State of democracy in Latin America

By Pia Riggirozzi, Professor of Global Politics at the University of Southampton

 

One of the striking features of Latin American democracy is that it is failing to connect representative institutions with citizens. There are clear indications of social polarisation and increasingly accepted practices of intolerance to dissent. According to Latin American Economic Outlook 2018 three out of four Latin Americans have a very low confidence in institutions and show little or no confidence in their national governments. Institutional mistrust is rising and risks deepening the disconnect between people and public institutions, undermining social cohesion and weakening the social contract.

According to a recent survey published by Intal/Latinbarometro, the most reliable institution in Latin America is the Church (65% confidence); followed in a comfortable second place by the Armed Forces, with 42% confidence; and the Police with 35%. Political parties ironically are the most disreputable institution (15% confidence). Even more disturbingly, asked about democracy as preferable to any other form of government, the level of support has dropped 8 poits from 2010 down to a slim majority of 53%. The percentage of those indifferent to political form grew from 16% to 25%. ‘Rule of law’ is not perceived as priority amongst the problems affecting social cohesion, although 80% think corruption is affecting the quality of democracy, a percentage that increased significantly since 2010. Finally only 18% of the respondents considered that the distribution of wealth is fair in their country.

Certainly, there can be little doubt but that the electoral compass in Latin America, and indeed in Western societies more broadly, is shifting to the Right at the time when the most central value of democracy, the tolerance of dissent, is subsiding.

For the past decade, as trust in institutions has declined around the globe, politics reveal a systematic and increasing deterioration, and in some cases de-consolidation, of democracies. Reconnecting public institutions and citizens is thus critical for a meaningful democracy able to serve as a step to greater inclusion and equality in society.

 

Democratic dissatisfaction and its manifestations

Since the UK referendum to exit (Brexit) the European Union (EU) in June 2016, and subsequent election of Donald Tump as President of the United States,   there was a plethora of questions related to the incentives and drawbacks of neoliberal democracy. Both events revitalised academic commentary on political disaffection, anti-politics alluding to a combination of citizen frustration with an insulated and arrogant ruling elite and insensitive political leadership and the failure of the political-economic project that seems to be cutting away, willfully and needlessly, at the welfare system and social contract that have hitherto guaranteed social peace in Western societies (see Jennings et al 2016; Payne 2014). As societies, both the UK and the USA manifested some deeply disturbing moral, emotional and human issues of ‘national’ identity preceding any responsibility towards ‘others’, be those legal immigrants that contribute to economic activity and social life, or those ill-fated, dispossessed, irregular immigrants and asylum seekers who are simply trying to survive.

Focusing on Latin America, one place to start would be the rich debate about whether ‘post-neoliberal’ political economy, as a democratic project, is possible. The political-economic crisis in Latin America in the early 2000s led to calls for an end to neoliberal rollback, a new social contract negotiated and managed by a more active state, and the construction of a social consensus that was both respectful of economic growth and sensitive to urgent needs to address the legacy of poverty, invest in education, and create welfare. Policy makers in Latin America were ‘shaken up’ by unsustainable levels of inequalities, not just income inequality but cross-cutting gender and ethnic inequalities, and the political consequences that stem from them. Experiences of uneven development, exclusion and social injustices underpinned unbearable social costs caused by decades of market-led development and austerity.

As we have shown in Grugel and Riggirozzi (2018) so-called ‘post-neoliberal experiments’ have combined a pragmatic attempt by Leftist governments to refocus the direction and the purpose of democracy through state spending, increased taxation and management of exports with a project of enhancing citizenship through a new politics of cultural recognition in Bolivia and Ecuador and attempts to recreate the state-sponsored pact between business and labour in Argentina and Brazil. The extent to which post-neoliberalism as a political project delivered on these pledges is disputed though there were real achievements, particularly in terms of anti-poverty programmes, and creating new opportunities for human rights and activism. Yet post-neoliberalism failed to articulate a convincing and institutionalised alternative to the neoliberal model of market democracy. While the Left pioneered the generation of new resources for redistribution through tax it also failed to shift away from dependence from natural resources and agro business. How far they had real opportunities to do so is a matter for discussion. But their failure to this regard is linked to the disenchantment many civil society groups experienced with the Left. High (perhaps too high) expectations were not met, and traditional power assemblages that link agro-industrial elites with international business networks and in many cases the military found grounds to demonise the Left and reclaim governance.

 

Democratic failure might fail democracy

Politically, perhaps, the greatest disappointment has not been so much the fact that social conflict and political disagreements continued and even expanded under the Left– that is natural in democracy – but the fact that democracy in turn has failed to tolerate dissent accentuating the well known winner-takes-all dynamic.

Out of these failures and disappointments, fuelled by the distrust in public institutions, politics seems to be less about the value and meaning of democracy and more about ‘fighting the bad guy’, as far right, military Brazilian presidential forerunner, Jair Bolsonary, put it. The danger is that what bad as representations of ‘others’ has taken the form of anyone who is perceived as ‘draining national (economic) resources’, being quilombolas (descendants of communities of runaway slaves), women, the poor, indigenous people, migrants, scroungers who choose to live on benefits. The backlash has not only led to the decline of social democratic representation but, more seriously, the (re-)emergence of discriminatory narratives that poisoned the political climate; intolerance to the otherness of the other is undermining the social foundations of democracy.

As politics shifts right-wards, we need, as scholars and as citizens, to continue to explore places and repertoires of popular contention that may, once again, hold governments to account and lead social resistance to any attempt at the re-introduction of austerity and onslaught on civic freedoms.

Back in the 1980s in the early years of democratisation in Latin America, political scientists such as Norbert Lechner and Adam Przeworski asked whether it is possible to reach a cross-party or inter-societal consensus over some measure of social and economic redistribution or, whether on the contrary, an entrenchment of socio-economic privilege is the price that must be paid in Latin America for liberal democracy. Today the question remains all too sadly pertinent.

 

The Challenge of Ocean Justice

By Chris Armstrong, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Southampton.

 

This month, I begin work on a British Academy / Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship. The topic – Ocean Justice – could hardly be more timely. The world is increasingly coming to understand the many hugely important roles the ocean plays in sustaining life on earth. The ocean is, in many ways, the crucible of life in our world. Without an ocean, human life on our planet quite simply could not exist. Our world would be wholly inhospitable, for instance, were it not for the ocean’s role in cycling freshwater and oxygen, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, and regulating global temperature. Billions rely on protein from the ocean’s fish, and fully 12% of the world’s population rely on fishing and aquaculture for their subsistence. And the signs suggest that as time goes by, we will rely more on the oceans, rather than less.

But we are also coming to understand the myriad challenges the ocean faces, which could impair its ability to support life on our planet. Key examples include plastic pollution, the acidification caused by a warming planet, overfishing, pollution arising from shipping, and the environmental damage caused by accelerating extraction of minerals and petrochemicals from the seabed.

Improved understanding of these threats has encouraged a sense of urgency at the international level. The United Nations has made the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans one of its Sustainable Development Goals. It has also commissioned the first ever World Ocean Assessment – drawing on the example of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and in 2017 it organised the world’s first global Ocean Conference.

Though this increased attention is to be warmly welcomed, there is a good deal of work to do. The oceans are protected by a patchwork legal framework which regulates some activities but not others, and gives different levels of protection to different ocean zones. The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea is justly called a ‘Constitution for the Oceans.’ But it is also clear that it is at best a work in progress, in need of urgent revision if it is to meet key challenges of the future. Key issues – such as fishing on the High Seas, the establishment of vital marine reserves outside of any state’s jurisdiction, and the fair use of ocean biodiversity – will be the topic of heated debate in the coming years.

The contribution of political theorists to debates on the future of the oceans have, to date, been rather modest. During the seventeenth century, notable political theorists – including Hugo and Grotius John Locke – engaged with questions about the governance of the world’s oceans. But they assumed a paradigm of plenty rather than precarity, and could not foresee many of the challenges the ocean has come to face. It remains to be demonstrated what political theory can contribute to conceptualising, and hopefully resolving, some of these major global challenges. What would just and legitimate governance of the world’s ocean look like? During the next twelve months I will attempt to make my own contribution to addressing these vital debates. But it is clear that the political theory community more broadly must also shift its attention oceanwards.

Recommended summer reading for new @Sotonpolitics students (and anyone interested!)

Occasionally students contact us asking if there is any required reading prior to the start of their course, or if we could recommend some texts to help them prepare for their first year. Below is a list of books that members of PAIR staff have recommended for students to read during the summer before their first year. While we obviously do not expect you to read all of these books, reading one or two will be a good preparation for your degree and will give you a taste of the kinds of topics you will study on your course.

 

General Politics

On Democracy, by Dahl

Why Politics Matter, by Stoker

In Defence of Politics, by Crick

A Novel Approach to Politics, by Van Belle and Marsh

If Only They Didn’t Speak English: Notes from Trump’s America, by Sopel

 

Public Policy

Nudge, by Thaler and Sunstein

Agendas and Instability in American Politics, by Baumgartner and Jones

 

International Relations

Theories of International Politics and Zombies, by Drezner

States and Markets, by Strange

Activists beyond Borders, by Keck and Sikkink

 

Political Theory

Political Philosophy, by Swift

On Liberty, by Mill

The Prince, by Machiavelli

 

Research Methods

Thinking Statistically, by Bram

 

Political History

The Cold War: A New History, by Gaddis

Ill Fares the Land, by Judt

 

 

How ‘economic’ is opposition to migration?

By Anna Killick. Anna Killick is a PhD student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.


What does the election tell us about the Ford and Goodwin theory that the political system is changing to ‘a newer set of cleavages that are largely cultural rather than economic’ (Ford and Goodwin 2014:29)? They argued in ‘Revolt on the Right’ that the white working class, characterised as ‘left behind’, are increasingly relying on their authoritarian cultural values, deserting the Labour Party for UKIP. In this post I highlight research which challenges Ford and Goodwin by pointing to the continuing importance of economic issues to working class voters.

Ford and Goodwin argue that the increase in migration from 2004 led to greater opposition to migration. Since both Labour under Blair and the Conservatives under Cameron had moved to the centre to attract cosmopolitan liberal voters, and New Labour was perceived as doing less to help its traditional working class base than it had in the past, the two developments contributed to a rise in support for UKIP. Anti-migration sentiment was also instrumental in the Leave victory in the 2016 referendum. Survey evidence tracking anti-migration beliefs over time and the increased percentages perceiving migration as the most important issue in politics support their case. However, how Ford and Goodwin interpret the nature of the anti-migration beliefs may be over-simplistic.

They claim ‘in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, the strongest and most inflexible opposition to migration has come from voters who see it as a source or symbol of rapid social change (Ford and Goodwin 2017:5) [my italics]’.  It may be the case that a proportion of anti-migrant people, whether middle or working class, are so xenophobic or racist that their opposition to migration is deep-rooted and social and that such people are the backbone of UKIP support. But does this hold for the majority of people who say they are opposed to migration? Some survey evidence, such as for British Social Attitudes, always showed that opposition to migration was as much economic as it was cultural and, indeed, anti-migration sentiment dropped during the economic good times of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

A neglected area in this debate is how working class people in particular define categories like ‘economic’. My interview-based research into public understanding of the economy, to be published next year, includes questions on what people believe about the economic effects of migration. The in-depth interviews of sixty Southampton residents show that people who oppose migration often do so as much for economic as cultural reasons. When I ask ‘what do you understand about the economic effects of migration?’ interviewees respond with arguments about migration driving wages down, increasing competition for jobs, leading to increased use of zero hours contracts and competing for scarce resources in the health service, housing and benefit sectors. They do not believe the usually nationally based economic research that migration has net benefits for the economy, but it is not clear whether the reason for their rejection of the national research is cultural racism or that the national research flies in the face of their local economic experiences.

Some aspects of understanding of the economic effects of migration can be illustrated by three extracts, all from interviews with working class women in their 50s and 60s. Linda, who lives on a low wage topped by benefits, believes migrants are attractive to employers looking to drive wages down:

it’s just that I think rich people take advantage of the poor people in ways of cheap labour you know… we don’t get the opportunity to have the jobs because we have to work for a proper wage to live and they don’t want anybody to do that, they want cheap [migrant] labour. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor forever and I think it’s getting worse.

Beverley, aged 65 and having worked all her life as a telephonist and shop assistant, believes migration is exacerbating the acute shortage of social housing in the city : ‘the migration, they’re letting so many people in and there’s no place for us to live at the moment.’ Shelley, aged 50 and on disability benefit, echoed the comments of many people I interviewed that migrants should not be able to claim benefits: ‘there’s so many that come and claim benefits and claim benefits for the kids that are in their country as well. That’s got to do some damage economically really’.

Interview-based research allows us to engage more deeply with how people define problems. Much has been made of survey evidence indicating that in the EU referendum Leave voters tended to see ‘migration’ as the most important issue whilst Remain voters saw the ‘economy’ as most important. But understanding of what ‘economy’ covers is not necessarily shared across all social groups. For instance, middle class interviewees were three times more likely to use the term ‘economy’ in my interviews, indicating that it may be a more negative term for working class interviewees. Some of those who said ‘migration’ was the most important issue may have been using it as a ‘catch all’ phrase that encapsulates their concerns about employment and austerity. Whilst they did support UKIP and voted to Leave the EU, they may be open to a party such as Labour in 2017 which promises to address their economic grievances, even though it is by means other than controlling migration.

So we should be open to the possibility both that anti-migration feeling is more economic than cultural and that ‘economic stewardship’ rather than ‘cultural values’ is still the dominant cleavage in British politics.

The Society for Latin American Studies 2018 annual conference comes to Southampton

The University of Southampton will host the Society for Latin American Studies for its annual conference on 22-23 March 2018 at the University’s Winchester campus. The theme of the 2018 SLAS Conference is: Latin American Studies Around the World. The conference website can be found here.

Call for submissions

SLAS and non-SLAS members are encouraged to submit panel and paper proposals to be discussed at the 2018 SLAS Annual Conference on 22-23 March 2018. The deadline for all submissions is 16th July 2017.

To submit panels and papers, click here.

Thoughts on the 2017 election and what next for Labour

By Dan Jeffery. Dan Jeffery is a former Labour councillor on Southampton City Council, serving as Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education. He is an alumnus of the University of Southampton, studying Politics and International Relations. He works as an advisor on medical workforce issues for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.


This is a guest post by one of our alumni. We very much welcome similar submissions from former students and colleagues to the blog.

1) Progressive alliance in tatters

If we needed any clear signs that the so-called Progressive Alliance is a blind alley, last Thursday’s result was the clearest yet. Support for third parties has crumbled to a 40 year low. Labour has now clearly positioned itself as the big tent party of progressive opinion, and should ignore siren calls for cooperation with Liberal Democrats or Greens. Ironically, on the Isle of Wight, where Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq called for Labour to stand aside for the Greens, Labour is now a clear second, scoring its best result since 1959.

In Scotland, written off two years ago, there is now a path back to power. Labour’s conversation must now include a roadmap to winning seats across the Central Belt, where Labour came within spitting distance of winning even more seats.

2) Warning signs in the Brexit hinterlands

There’s no doubt Labour had a good campaign, particularly in London, Wales, and the South, where Labour is positioned to win in many southern urban centres next time. But we cannot ignore the worrying trend in some of the old Labour strongholds, including former mill and pit constituencies. Labour bastions like Stoke-on-Trent, Mansfield and Walsall were picked up by the Tories, and in Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover, a whopping 7.7% swing was recorded in the Tory’s favour. Our vote was also unevenly distributed, winning 83% in places like Walthamstow, while coming within a whisker of losing a whole bunch of Labour seats in Dudley and Barrow.

3) No more “local” campaigns

Of course, MPs need to campaign on their record, but there was too much cautiousness on the part of party machinery in terms of how Labour projected its messages. Many MPs, working on the assumption that the Corbyn programme was electoral poison, refocused their strategy around what amounted to a local government election. Last Thursday showed there is a path to power on a left programme, so in future all candidates must be more prepared to push national messages and policies. There is also insufficient flex in our bureaucracy to enable a mid campaign shift in resources. I am no campaign guru, and would never claim to be (and of course hindsight is 20:20), but it is a shame that when the polls were shifting in our favour, we weren’t able to re-orientate our party to take the offensive against the Tories. With a membership approaching a million, there must now be real investment in building organisational capacity, and assisting volunteers in doing things themselves.

4) Learn to love the Bomb

In what I think will be looked back as an important moment in the united campaign fought by the party, the neutralisation of Trident by clearly supporting renewal was significant. The party as a whole was able to minimise Corbyn’s lifetime political ambition to ban the bomb. And with Corbyn turning the issue of security onto one of Tory failings, we were able to strike a blow far more mortal than our opponents recognised. But we may not have that luxury by the next election, where our programme will be bombarded every month. Corbyn, in my view, would be wise to do a Kinnock and drop a commitment to unilateralism that would allow us to be painted as weak on defence.

5) Drop the constitutional silly buggers

Corbyn, rightly, has scored an enormous personal victory. His steely determination has united a party that six weeks ago was predicted to be about to embark on the 100th battle of a long civil war. He has earned the right to stay on as party leader, and use his anti-austerity credentials to shape policy. There is now, across the entire party, a determination to unite and defeat the Tories — which makes a Conference punch up over how we elect the leader of the Labour Party all the more unnecessary. Nothing would be a bigger own goal than for United Labour to go into Conference and tear the bandages off of a healing wound. The public don’t care about our rules, they care about our policies and want us to get on with the job of opposition. I would suggest that Momentum consider dropping support for the McDonnell Amendment.

6) Magnanimity in (relative) victory

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will feel understandably vindicated that having argued for two years there was an electoral appetite for his policies, they have been able to win support (though, clearly we’re still a long way off being in Government). My response, as somebody who didn’t believe these policies were electorally viable, and rejected outright any strategy to raise turnout particularly among the young, is to humbly and quietly do what I can to support my party. But hubris would be unwise. I always believed that a big mistake Blair and his supporters made was crushing dissent within the party, and casting his policies and his outlook as the be all and end all of the Labour Party. And yes, I believe that supporters of Corbyn are also wrong to suggest that there is only the leader’s vision or nothing. These Khmer Rouge-esque Year Zero approaches do not create the conditions for a sustainable, vibrant, democratic politics. So to those who unquestioningly stuck by Jeremy, more credit to you, now lets come together.

Experience is not a dirty word

By Jenny Fleming, Professor of Criminology, Director of the Institute of Criminal Justice Research, and R.A.W. Rhodes, Professor of Government at the University of Southampton.


Government policy is to build on evidence of what works. So, we conduct randomised controlled trials, we ‘nudge’ citizens, and we evaluate policies to recover evidence of what does or does not work. No one denies that the more you know the better; but how do you acquire knowledge? More importantly what constitutes knowledge?

We ‘know’ facts and believe explanations from many sources. We draw on research, political and legal knowledge. We check out statistics and labour over government data but what we do not do is draw systematically on experiential knowledge. Experience refers to the practical knowledge about the world amassed by individuals in an organisational and work context. Such knowledge is invariably in play. It involves selective retelling of the past to make sense of the present. It is used to explain past practice and events and to justify present activity and recommendations for the future. It is the central characteristic of a craft.

What happens when research-based knowledge bumps into experience and associated craft? It becomes part of the mix. The starting point is experience. Take the example of the police. Officers draw on the collective and individual experiences of other officers; on their stories. They ‘phone a friend’ and employ their knowledge of the local area. The emphasis falls on practice because they believe the shared knowledge of practitioners is of more value than the evidence. They talk about common sense, judgement, and ‘on the street’ experience. Police officers acknowledge that anything that can assist them in doing their job more effectively is welcome but they are more likely to embrace the practical. If they go to ostensibly objective data they will use their experience to interpret it and assess its usefulness. Their experience will construct the facts and explanations; that is, the evidence they will use.

Officers do not rely only on experience. They weave together knowledge from any available and relevant sources. Too often the different kinds of knowledge are set up as opposites; research-based versus craft knowledge. Demonstrably the police draw on any source of information available to them, and use their experience to determine the information they will act on. The choice is dictated by availability. Is there any research-based knowledge? If there is no research based knowledge (and we know that the research base is currently limited), then experience is all there is. Its use is both essential and inevitable.

Evidence-based policing persists because it provides the legitimating rationale for decisions made by other means. The imprimatur of science is used to legitimise essentially political decisions. Of course, there are policy contexts that are not politicised. Of course, some evidence is better founded and more relevant for some policies than others. And let us not forget, sometimes if not often, there is rational, scientific evidence available. But much evidence-based policing takes place in charged organisational and political contexts that ensure the data are always incomplete, always uncertain, and always ambiguous. So, the meaning of evidence is never fixed, it must be constantly won. By itself, evidence-based knowledge is not enough. We need the partisans arguing for scientific evidence but we need also other types of knowledge. Craft knowledge, political knowledge, and research-based knowledge, all warrant a place at the table. These several strands need to be woven together. Craft knowledge not only needs to be treated as evidence in this weaving, but we need to recognise that it provides also the basis for choosing between the available sources of evidence.

Experience may be a dirty word to the partisans of science, but it is essential given both the limits to, and lack of, social science knowledge.