse on Latin America. Numerous works demonstrate that rumors of the death of the Latin American left with the collapse of communism are greatly exaggerated. Among many, Rénique's "The Latin American left: epitaph or new beginning?" suggests that the left, while marginalized, remains alive, dynamic and adaptive (item bi 95013630). More pessimistic is Haber's "Recent trends in the study of Latin American social movements," revealing limited successes of movement-sponsored reforms in shaping the policy process throughout most of Latin America (item bi 96008216). The relationship between social movements and nongovernmental organizations is presented in Reilly’s New paths to development in Latin America where comparative analysis reveals that democracy depends on binding the organizations of civil society through grassroots collective action (item bi 95025392).

Women and Politics. Interest in the role of women and politics in Latin America continues to increase for social scientists. Jaquette's The women's movement in Latin America analyzes women's roles in diverse transitions to democracy in which they played a part, and the distances that remain for women's equality (item bi 95015237). In Marks’ edited volume Women and grass roots democracy in the Americas, the contributors focus on how women leaders can take a more effective role in the political and civic life of their respective countries (item bi 95025318). Gender relations are also included among the numerous themes dealing with the rapidly growing Pentecostal movement examined in Cleary and Steward-Gambino’s Power, politics, and Pentecostals in Latin America (item bi 96021279).

Religion and Politics. Though never entirely ignored in the past, Christianity - as a source of inspiration and legitimation of ideas, ideologies, social movements, and regimes - now commands substantial scholarly attention. Sigmund's "Christian democracy, Liberation Theology, and political culture in Latin America" argues that mainstream Catholicism in Latin America contributes to the democratic consensus in Latin American civil society today (item bi 94009992). Berryman's "Is Latin America turning pluralist?: recent writings on religion" emphasizes Protestant expansion, Catholic self-assessments, and the status of Liberation Theology (item bi 95025478). On the darker side, Gutierrez's "Iglesia Catolica, estado y democracia" highlights the distinctive institutional conduct, attitudes and complicity in State terrorism of the Argentine Church during the military regime of 1976-83 (item bi 94012207).

Privatizing Politics. New efforts at institutional design and shrinkage of the State apparatus have placed greater emphasis on privatizing politics through the use of nongovernmental organizations. In Building the third sector: Latin America’s private research centers and nonprofit development, Levy examines the growing importance of private research centers in the process of development of nongovernmental policy-making (item bi 96013109). This theme will receive greater attention as new economic formulas foster development options that place greater demands on private, rather than public, solutions.

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