Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America

Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America

Leonardo Avritzer
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 205
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    Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America
    Book Description:

    This is a bold new study of the recent emergence of democracy in Latin America. Leonardo Avritzer shows that traditional theories of democratization fall short in explaining this phenomenon. Scholars have long held that the postwar stability of Western Europe reveals that restricted democracy, or "democratic elitism," is the only realistic way to guard against forces such as the mass mobilizations that toppled European democracies after World War I. Avritzer challenges this view. Drawing on the ideas of Jürgen Habermas, he argues that democracy can be far more inclusive and can rely on a sphere of autonomous association and argument by citizens. He makes this argument by showing that democratic collective action has opened up a new "public space" for popular participation in Latin American politics.

    Unlike many theorists, Avritzer builds his case empirically. He looks at human rights movements in Argentina and Brazil, neighborhood associations in Brazil and Mexico, and election-monitoring initiatives in Mexico. Contending that such participation has not gone far enough, he proposes a way to involve citizens even more directly in policy decisions. For example, he points to experiments in "participatory budgeting" in two Brazilian cities. Ultimately, the concept of such a space beyond the reach of state administration fosters a broader view of democratic possibility, of the cultural transformation that spurred it, and of the tensions that persist, in a region where democracy is both new and different from the Old World models.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2501-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
    (pp. v-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    This is a book about democracy in Latin America and democratic theory. It tells a story about democratization in three Latin American countries—Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico—during the recent, “third wave” of democratization.¹ This story emphasizes the role of popular participation through human rights organizations, groups devoted to a more just distribution of local resources and groups in charge of electoral monitoring, during the process of democratization.

    My analysis of Latin American democratization challenges an assumption that lies at the heart of conventional theories of democratization: that all processes of democratization must cope with anti-institutional mass mobilizations of a...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Democratic Theory and Democratization
    (pp. 11-35)

    The recent process of democratization in Latin America is part of what has been called the third wave of democratization (Huntington, 1991), a concept which involves the idea that democracy, throughout the twentieth century, spread itself across the world in three waves, each one possessing essentially the same features. Democratization in Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War I, democratization in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the aftermath of World War II, and democratization in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s were, thus, part of the same process. Such a theoretical framework would have...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Democratic Theory and the Formation of a Public Sphere
    (pp. 36-54)

    Transition theory’s inability to explain processes of democratization due to the inadequate assumptions it derives from the democratic elitist tradition points to the need to look to other traditions within social theory. Three alternative traditions recommend themselves by their long-standing disagreement with democratic elitism over the ability of the elites to solve the problem of democracy: republicanism, pluralism, and critical social theory. All three also offer alternatives to transition theory’s approach to democratization insofar as they agree on the existence of a space for public debate which precedes democratic institutional arrangements.

    Republican political theory is based on two main tenets:...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Democracy and the Latin American Tradition
    (pp. 55-76)

    The analysis of democratization as the construction of a democratic public sphere implies the availability of the social practices needed to construct such a space. This might be considered both a political and theoretical issue. At the political level, it involves posing the problem of the relation between politics and different practices, pointing to the desirability of a renewal of traditional practices. At the theoretical level, a different yet connected issue arises: how should we conceive of the extension of democratic practices identified with a Western tradition in a region that has had its own version of this tradition (Diamond,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Transformation of the Latin American Public Space
    (pp. 77-102)

    We have seen that the process of nation building in Latin America involved the importation and emulation of Western political institutions. The encounter between these institutions and local cultural traditions led to a process of hybridization through which institutions proper to the Western democratic tradition did not produce the effect they produced in their original cultural setting. I traced this duality to three interconnected facts: the transfer of institutions that privileged their administrative side at the expense of their cultural side; the political behavior of elites, who were willing to pursue non-democratic strategies within democratic political settings; and an idea...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Democratization in Latin America The Conflict between Public Practices and the Logic of Political Society
    (pp. 103-134)

    The formation of a democratic public sphere in Latin America during the transition from authoritarianism to democracy posed a problem for the new democracies: how to connect the newly emerged public sphere with the recently reempowered political society. This represented a problem both for those who argued that the organization of social actors during the authoritarian period was facilitated by the outlawing of political society (O’Donnell and Schmitter, 1986; Oxhorn, 1995) as well as those who saw the emergence of a democratic public space as the result of a long-term change in social actors’ self-understanding (Weffort, 1989; Avritzer, 1994, 1995;...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Participatory Publics in Brazil and Mexico The Compatibility of Public Deliberation and Complex Administration
    (pp. 135-164)

    Our analysis of the relationship between the public and political dimensions of the new Latin American democracies has revealed two dilemmas arising from the failure to transfer new political practices, which emerged in the public culture, to the political level. I showed the empirical nature of this dilemma in chapter 5 in order to point out that the current attempt to construct and consolidate democracy based on competition among elites for administrative positions is bound to fail. The reasons why this attempt is problematic were explored in chapter 3; they include ambiguities in elite political practices regarding the rules of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Concluding Remarks on the Democratizing Role of Participatory Publics
    (pp. 165-170)

    This book is based on a critique of the democratic elitist tradition and the analysis of democratization it has inspired. I defined the democratic elitist tradition based on its three main concerns: the reduction of the scope of politics to the activities of government; its defense of the concentration of politics in the hands of active minorities; and its fear of the pressure caused by mass mobilization and collective action on the operation of political institutions. I took issue with this tradition by showing that its attempt to transform the problems that led to the democratic breakdown in Europe during...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 171-184)
    (pp. 185-198)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 199-202)