Conceptualizing Culture: A Perspective from the South

By Evelina Dagnino, UNICAMP – Brazil

See original post at Culture Web

Being a Brazilian and a Latin American political scientist, what I would like to explore in my presentation are the efforts in conceptualizing culture which have emphasized the relationships between culture and politics. Since it would be impossible to survey all different traditions and ways of conceiving culture, I think this an interesting venue because it entails not only an interdisciplinary approach but it also implied – and still does – two different struggles. First, to convince my fellow political scientists that culture matters; second, to seduce those anthropologists that still do not acknowledge the importance and pervasiveness of power relations as not only present in but as constitutive of culture.

Obviously, the emphasis on the intertwining of culture and politics as an analytical tool/procedure is not, by all means, a Latin American or Brazilian feature. The recognition of culture as pervaded by power relations affecting – for starters – the production and attribution of meanings, has already a tradition of its own, from Raymond Williams to Homi Bhabha and a significant number of others. In this sense, it is part of the “international intellectual and political repertoire” that has been always there, long before globalization became the thing. It is worth to remember though that this is a tradition cultivated and developed mostly within a specific intellectual field – “cultural studies” – and not necessarily generally incorporated by other disciplines. Such an emphasis has been expressed often in the concept of “cultural politics”. The concept has found difficulties in traveling to Latin America, in spite of efforts of cultural studies’ analysts (Daniel Mato, Ana Maria Ochoa, etc), due in part to a difficult translation: políticas culturales (in Spanish or Portuguese) traditionally have meant State policies with respect to “cultural” issues or areas. In addition, in spite of the fact that I have used and even defended the concept in my own work (Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar, 1998), I have come to consider it limiting and restrictive as far as a deeper understanding of the relations between culture and politics goes. These limits can be clearly seen when we consider the other “side” of this relational conception of culture and ask: but isn’t politics always cultural? In this perspective, the conception of politics, as characterized in a broad sense by the presence of power relations, would entail culture as a necessary, constitutive element. Symbolic production is not only a crucial element in politics, particularly when we think about who has and who has not the power to attribute meanings, but it is often the main instrument (or weapon) in political action.

Cultural politics has also been formulated as offering a distinctive alternative meaning to the usual niche of culture in Political Science, which is the notion of political culture. But it seems to me that this notion entails, by its turn, a restrictive understanding of both terms: values, beliefs and representations referred to political institutions. In it, politics is usually reduced to the institutional realm (Government, voting and elections, political parties, etc) which ignores a much larger domain where power is exercised and constructed and where cultural elements become clear targets of political action and struggles. But the political dimension of culture is also reduced to a (usually pre) determined set of elements, a part of culture that is acknowledge to be “political”. If the idea of cultural politics was intended to confront this understanding and deploy a different view, perhaps it did not go far enough and should be radicalized into a perception of culture and politics as mutually constitutive and entangled by an indissoluble relationship. As a simultaneous production of meanings and power relations, culture finds its mirror in politics, in which the production and confrontation of power relations always implies cultural meanings.

The main challenge faced by this conceptual emphasis is, in asserting relational and non reductive ways of conceiving culture and politics, the indispensable need for clarifying specificities and different modes of operation of this basic relationship. That is to say, to recognize that both power relations and cultural signifying practices and their relationships do operate differently in different spaces and with respect to different subjects involved.

However, if this conceptual emphasis has been developed as part of an “international repertoire”, its emergence in Brazil and Latin America can still be seen as related to particular national histories and contexts. In fact, this is, I gather, a premise of our discussion here today. In this sense, my presentation will focus on the concrete circumstances underlying the emergence of that conceptual emphasis in Brazil and in other countries of Latin America.

I think it is fair to say that a substantial part of those theoretical efforts have been connected to at least a conjunction of three processes: First, the emergence of the then called new social movements, especially in the contexts of the resistance against military dictatorships and other kinds of authoritarian regimes throughout the continent. Second, in several countries and surely in Brazil, this coincided with the critical renovation of Marxist theory that has been very influential in Political Science and in other disciplines. Third, and linked to those two factors, the question of democratic building and deepening became a crucial theoretical and political concern. I should point out what seems to be perhaps a Latin American feature of all social sciences, i. e. their intimate relationship and contiguity with actual political processes.

The emergence of social movements during the late 1970s and 1980s in Brazil has been an important element in the struggle against the dictatorship installed in 1964. Citizenship and what it most signifies, the idea of equal rights, emerged as a way to operationalize, so to speak, the often abstract notion of democracy, bringing it down to the concrete claims of ordinary people. Increasingly adopted since the mid 1980’s and 1990’s by popular movements, excluded sectors, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and left parties as a central element in their political strategies, the notion of citizenship spread first as a common reference among a variety of social movements such as those of women, blacks and ethnic minorities, homosexuals, retired and senior citizens, consumers, environmentalists, urban and rural workers and those organized around urban issues in the large cities, such as housing, health, education, unemployment, violence, etc. (Foweraker 1995; Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar, 1998). These movements, organized around different demands, found in the reference to citizenship not only a useful tool in their specific struggles but also, in some cases, a powerful articulating link among them. The general claim for equal rights, embedded in the predominant conception of citizenship, was then extended and specified according to the different claims at stake. As part of this process of redefining citizenship, a strong emphasis was put on its cultural dimension, incorporating contemporary concerns with subjectivities, identities and the right to difference


Cultural dimensions of citizenship have been increasingly present in different parts of the world. The concern of Brazilian social movements with the need to affirm a “right to have rights” is clearly related to extreme levels of poverty and exclusion, but also to the pervasive social authoritarianism that presides over the unequal and hierarchical organization of social relations as a whole. Class, race, and gender differences constitute the main bases for the social classification that has historically pervaded our cultures, establishing different categories of people hierarchically arranged in their respective “places” in society. Thus, for excluded sectors, the perception of the political relevance of cultural meanings embedded in social practices is part of their daily lives. As part of the authoritarian, hierarchical social ordering of Latin American societies, to be poor means not only economic, material deprivation, but also the submission to cultural rules that convey a complete lack of recognition of poor people as subjects or bearers of rights. In what Telles called the incivility embedded in that tradition,

poverty is a sign of inferiority, a way of being in which individuals become unable to exercise their rights. This cultural deprivation imposed by the absolute absence of rights—which ultimately expresses itself as a suppression of human dignity—then becomes constitutive of material deprivation and political exclusion.

The perception of this cultural social authoritarianism as a dimension of exclusion, in addition to economic inequality and political subordination, became a significant element in the struggle to redefine citizenship.

First, it made clear that the struggle for rights, for the right to have rights, had to be a political struggle against a pervasive culture of social authoritarianism, thus setting the grounds for the urban popular movements to establish a connection between culture and politics that became embedded in their collective action. The redefinition of citizenship implied a project for a new sociability: a more egalitarian format for social relations at all levels, new rules for living together in society (negotiation of conflicts, new sense of a public order, of public responsibility, a new social contract) and not only the incorporation into the political system in the strict sense. In this sense, cultural change, which is obviously a clear target for social movements such as those of women, blacks, gays, etc, was clearly perceived as a crucial political demand of poor urban organized sectors of society.

In addition, in a correlate development, the struggle of social movements has been also directed towards the widening of dominant conceptions of politics itself. Thus, the redefinition of citizenship

undertaken mainly by social movements and other sectors of civil society in Latin America intended to confront the existing boundaries of what is defined as the political arena: its participants, its institutions, its processes, its agenda and its scope (Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar 1998). The broadening of the definition of politics in order to make possible the acknowledgement of new subjects, themes, spaces and institutions has been seen as a crucial step towards not simply the reestablishment of democracy in authoritarian countries but rather towards the ‘democratization of democracy’ or its deepening. Both developments, which implied a resignification of citizenship, had strong cultural implications, affecting in significant ways the predominant authoritarian and excluding cultural matrix in Brazil and Latin America. Such a process demonstrated very forcefully the imbrication of culture and politics and represented a powerful drive towards theoretical efforts to conceptualize their relationship. Under the motto “new ways of doing politics”, civil society has been affirmed as a legitimate terrain of politics, as well as the new subjects and the themes emerging in its domain have been asserted as political.

2. The renovation of Marxist theory and Gramsci’s influence on conceptualizing culture

New ways of thinking about the relationship between culture and politics have emerged also in connection with the broader process of theoretical-political renovation which from the beginning of the 1970s has affected both academic critical thinking and the conceptions of the Left in Latin America.

The relationship between culture and politics has not been in itself a privileged or central question in the debate within the Left. Doomed to subordination and negativity, imprisoned in its eternal secondary role and confined to quick last chapters, where its importance is rhetorically reiterated, one cannot say that the cultural problematic has played a visible, fundamental role in the dynamics of that debate. However, in a less spectacular manner than themes such as, for instance, democracy or the historical subject, it seems possible to affirm and to identify a substantial transformation in the ways of thinking about this relationship, as an integral part of Marxism’s renovation process.

In this sense, the general theoretical-political process of renovation in the Left has contributed decisively not only to fracture the straight-jacket that traditional Marxism had imposed on the analysis of culture and its role in social transformation but also brought with it significant conceptual changes in the specific field of cultural analysis. In order to gauge the significance of these changes, it is worth to mention a few features of the previous predominant framework.

Until this process of renovation, the Marxist concept of ideology reigned supreme as the privileged theoretical instrument for the analysis of the relations between culture and politics. Culture, especially popular culture, was the domain of alienation, false consciousness, mystification, in sum, the kingdom of ideology. The primacy of the concept of ideology ended up establishing a trap for cultural studies from which few analysts on the Latin American Left escaped. Its main damage was the impregnation of the cultural realm by negativity. First, it fostered a negativity derived from economic determinism which withdrew from culture any possibility of a dynamic of its own, establishing it as a separate sphere, a mere epiphenomenal expression of an economic “essence”. Second, culture was entrapped in negativity in the sense that ideas—and culture itself—were seen predominantly as obstacles to social transformation, which should thus be eliminated in the masses and replaced by “true knowledge”, by “class consciousness”, through the enlightened action of their true bearers: the intellectuals, the vanguard, the party.

In addition, class reductionism erected in analytical categories the well-known dichotomies which opposed—as two monolithic blocs external to each other—dominant and dominated cultures, bourgeois ideology and working-class culture, examples of what Canclini (1988) calls deductivist approaches in cultural analysis. Dependency theory, formulated by Latin Americans in an effort to adjust Marxist class analysis to the complexity of the new developments of international political economy, maintained this dichotomous approach.

If the relations between culture and politics were approached predominantly through the lenses of ideology theory, politics itself was equated and identified with another ruling concept, the State. Under the heavy influence of Marxist structuralism, the State was conceived as an instance of condensation of power relations and the specific locus of domination in society. As the privileged focus of attention in the analysis of politics and political transformation, the State was considered to be the only decisive arena of power relations and, therefore, the only relevant site and target of political struggle, in what came to be known as a “statist” view of politics. Latin American political culture came to reinforce such a view since a conception of a strong and interventionist State, seen as the main agent of social transformation and historically linked to the building of the nation, has been central to all—conservative and leftist—versions of populist, nationalist, and developmentalist projects.

Thinking about the relation between culture and politics in those terms implied, then, predominantly analyzing the use of culture as an instrument of domination. The strategies of dominant classes seemed to exhaust cultural spaces leaving no room for any other significant effect than their passive acceptance. The impact of the Frankfurt school only contributed to this direction in the analysis of mass media, as did the pervasive reproductionist theories in education (Canclini 1988). The concept of State ideological apparatuses

reached its climax to the extent that, in consummating the marriage between the two reigning concepts, it apparently seemed to effectively account for the dynamics of society.

An important consequence of this theoretical framework was the strengthening in the field of social sciences of a subordinated, marginal conception of the theme of culture itself. With the exception of Anthropology—for which culture has always been a constitutive, fundamental theme but that seldom dealt appropriately with the connections between culture and power relations—among sociologists and political scientists in the Latin American academic Left, culture was considered a secondary, minor subject.

A fundamental input into this process of theoretical renovation came, as discussed above, from social movements themselves and their actual struggles. With this we are not simply acknowledging that such a transformation obviously cannot be understood as endogenous to the field of theory. But we want to emphasize the proactive role of social movements in raising new questions and in generating new directions for theoretical-political analysis. The redefinition of the notion of citizenship, exemplifies this affirmative role of social movements.

From a strictly theoretical perspective, there are a significant number of authors and influences that have contributed to ensuring that the relationships between culture and politics could be reexamined, along a multiplicity of new directions. It is not our purpose to present an assessment of all these influences here but it seems possible to affirm safely that the a specific reading of the contribution of Antonio Gramsci and the influence it exerted in Latin America represented a fundamental rupture in the ways of approaching those relationships. The basis for the renovating impact of Gramscian thought lies in his powerful critique of economic reductionism. This critique asserts a deep imbrication among culture, politics and the economy and establishes an equivalence between material forces and cultural elements within an integrated view of society as a whole. From this premise Gramsci’s work unfolds into a complex and wide ranging reflection whose relevance for our discussion is expressed in a number of points.

The first and obvious point is the conception of hegemony, a process of articulation of different interests around the gradual and always renewed implementation of a project for the transformation of society. The dimension of culture is crucial for the hegemonic process for two fundamental reasons. First, the cultural dimension is critical because hegemony requires in a very strong sense what Gramsci termed an intellectual and moral reform. Second and most importantly (also because not always recognized and properly emphasized), culture is crucial because it is in the terrain of culture that active consent—the specific mode of operation of hegemony, which defines the very concept and distinguishes it from domination—is produced (or not). It is through the concept of hegemony that Gramsci formulates a new way of thinking about the relationship between culture and politics in which the former becomes radically constitutive of the latter.

The second point refers to the Gramscian conception of social transformation, where the revolution is conceived no longer as an insurrectional act of taking over State power but as a process, of which the intellectual and moral reform is an integral part and not a possible consequence. As the revolution is envisaged as the process of building of a new hegemony which implies a new world conception, the role of ideas and culture assumes a positive character. Two crucial formulations underlie this conception of social transformation. The first refers to the very notion of power, understood by Gramsci not as an institution, a “thing” to be seized but as a relation among social forces which must be transformed.

The second is a strong emphasis on the character of historical construction of social transformation as distinct from a fatalist and pre-determined process. As a consequence, the issue of agency or the constitution of subjects is privileged over the dynamics of “objective” social structures and the role to be played by “subjective” elements such as will, passion, faith, received in Gramsci an unprecedented consideration within Marxism.

A third aspect is the emphasis placed by Gramsci on the space of civil society as terrain of political struggle, conceived as a “war of position” in contrast to the “war of movement”, the frontal attack to the State. This emphasis is one of the elements of Gramscian thought that came to play a decisive role in the new directions opened up for the Left in Latin America. It not only implies a revision of the role up to then attributed to the State but also an enlarged view of the space of politics and the plurality of power relations. This multiplication of instances of the political establishes new parameters for the reflection about the relations between culture and politics.

Within this new framework, the relationship between culture and politics loses its externality: whereas previous approaches looked for the “politicization” of culture which usually meant inserting elements of class consciousness into popular culture, culture, as emphasized by Tarcus and Santos, is seen as internally constitutive of politics:

“Cultural politics is not an optional subject, that subject eternally pending in the Left programs, but a subject which does not resist to be simply added to them. Its mere presence questions and forces the reformulation of the whole way in which politics is conceived and practiced. For the lack of a cultural politics on the Left is not the lack of politics for an isolated compartment of the social, for a limited and detachable area, but a symptom, nothing more, nothing less, of a lack of politics at all.

If the conception of culture as the attribution of meanings embedded in all social practices has been established in Anthropology, what the theory of hegemony brought to light was the fact that this attribution of meanings takes place in a context characterized by conflict and power relations. In this sense, the struggle about meanings and who has the power to attribute them is not only a political struggle in itself but it is also inherent and constitutive of all politics.

The new theoretical status conferred to cultural relations and their role in the definition of politics and of social transformation unfolded into a number of consequences for the field of cultural analysis. First, there was a significant change in the approach to popular culture itself. The negativity implicit in traditional Marxist analysis was replaced by a positive regard which emphasized creative autonomy, capacity of symbolic reelaboration and negotiation as features of the cultural practices of subaltern sectors. In a not unusual pattern in intellectual history where antithetical positions temporarily polarize the debate, this positivity appeared, in some versions, as a sheer celebration of “the voice of the people” as the essentialist incarnation of the truth, paralleling the “basismo” which succeeded and reacted against populist and/or authoritarian forms of popular organization. In others, “hegemonic” and “subaltern” cultures became just new denominations for previous deductivist monolithic dichotomies.

Building and deepening democracy

But it was toward the understanding of the new political processes which were then taking shape and the political challenges they posed that the routes opened up by Gramsci’s influence began to be increasingly explored. Thus, the problematic of democracy and the whole set of new correlated questions it implied constituted the scene where the Gramscian boom manifested itself. This particular setting seems to have determined a strong emphasis on the progressive or “revolutionary” possibility of hegemony as a project for the transformation of society.

Such an emphasis contrasts with another readings of the concept, in Europe, for instance, which consistently explored its application to the analysis of the maintenance of the status quo and dominant power relations.

As the military regime slowly retreated, the building and deepening of democracy and citizenship, as both an intellectual and political concern, became the focus of attention. As such a concern has been predominantly dealt with along the lines of “transition” theories and “institutional engineering”, heavily influenced by US political science, the search for new and more radical approaches found in the relationships between culture and politics a crucial fertile terrain for innovation. The two processes we discussed above informed this search. In addition, as the participation of civil society was formally legitimated by the new 1988 Constitution, participatory democracy approaches raised a whole new set of questions emphasizing the centrality of the intersection between culture and politics. Thus, the new public spaces of decision-making that emerged, particularly after the pioneering and successful experience of the Porto Alegre’s Participatory Budgeting, have been first analyzed as instances for the creation and/or dissemination of a more egalitarian culture, a culture of rights, where citizens would be recognized “as subjects bearers of rights, valid aspirations and legitimate interests”. Moreover, since most of these new spaces, such as the Management Councils of Public Policies on health, education, social assistance, children and adolescent and women’s issues, bring together representatives of the government at all levels and of different sectors of society, they became a scenario for the confrontation of cultural differences as an intrinsic element of the necessary political negotiation that must take place in those spaces. The heteroglossia and the diversity of specific knowledges present in public spaces and the power relations they entail became focus of theoretical and empirical research.

After almost two decades of the so-called institutional participation of social movements of various types, empirical research is increasingly showing the difficulties and dilemmas faced by those instances of participatory democracy. A recurrent result may be relevant to our discussion here: in an apparent paradox, the recognition of their positive impact on the process of building a more democratic culture in Brazilian society coexists with the singling out of this same process as the main political challenge faced by public spaces of participation.

In my own recent work, I have been working with a notion of political projects intended to conceptually elaborate the relationships between culture and politics. I use the notion of political project to designate the beliefs, interests, worldviews and representations of what life in society should be, which guide the political action of different subjects. This preliminary definition, clearly linked to Gramscian thought, has an objective clearly related to the contemporary scene of Latin America, characterized by what I call a discursive crisis determined by the perverse confluence of democratic participatory projects and neo liberal projects. Although I cannot go further with this particular discussion, I think my central hypothesis regarding the notion of political projects may be relevant here in order to summarize what I have said before: political projects cannot be reduced to strategies of political action in a strict sense as they express, convey and produce meanings that are a part of wider cultural matrixes. At the same time, distinct political projects are anchored to existing cultural configurations but also elaborate and introduce new elements into them, creating tensions in, and transforming, society’s cultural repertoire. That is why we do not assume that these projects, either in their concrete implementation or in their discursive practices, are exempt from contradictions or endowed with a high level of internal coherence. We must remember that they emerge from, and are elaborated through, the particular histories and contexts that have marked them and with which they sustain a relationship. In this relationship there is, as it were, a constitutive ambiguity: on the one hand, the projects – those that are not conservative – are formulated precisely to confront and modify elements that are present within the histories and contexts to which they belong.

On the other hand, these projects and the practices they guide are not immune to the very traits that they attempt to criticize and hold at bay, given the fact that such traits do represent characteristics of existing Latin American cultural matrixes. An important determinant of the more or less contradictory nature of political projects can thus be found in the ambiguity of their relationship with their environment.

In my view, the conceptualization of culture presided by the perspective of its organic relationship with power and politics has been able to gain space in the work of those concerned with social transformation and democratic deepening, specially in very unequal societies such as those in Latin America. In addition, it has been able to provide a common ground for political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists who look for interdisciplinary approaches, more capable to offer richer analytical frameworks for the understanding of the complexity of contemporary societies and the dilemmas they face today.

1 Not unusually this resistance is very much linked to institutional academic power relations themselves, coupled with a disciplinary identity and “esprit de corps” which includes the idea of “exclusive property” over concepts or issues considered to be central to particular disciplines.

2 For a discussion of the articulation between the right to equality and the right to difference, see Dagnino (2004).

3 Vera da Silva Telles, A Sociedade Civil e a Construção de um Espaço Público, in Os Anos 90: Política e Sociedade no Brasil

4 Ironically, this perception became more evident among academics as political authoritarianism imposed by the State slowly weakened.

5 For a detailed account of this redefinition, see Dagnino (1998, 2005).

6. For an example, see my own work “Cultural and ideological dependence: Building a theoretical framework”, in Bonilla and Girling, eds. Structures of Dependence, Stanford, 1972, reprinted in Krishna Kumar, ed., Transnational Enterprises: Their Impact on Third World Societies and Cultures, Boulder: Westview Press, 1980.

7. Designating institutions such as the Church, family, trade-unions, educational, legal, political and communications systems, etc, the ideological State apparatuses function “massively and predominantly by ideology” to ensure “the reproduction of the relations of production, i.e. of capitalist relations of production” through the “subjection to the ruling ideology”. (Althusser 1971:133,145,154.)

8. In this connection, it would be an interesting theme for research to investigate the number of women intellectuals engaged in working on cultural subjects.

9. This formulation is from Juan Carlos Portantiero, (“Los usos de Gramsci”, 1977, p.22), one of the first Latin American Gramscians, member of Pasado y Presente, an unique and very influential cultural-political grouping of Gramscians originated in Argentina in 1963 and transferred by exile to Mexico in 1976. For an extended account of Pasado y Presente, see Raul Burgos, “Gramscismos e Gramscianos na Argentina”, 1996, UNICAMP, unpublished research project.

10 Interesting evidence of Gramsci’s forceful diffusion in Latin America is found in an intelligence report presented to the XVII Conference of American Armed Forces [Conferência dos Exércitos Americanos] in Mar del Plata in 1987 which conferred him the status of “ideologue of the new strategy of the International Communist Movement”, thus adding: “For Gramsci, the method was not the ‘revolutionary taking of power’ but the cultural subversion of society as the immediate step in order to reach power in a progressive, peaceful and permanent way.” (Quoted by Clovis Rossi, Folha de S.Paulo, September 25, 1988, my emphasis.)

11. Horacio Tarcus and Blas de Santos, “Notas para una critica de la razón Burocrática”, Utopias del Sur 4, Buenos Aires, Summer 1990. [original quotation: “La politica cultural no es una materia optativa, la materia eternamente pendiente de los programas de la izquierda, sino una materia tal que no resiste, simplemente, ser adicionada en ellos. Su sola presencia pone en cuestion y obliga a reformular la totalidad de como se concibe y se practica la politica. Pues la ausencia de una politica para la cultura en la izquierda, no es la ausencia de politica para un compartimiento estanco de lo social, para un area delimitada y recortable, sino que es sintoma, ni mas ni menos, de falta de politica a secas.”]

12. See Raul Burgos, As Peripécias de Gramsci about the influence of Gramscian hegemony both on the Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT, and on El Salvador‘s Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional, FMLN.

13. This last tendency seems to have been more developed in advanced capitalist societies. In some cases, the revolutionary potential of hegemony, so crucial to Gramsci’s own thought, was simply ignored and the concept was reduced to designating a “given” of any kind of exercise of dominant power in non-authoritarian modern capitalist societies, its distinction with respect to domination and its specificity as a particular mode of exercising power therefore disregarded. An additional connected difference in these readings of Gramsci is the importance attributed in Latin America to the concept of hegemony crisis, often used to describe the lack of hegemony in our societies and seldom applied to advanced capitalist countries.

14 This recognition is given even in cases where the evaluation of the more general impact is predominantly negative (Dagnino, 2002).

15 We can, for example, take the critical position of the project of participatory democracy with regard to clientelist type relationships (Santos, 2004); or that of the neo-liberal project vis-à-vis personalism (Tatagiba, 2003) Thus, for example, certain versions of the notions that we emphasize as the principal themes of the perverse confluences of our times – civil society, participation and citizenship – have roots, and at the same time produce resonance, in the slow emergence of a more egalitarian culture that confronts the various dimensions of the social authoritarianism existing in Latin American societies. Others do no more than provide newer versions of the older story of elitist and restrictive democracy that has characterized the continent’s dominant project over the last few decades.

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