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CONTINUING TRENDS OF RECENT YEARS, the social science literature in Argentina has shifted its scope and focus. As mentioned in the previous edition of this Handbook, this has been in part a consequence of the fact that financial constraints have restricted both academic research and the opportunities to publish works intended for scholarly consumption. Simultaneously, there have been two significant developments shaping the organization of social science research. First, the consolidation of democratic rule together with deepening economic reforms have changed the immediate agenda of social scientists, promoting a growing concern with assessing the social impact of recent economic and institutional transformations. Second, a broader shift within the social sciences has promoted greater attention to processes of social differentiation other than class stratification (such as gender or ethnic differentiation).
The principal area of sociological research and publication has been the social impact of structural adjustment policies. Several studies have sought to assess overall changes in the distribution of income, to provide a more detailed understanding of trends in the evolution of poverty, and to identify which social groups have been more vulnerable to poverty and/or unemployment in recent years (items bi 96012139 and bi 95023214). A related area of inquiry has been the impact of the budget cutbacks and new priorities that have come to shape state social spending. Here, the main effort of both quantitative and qualitative studies has been to identify which sectors of the population have been affected by recent changes in social spending, which individual and collective strategies are deployed by these vulnerable sectors, and what types of social programs are most likely to effectively reach their intended beneficiaries.
This general interest on the social impact of structural adjustment is related to two additional sets of literature. First, several studies have sought to provide a more detailed understanding of social policy options by focusing on the recent organizational transformations undergone by State agencies, enterprises, and professionals within more specific areas of social spending. A particularly good example of such research is the study of the public health sector conducted by Jorge M. Katz (item bi 96012070). Also within this general interest on the social impact of structural adjustment, many qualitative studies have focused on more specific groups within the population. For example, several authors have focused on the survival strategies deployed by young men and women to deal with limited job opportunities, and others have sought to identify the types of characteristics that may make specific groups within the elderly population more vulnerable to poverty.
Another significant area of sociological publication is gender relations, although many of these publications are destined for general consumption and/or political advocacy, and academic studies are considerably fewer in number. However, there have been several noteworthy publications in this area, seeking to evaluate changes in the status of women by focusing on issues such as patterns of female labor force participation and the characteristics of labor market segregation and discrimination.
In economic sociology, there is an important literature focusing on patterns of competition and innovation in key areas of production. One of the concerns within this literature is to identify the organizational characteristics that have been most likely to lead to innovation and/or the establishment of successful market niches. In particular, several of these studies have focused on agricultural enterprises (often, fresh fruit producers) in the western and southern areas of the country, and have sought to evaluate, for example, whether innovation has been most likely among small or large enterprises. This literature on economic sociology is guided partly by a concern with assessing the impact of regional trade agreements and/or new patterns of competition on established local producers (particularly small enterprises or family farmers) and the labor force in general, as well as with identifying the type of technologies that might maximize production and employment opportunities for these groups.
In political sociology, several studies continue to focus on the institutional transformations accompanying the consolidation of democracy. Some of these studies analyze social patterns in voting behavior. Others seek to evaluate and debate whether the consolidation of formal democratic procedures (such as elections) has been accompanied by an advance or retreat in broader dimensions of democracy that are of substantive importance to its very existence. Of course, depending on the author, such alternative dimensions are defined as being of greater or lesser importance than the formal democratic procedures involved in elections, and might include such issues as prevailing levels of transparency/corruption in public administration, or the expansion/limitation of citizenship rights. Here too, an evident concern is to assess the degree to which the changes associated with structural adjustment and economic restructuring are compatible with the consolidation of democratic values and institutions.
Beyond these issues, more traditional areas of inquiry continue to attract academic interest. There have been several good publications on changing demographic patterns, focusing for example on gender differences in the recent evolution of mortality rates, or on patterns of sexual behavior and fertility among the youth (item bi 96012136). Several studies in urban sociology have sought to identify the organizational and political causes of the deterioration of basic services and the environment in Buenos Aires. There is also a continuing interest on migration, both from the perspective of current trends and historical patterns. Finally, as indicated in the entries below, there is also continuing interest on the long-term consequences of the terror and violence experienced under military rule.
Some of the areas attracting social science research would benefit from more detailed, microsociological studies of the issues in question (as carried out in other areas of research, such as the studies of poverty and unemployment among the youth). For example, more detailed reconstructions of the strategic choices that allowed some enterprises to gain significant competitive advantages relative to other producers might produce important insights for the study of the relationship between organizational patterns and innovation among agricultural producers. In other areas, such as the study of gender differentiation, it might be useful to develop a broader, comparative approach to the study of labor market segmentation and discrimination. Situating patterns of gender differentiation in Argentina within the broader context of similar patterns in other areas (such as the Southern Cone as a whole, or countries characterized by similar levels of urbanization) might help to identify the most salient trends and characteristics of the particular country in question.
Finally, sociological studies in Argentina might fruitfully explore the topic of social inequalities. In particular, greater research is needed on the relationship of social inequality to economic growth (for example, as mediated by patterns of educational achievement), the relationship of different forms of social differentiation (such as gender or ethnicity) to overall patterns of inequality, and the historical evolution of social inequality under the different political arrangements of the 20th century.
Several trends reported in the last review of sociology in Chile continue in the 1990s. The professionalization of the discipline, the enduring impact of years of dictatorship on the university system, and the decline of independent research institutions, have continued to narrow the scope of issues considered within the field. On the other hand, accompanying high rates of economic growth over the late 1980s and early 1990s, there have been fewer contributions focusing on the overall social impact of structural adjustment. Instead, most works have turned their attention toward examining changing social conditions among more specific sectors of the population.
A major area of concern has been in assessing the rise and decline of organizational efforts among what came to be known as “new social movements” (centered, for example, around women, the youth, and poor urban dwellers). These studies have focused on the internal development of these organizations, on the networks established between these organizations and their constituencies, and on the relationship between these organizations and more traditional political forces (such as existing political parties and State agencies). Additionally, several of these studies have sought to evaluate the effectiveness of State agencies in providing services for different constituencies.
A second major area of concern has been in identifying the changing relationship between social forces (such as entrepreneurs, trade unions, or the peasantry) and existing political arrangements. Most of these studies note that the last decade has brought a profound transformation in this relationship, and seek to assess the impact of these changes for the immediate and long-term future of democracy. For the most part, these studies adopt an optimistic perspective on these changes, emphasizing that corporatism has ceased to be a central mechanism for exercising political influence, that consensus on the basic rules of the game has been reached among key political players, and that these trends bode well for the future of democracy. Less systematic attention has been paid to enduring authoritarian traits (such as the persistent political influence of the military through informal and formal mechanisms).
But perhaps the most striking feature of publications in recent years has been the strong focus on women. There are several issues explored within this literature. Many studies have sought to highlight the importance of domestic violence and sexual harassment in shaping everyday life (primarily in contemporary times, but also from a historical perspective). Others focus on the hidden experience of specific groups of women (such as workers in different areas of production, single-mothers). This strong emphasis on women’s issues is part of a regional trends toward such concerns, but is particularly strong in the case of Chile.
Finally, there are several good-quality studies focusing on more traditional areas of concern within sociology (such as trends in the relative intensity of different social problems). Particularly noteworthy are studies on the social dynamics of criminal activity in Santiago (item bi 95023228), and on the problems confronting the organization of public health services (items bi 95023222 and bi 95023196).
The literature on Uruguay shows that there is an intense concern with evaluating the social impact of recent economic reforms. As in the case of Argentina, many of these studies particularly seek to identify sectors of the population that might be particularly vulnerable to poverty and/or exclusion, to explain the causes of this vulnerability, and to identify individual, collective, and public strategies that might effectively reduce this vulnerability. There are a large number of publications (both detailed research studies and overviews prepared for general advocacy and consumption) dealing with the impact of poverty and unemployment on children and the youth.
There is also a continuing concern with more established areas of inquiry. Many publications continue to analyze the characteristics of democratic institutions in the 1990s, with several studies focusing particularly on the relationship between democracy and processes shaping the country+s identity and national formation. There are also a considerable number of publications dealing with the changing status of women and processes of gender differentiation, with several studies showing a considerable increase in female labor force participation and educational achievement after the late 1970s (item bi 96016490).