The politics of democratisation in post-transition contexts: social movement organisations and trade unions in the production of democratic subjectivities in Argentina and Brazil

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The Transition School helped to understand interactions between elites and popular mobilisation both favouring and conditioning the establishment of democratic rule in Latin America. As the reestablishment of authoritarian regimes became no longer a serious risk, the debate shifted towards ideas of ‘regime consolidation’ and the ‘quality of democracy’ highlighting the importance of (consolidated or better) political institutions as primary locus to achieve it. As a consequence, the study of social movement organisations and trade unions remained to a large extent disconnected to the quest for democratisation. In order to advance the latter I engage with Radical Democracy as it provides new elements to unravel processes of deepening democracy, i.e., to reconnects the quest for democracy with egalitarian struggles upon the contingent structuration of antagonistic conflict.My argument is that the politics of democratisation in post-transition contexts concerns the formation of democratic subjectivities as the production of transformative action and the expansion of equality. More specifically, I suggest that in the context of Argentina and Brazil, the formation of democratic subjectivities was the result of three overlapping though differentiable ‘internal’ dynamics in relation to the institution of two ‘external’ temporal limits. The relationship between the former (self-organising, networking and demanding) and the latter (‘anti-neoliberalism’ and ‘beyond-governments’) explains the displacement from ‘disagreement’ to ‘participation’ resonating both socio-political conflict and its effects on change and continuity in the politics of post-transition (1990s - 2000s).Methodologically, I explore the discourse and practice of a qualitatively significant number case studies constructed upon trade unions (Central de Trabajadores Argentinos and Central Única dos Trabalhadores) and social movement organisations (Federación de Tierra, Vivienda y Hábitat and Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) and, only indirectly, political parties and other political institutions. Their clear involvement in political mobilisation though less clear engagement on electoral politics justifies the exploration of the democracy question on new sources under a qualitative perspective.The argument is organised in three parts and seven chapters. I firstly discuss Radical Democracy in relation to alternative interpretations and also present the reasons for the selection of case studies. The second part explains the formation of democratic subjectivities in Argentina and Brazil by drawing on the analysis of first and secondary data. Thirdly, I narrate the ‘politics of democratisation’ in post-transition contexts based exclusively on research findings. Finally, I critically reassess Radical Democracy which has been heavily theorised but insufficiently empirically scrutinised. I aim to fill this gap as well as to further the understanding on the formation of disagreement, where the drivers for further democratisation lie in ongoing contention.
Date of Award27 Feb 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAna Cecilia Dinerstein (Supervisor)

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