Beyond Civil Society: Activism, Participation, and Protest in Latin America

Beyond Civil Society: Activism, Participation, and Protest in Latin America

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822363255
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 06/05/2017
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Sonia E. Alvarez is Leonard J. Horwitz Professor of Latin American Politics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Jeffrey W. Rubin is Associate Professor of History at Boston University.

Millie Thayer is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Gianpaolo Baiocchi is Associate Professor of Individualized Studies and Sociology at New York University.

Agustín Laó-Montes is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Arturo Escobar is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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Beyond Civil Society

Activism, Participation, and Protest in Latin America

By Sonia E. Alvarez, Jeffrey W. Rubin, Millie Thayer, Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Agustín Laó-Montes

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-6325-5



Participatory Budgeting and the Long History of Participation in Brazil


A New Critical Juncture?

Latin America has become ground zero for citizen participation, a global destination for those interested in myriad new forms of citizen engagement. Quite apart from the so-called Pink Tide, whose governments all express commitments to participatory democracy, participation has featured centrally in governmental discourse throughout the region in national and local governments Right, Left, and Center. From Antanas Mockus's citizen consultations in Bogotá, to Bolivarian consejos comunales, to foro ciudadanos in Mexico, the "citizen" has come to occupy a central place in governmental planning. This has been especially true in the first decade of the 2000s. As ideas of New Public Management and minimal states have given way to Public Governance in the United States and Europe, in Latin America participatory democracy has decidedly moved from its social movement and leftist party roots to mainstream thinking, planning, and institutions. If radical urban planners under Salvador Allende served as inspiration to insurgent leftist political forces in Brazil, making forays into governance in the early 1980s, in the early 2000s an administrator in that region seeking to "involve citizens" would have a wide menu of choices of models and materials to choose from, including those by the prestigious national management programs as well as courses promoted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) or expert consultancies in the region.

As discussed in the introduction, part of the motivation for this volume has been to make sense of this turn of events, and many of the contributions here deal with the nuances of what this participation means, what it makes possible, and what it obscures. The contributions here all carefully chart a path between two poles. There is on one hand, a largely celebratory literature on citizen participation that takes for granted that participation, in itself, is democratizing, normatively desirable, and brings with it other components of "good governance" such as transparency and accountability. Cleaver argues that unconditional belief in participation is based on three postulates: "participation is intrinsically a 'good thing' (especially for the participants); a focus on 'getting the techniques right' is the principal way of ensuring the success of such approaches, and considerations of power and politics on the whole should be avoided as divisive and obstructive" (Cleaver 2001, 598). Critical scholars have taken this view to task for failing to address questions of power, inequality, and politics. But among critical scholars there is also by now a sentiment that participation, and participatory prescriptions in particular, are part and parcel of neoliberal governmentality. Because participation in government is seen as an alternative to conflictive mobilization and disruption, it is argued, it becomes part of a set of strategies that depoliticize conflicts and thus pave the way for ever-more-aggressive neoliberal reforms of the state. Pablo Leal, for example, in a piece that calls participation a "buzzword in the neo-liberal era," writes that "it is clearly more than coincidence that participation appeared as a new battle horse for official development precisely at the time of the shock treatment of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) inflicted on the underdeveloped world by the World Bank and the IMF" (Leal 2007, 543).

This turn of events (the adoption of participation by mainstream governance) and its appearance in the critical discourse (the direct association of participation with neoliberalism) are certainly puzzling when looked at in the context of the "long 1980s." Leaving aside the intention of some of the original participatory reformers in the 1980s who thought that participation in government was part of an incremental strategy of socialist takeover of the bourgeois state, the dominant position among critical scholars in the 1990s was that participatory experiments in Latin America were part of a process of colonization of the state by civil society actors who were intent on achieving social justice and empowerment, and for whom transparency and accountability were important side benefits but by no means the central goal.

This chapter is an attempt to critically engage this juncture of events, a task that necessarily calls for a critical and careful genealogy of participation and participatory prescriptions. The essay is about Brazil, and the particular participatory prescription it focuses on is participatory budgeting, one of the prescriptions that has taken on the widest appeal and probably generated more conferences, consultancies, and dedicated institutions than any other single one. But similar investigations could no doubt be undertaken on the trajectories of the solidarity economy, citizen juries, users' councils, microcredit schemes, gender budgeting, urban cooperatives, and fair trade, among many other traveling best practices that have achieved prominence since the late 1990s.

This essay "connects the dots" between the early invocations of citizen participation to the first moments of participatory budgeting and its later incarnations, paying specific attention to the institutional forms, ideas, and organized actors that have propelled — and transformed — the idea (Ong and Collier 2004). I am especially attentive to how participation emerges as what anthropologist David Scott (2004) has called a "problem-space." That is, "an ensemble of questions and answers around which a horizon of identifiable stakes (conceptual as well as political-ideological stakes) hangs" (2004, 5). Identifying a problem space means distinguishing the contours of debate and intervention, determining legitimate questions, and exploring the broader "context of rival views."

A Century of Councils

As the introduction of the volume intimates, the participation boom in Latin America of the late 1990s and early 2000s did not appear out of nowhere. Governments have involved citizens throughout the twentieth century, and there are at least two strands of participation in competing ideas of councils. One emphasizes incorporation and legitimacy, while the other emphasizes empowerment and transformation. The first is represented by workers' councils under populist regimes, which existed throughout the region. Councils were a place for invited participants to voice concerns directly to populist leaders; selected demands were incorporated into the body politic, legitimating both the regime and the particular demand. Davis, for example, describes the Consejo Consultivo de La Ciudad de México, which was established in the late 1920s as part of the corporative strategies of the ruling party in Mexico: "It was to be a body of politically appointed representatives with the official purpose of 'aiding' Mexico City's mayor in governing the capital. It had no legislative power, and its representatives were handpicked by the Calles-dominated PNR leadership. ... representatives were selected who could vocalize the urban demands and redevelopment concerns of well-established constituencies in the capital ... and from groups whose relatively high degree of mobilization or organization meant they could cause political problems if not incorporated" (67–68).

The other sort of council — emphasizing autonomy, empowerment, and transformation — is represented by the revolutionary councils in Cuba in the early days of the revolution, or in liberated zones under control of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, FMLN) in the early days of the uprising, or in the idea of "popular councils" that appeared in Brazil in the 1970s under the influence of liberation theology and new leftist thinking. These neighborhood popular councils were created to "articulate the popular movement's demands" in permanent, autonomous fora. Here, the importance of participation in the council was to neither legitimate a regime nor incorporate participants or demands into it. It was a principally a movement-building space: a place of discussion that rendered different demands equivalent (so that different neighborhoods could act in concert, for example) and as a way to empower participants to act in the direction of transforming society.

The populist version and the revolutionary, or radical-democratic, versions of councils varied in their emphases on empowerment, self-regulation, and legitimation, but either version contained elements of all three. So even the workers' councils under Juan Perón contained an element of empowerment for workers. And the various revolutionary councils always had a strong element of self-regulation; the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDRs) in Cuba, which existed in every block, were both the most local instance for citizen participation but were also instruments of self-regulation, serving to police crime, preserve neighborhood cleanliness, and root out counterrevolutionary activity. The distinguishing feature between the two types of councils is how they recognize and articulate demands, an insight indebted to Laclau's analyses (2005). In the populist version, the state demands political allegiance in exchange for the recognition of societal demands. The form of the interface between state and society may vary, but the selective recognition of certain actors according to political allegiance is the key feature. And the relationship between actors and the state is individual and direct. There is no equivalence possible between recognized actors and others. In contrast, revolutionary or radical democratic councils always emphasize the horizontal and equivalent relationship between various demands, which are then placed before the state. As I describe below, the appearance of a new participatory imaginary in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s reflects the replacement, in the imagination of activists, of the populist version by the revolutionary one.

The "New" Social Movements and the New Participatory Imaginary

The contemporary idea of participatory governance in Brazil begins with the variety of new urban social movements in the 1970s that brought new visions of urban democracy and participation to Brazilian politics. Central to this history is liberation theology. Often in the form of outside advisors, progressive clergy played an important role in providing assistance to neighborhood associations, from mimeographing flyers to running "discussion circles." As elsewhere in Brazil, these were often middle-class activists who moved into poor and working-class neighborhoods with the intent of supporting and politicizing local struggles. The well-known Ecclesiastic Base Communities (CEBS) were embryonic spaces for discussion and debate, dedicated to fomenting social change anchored in a vision of individual and collective consciousness-raising.

Neighborhood associations, of course, had existed in urban centers in Brazil for decades, some starting operations as early as in the 1930s, and many since the 1950s. These were often residents' associations, "Friends of the Neighborhood" or "Amigos do Bairro"-type organizations that had been started in close concert with, if not directly created by, politicians tied to local governments. In the city of Porto Alegre, for example, the first registered neighborhood associations were founded in 1945 at the urging of government officials. In exchange for political allegiance, municipal government offered urban improvements and social events, at one point sponsoring a municipal Olympics and a municipal congress for neighborhood associations, where a "diploma" in neighborhood leadership was handed out. In the mid-1950s, the local government created municipal councils, where representatives of neighborhood associations would be permitted to participate in decisions on the provision of social services. During the early years of the dictatorship (1964–85), the government first limited the activities of associations to purely social service functions, before relaxing restrictions and sometimes encouraging their formation. These tended to function very much like the populist councils — they served to legitimate the regime or local politicians and selectively recognized certain claimants, and emphasized a direct, vertical connection with authorities. The new participatory imaginary emerged in direct contrast to this vision, often through the work of activists who worked to transform existing associations.

A notable first experience, which would precede hundreds of others in Brazil in the next decade, was the Movement of Neighborhood Associations (Movimento de Associações de Bairro, MAB), in the Baixada Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro. The Baixada was then known in the Brazilian media as "the most violent place on Earth." The number and visibility of homicides in this region adjacent to Rio de Janeiro was then at a high point, with some months registering fifty homicides a month in this region of 2 million (J. Alves 1998). Death squads operated with immunity in the region, claiming as many as a hundred lives a year.

The movement was started in 1976 with the help of progressives within the local parish as an experiment in establishing a permanent forum for discussion of urban needs, bringing together representatives of several neighborhood associations in the district. Although many new associations had appeared in those years in Rio, many of them functioned in vertical relationships with authorities, with a marked "preference for direct contact" (Boschi 1987, 48), mediated through a neighborhood association president. The movement was organized in direct contradiction to those practices. At MAB meetings, members sought ways to organize these various associations into a common bloc that could make demands on city and state government (Jacobi 1987). After a diagnostic process, representatives from thirty-four neighborhoods gave the mayor a list of problems and demands in their areas, followed by a mobilization demanding public audiences and a process of accounting. In the years following, neighboring communities developed similar coalitions, leading to the formation of a statewide association of associations to make demands on state government. In 1979, the MAB was active in defending residents against evictions, and in 1981 it organized a march to city hall to give the mayor an open letter about the poor quality of public services. The movement continued to act throughout the 1980s and 1990s, creating a series of Community Health Councils, a "space of social control and popular demand-making," which in 1986 partnered with the National Ministry of Health to promote "SOS Baixada" to combat dengue and other transmissible diseases.


Excerpted from Beyond Civil Society by Sonia E. Alvarez, Jeffrey W. Rubin, Millie Thayer, Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Agustín Laó-Montes. Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments,
Part I. Interrogating the Civil Society Agenda: Reflections on Brazil,
1. A CENTURY OF COUNCILS Participatory Budgeting and the Long History of Participation in Brazil GIANPAOLO BAIOCCHI,
2. CIVIL SOCIETY IN BRAZIL From State Autonomy to Political Interdependency LEONARDO AVRITZER,
4. UNCIVIL SUBJECTS, UNCIVIL WOMEN Civic Participation, Ambivalence, and Political Subjectivity among Grassroots Community Leaders in Porto Alegre, Brazil BENJAMIN JUNGE,
Part II. Mapping Movement Fields,
7. POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS Resistance to Neoliberal Biopolitics GRACIELA MONTEAGUDO,
8. THE "GRAY ZONE" BETWEEN MOVEMENTS AND MARKETS Brazilian Feminists and the International Aid Chain MILLIE THAYER,
Part III. The Nexus of Civic and Uncivic Politics,
9. "THIS IS NO LONGER A DEMOCRACY ..." Thoughts on the Local Referendums on Mining on Peru's Northern Frontier RAPHAEL HOETMER,
10. FROM AFRO-COLOMBIANS TO AFRO-DESCENDANTS The Trajectory of Black Social Movements in Colombia, 1990–2010 KIRAN ASHER,
11. IN THE STREETS AND IN THE INSTITUTIONS Movements-in-Democracy and the Rural Women's Movement in Rio Grande Do Sul JEFFREY W. RUBIN,
12. REFOUNDING THE POLITICAL The Struggle for Provincialization in Santa Elena, Ecuador AMALIA PALLARES,
Part IV. Movements, Regimes, and Refoundations,
15. MONUMENTS OF (DE) COLONIZATION Violence, Democracy, and Gray Zones in Bolivia after January 11, 2007 JOSÉ ANTONIO LUCERO,
16. BEYOND THE CIVIL SOCIETY AGENDA? Participation and Practices of Governance, Governability, and Governmentality in Latin America SONIA E. ALVAREZ,

What People are Saying About This

This Land Is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings of Land in Brazil - Wendy Wolford

"A much-needed intellectual contribution to the discussion around civil society, the state, and social mobilization in Latin America, this collection illuminates the stakes in thinking about state-society relations at a time when citizenship is guaranteed to all but only accessible by some. This will become a classic."

We Are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements - Lynn Stephen

"This innovative collection provides needed theory, methods, and case studies to explain the new and multiple ways that political participation combining civic and 'uncivil' forms can result in progressive, democratic reform in Latin America. By highlighting the tensions between how spaces of civic participation can suck the energy out of social movements and how unruly social movements with 'uncivil' participants can push neoliberal governments to become more inclusive, this collection takes a giant step forward in political theorizing. Beyond Civil Society offers a fresh look at present and future political strategies and forms of participation."

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