Democratic Transitions in Latin America
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0015
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0015
Since gaining their independence at the beginning of the 19th century, the Latin American states have tried to establish democratic regimes. However, most of these efforts failed during the 19th century, in which dictatorships and oligarchic rule were the norm in the region. In his useful classification of electoral regimes in Latin America, Peter Smith distinguishes among electoral democracies, electoral semi-democracies, oligarchic republicanism, and nondemocracies (see Smith 2005, cited under Explaining Transitions to Democracy). Between 1900 and 1930 there were only three electoral democracies that lasted between one and fourteen years: Argentina (1916–1929), Mexico (1911–1913), and Uruguay (1919–1933). Between 1930 and 1975 there were processes of democratization and de-democratization in the whole region. The Latin American cases are a central contradiction to modernization theory, which connected the emergence of democracy with certain economic and social background conditions, such as high per capita income, widespread literacy, and prevalent urban residence. We saw the demise of democratic regimes in the most affluent countries of Latin America: Argentina in 1955, Brazil in 1954 and then again in 1964, Chile in 1973, and Uruguay in 1973. The last twenty years of the 20th century, however. saw important changes in the democratization processes of the region. Most of the nineteen Latin American countries experienced processes of electoral democratization. The literature on democratization in Latin America has followed a tendency in political science to emphasize the role of elites and pacts. In a way, as Nancy Bermeo (see Bermeo 2003, cited under Breakdown of Democracy) and Adam Przeworski have argued, the group of the Woodrow Wilson Center (see O’Donnell, et al. 1986, cited under Foundational Works) was not only analyzing the democratization process, but wanted to “stop the killings.” The most robust structuralist theory, that of Barrington Moore, Jr., on the origins of democracy, was not that promising. The most recent works on democracy and democratization in Latin America are trying to analyze both structure and agency in the processes of democratization.
Mahoney 2003 distinguishes three major research programs on democracy; see Moore Jr. 1966 on structuralism, O’Donnell, et al. 1986 on bureaucratic authoritarianism, and Linz 1975 on leadership and voluntarism. Linked to that program, I would add Dahl 1971. That fourth program is closest to the elitist school on democracy, but instead of emphasizing the problem of legitimacy, the scholars using that approach concentrate on procedural democracy, and recently, on rational choice and game theory. Bobbio 1987 and Tilly 2007 synthesize the most important debates around the concept of democracy, democratization, and de-democratization as historical processes. Rustow 1970 developed a strong critique of modernization theory (Huntington 1991) and culturalist theories of democracy and proposed instead a genetic model of democracy.
Bobbio, Norberto. The Future of Democracy: A Defence of the Rules of the Game. Oxford: Polity, 1987.
In this book the political philosopher Norberto Bobbio analyzes the evolution of the concept of democracy and the agenda of democracy as a political system.
Dahl, Robert A. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971.
Addresses the question of what conditions increase or decrease the chances of democratizing hegemonic or nearly hegemonic regimes. Although it does not have a regional approach, it provides a typology of regimes, and most of the literature on Latin American transitions has used its insights to analyze the processes of regime change.
Huntington, Samuel P. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.
Many scholars have observed that democracies tend to come in waves; Huntington argues that transitions to democracy usually come in waves and are followed by reversions. There are many factors that explain regime change, and therefore explanations vary.
Linz, Juan J. “Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes.” In Handbook of Political Science. Vol. 3. Edited by Nelson Polsby and Fred Greenstein, 175–373. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1975.
In this seminal article, Juan Linz developed his typology of different regimes. In particular, he describes the main characteristics of authoritarian regimes.
Mahoney, James. 2003. “Knowledge Accumulation in Comparative Historical Research: The Case of Democracy and Authoritarianism.” In Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Edited by James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschmeyer, 131–174. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
This article summarizes the main research agendas dealing with democracy and democratization, based on comparative historical research.
Moore, Barrington, Jr. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon, 1966.
This book is a classic. Using a structuralist perspective, it shows how different configurations of social coalitions (the peasantry, the landed upper classes, and the bourgeoisie) led to different outcomes: dictatorship or democracy.
O’Donnell, Guillermo, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead, eds. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy. 4 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
This is a classic comparative study of the transitions in Latin America and southern Europe. It includes multiple essays with comparative and case studies of different countries that were part of the “third wave.” It emphasizes the role of elites and pacts in the process of transition from authoritarian rule.
Rustow, Dankwart. “Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model.” Comparative Politics 2.3 (1970): 337–363.
Rustow develops a dynamic model to analyze the emergence of a democratic regime, criticizing the economic and cultural determinants of previous models.
Tilly, Charles. Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
This book is concerned with the continual processes of democratization and de-democratization and tries to measure the changes in four dimensions: breadth, equality, protection, and mutually binding consultation.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics