Dissertation Abstracts

Venezuela: Global Counter-Hegemony, Geographies of Regional Development, and Higher Education For All

Author: Muhr, Thomas , Thomas.Muhr@bristol.ac.uk
Department: Centre for Research on Globalisation, Education and Societies
University: University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Professor Susan L. Robertson
Year of completion: 2009
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Globalization , Development , Socialism , Regionalism
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development , Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management


This study advances the thesis that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is driving a counter-hegemonic globalisation project centred around the idea of ‘21st century socialism’, in which the regionalisation and globalisation of Venezuela’s endogenous development finds its most advanced and explicit expression in the Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of our America (ALBA). The multi-dimensional inter- and transnational processes operate within and across a range of sectors and scales whilst the structural transformations are driven by an interplay of state and non-state actors, the latter increasingly operating in a ‘transnational organised society’. The Venezuelan government’s Higher Education For All (HEFA) strategy, as operationalised through the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV), assumes a central role in the direct democratic and participatory democratic processes upon which a bottom-up construction of counter-hegemony depends.

The study is framed by a critical theory approach, and based on 13 months of participatory ethnographic fieldwork in a municipalised UBV in Venezuela. Michael Burawoy’s Extended Case Method is at the core of a critical case study methodology that facilitates a theoretically informed and empirically grounded analysis of the multi-scalar sets of social relations involved in the revolutionary project. The methodological framework combines two objectives: on one hand, as an expression of moral and ethical commitment to a more equitable world, the research exercises solidarity with the counter-hegemonic processes currently driven by a growing number of progressive governments and social, popular movements in the emergent Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. On the other hand, the study contributes to the development of a counter-hegemonic globalisation theory.

The thesis analyses the conjunction of projects, processes and politics at work and shows how these are being mobilised through the strategic use of scale. The adopted approach systematically explores the set of dynamics involved, starting with the social contradiction in hegemonic globalisation and the crisis of hegemony in pre-revolutionary Venezuela. This is followed by a discussion of the resurgence of the Left in LAC, a theorisation of Venezuela’s ‘revolutionary democracy’ as the key feature of 21st century socialism, and its regionalisation as ALBA. These processes involve a re-scaling of state power to the subnational as well as transnational scales. At the local scale, HEFA and the UBV’s practice of participatory action research (PAR) is explored within the context of a marginalised urban neighbourhood in Venezuela. The UBV-PAR supports the creation of ‘popular power’ and the construction of the ‘organised society’ as essential conditions of 21st century socialism on a regional and global scale. In sum, the significance and originality of this study of Venezuela’s 21st century socialism is revealed through an investigation and elaboration of structural features, political alignments and empirical findings to explain the dynamics of the counter-hegemonic project.