Dissertation Abstracts

Making Democracy Real: Participatory Governance in Twenty-First Century Latin America

Author: Hetland, Gabriel B, ghetland@berkeley.edu
Department: Sociology
University: University of California Berkeley, USA
Supervisor: Michael Burawoy
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: democracy , participation , Latin America , civil society
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management , Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change


In the late twentieth century, the key challenge in Latin America was moving from authoritarian rule to democratic government. In the twenty-first century the challenge is distinct: making democracy “real”. This is a twofold process that entails deepening democracy so that ordinary citizens can directly participate in political decision-making and extending democracy to encompass the production and distribution of wealth and resources. My dissertation focuses on the first aspect of this process. Through a nested cross/sub-national comparison, based on 19 months of fieldwork, I examine participatory budgeting – a practice that gives ordinary citizens control over local budget decisions – in cities governed by the Left and Right in Venezuela and Bolivia. I expected to find greater success in my two Left cases. I also expected more success in my Bolivian cases due to the greater strength/autonomy of civil society and the distinct trajectories through which Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales rose to prominence (Chávez through a failed coup and Morales through social movements). Surprisingly, I found robust participation in my Left and Right Venezuelan cases but limited participation in my Left and Right Bolivian cases. This doubly unexpected finding can only be explained by examining the relationship between local and national politics in Venezuela and Bolivia. This research challenges the assumption that successful participatory governance requires a Left party in office. It also implies that the relationship between civic autonomy and participatory governance is more complicated than what existing literature suggests.

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