Professor of Politics, Universidad Nacional de San Martín
"Civil Society, Public Policy, and the Quality of Democracy in Latin America"
Does the expansion of civil society promote democracy? Many academics, leaders, and public officials around the world assume it does. To improve the quality of democracy and prevent authoritarian regression, governments and international agencies have implemented a series of policies in the last several decades to foster civil society organizations engaged in the defense of citizenship rights (political, civil, social and cultural). Today the effectiveness of such policies is being critically evaluated, especially in Latin America.
Since the transition to democracy in the 1980s, there has been a significant growth and diversification of civil society organizations (and movements) in most countries in the region. However, at the same time, democratic political institutions are fragile, economic development uncertain, and the reduction of social inequality still in the making. In short, citizenship remains “low intensity.”
Drawing on the experiences of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, the talk will map common trends in the current dynamics of civil society in the region and tentatively propose a public policy reform agenda by addressing two questions: Do civil society organizations have indeed an effective positive role in the process of democratization? And if so, what factors favor or hinder its effectiveness?
Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of politics at Argentina’s Universidad Nacional de San Martín, where she previously directed the Center for the Study of Civil Society and Public Life (CESC). A former Kellogg guest scholar and Mellon project coordinator who earned her MA at Notre Dame, she is spending calendar year 2013 at the Institute continuing research on the interconnections between civil society and the quality of democratic institutions in Latin America.
Ippolito-O’Donnell’s new book project, “Civil Society and the Quality of Democracy in Argentina,” seeks to explain why an expansive and highly diversified civil society coexists with fragile democratic institutions, uncertain economic development, and stubborn social inequity.
The author of The Right to the City: Popular Contention in Contemporary Buenos Aires (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012) among other publications, Ippolito-O’Donnell has served as a consultant to the United Nations Development Programme.