In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Neoliberalism

  • Introduction

Latin American Studies Neoliberalism
John D. French, Matthew Lymburner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0078


This bibliography guides the reader through the literature on what has come to be called “neoliberalism,” providing a representative sample of viewpoints and approaches. Although little known in the United States, the term has been ubiquitous in discussions of contemporary Latin America by social scientists, journalists, and politicians since the 1960s. While some treat it as self-evident and in need of no explanation, others reject the term as pejorative and have preferred to use the language of market reforms, free market policies, monetarism, economic liberalism, or simply “sensible” economics. Its Latin American origin is tied up with the aftermath of a violent 1973 coup in Chile that led to the application, under dictatorial conditions, of a set of policies associated with the Chicago school of economics (see Letelier 1976, cited under Chile). After the debt crisis of 1982 and the hyperinflation that followed, neoliberal policies and discourse were adopted throughout the region under the influence of the 1989 “Washington Consensus” (a synonym for neoliberalism). Neoliberalism aimed to reconfigure the prevailing balance between state and market in Latin America. It can be understood, in part, as economic policies that elevated macroeconomic stability to the top of the national policy agenda while rejecting profligate government spending as wasteful “economic populism.” Critical of government involvement in the economy and established social policy regimes, neoliberalism sought to end “excessive” regulation, downsize the state to its purported “proper role,” and “open up” the region to free trade and foreign investment (as with Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement). Neoliberalism thus identifies a “new” economic paradigm that replaced an import-substituting industrialization (ISI) system in crisis, and it represents, in some views, the economic “common sense” that emerged from the dark years of the debt crisis in 1980s. As it spread well beyond Latin America in the 1990s, the definition, significance, applicability, and normative status of the term have remained subject to contestation. For many, neoliberalism was above all a US imperial project to restore that country’s power, both within the hemisphere and globally, with the assistance of US-dominated international financial institutions and the newly created World Trade Organization in 1995. Viewed in this fashion, neoliberalism is a project of capitalist development that culminated in a new era of globalization in the 1990s. For others, it is an ethos that has been instilled into the cultures and social structures of Latin America, whether driven by global forces or internal national political projects, provoking a significant reformulation of state-society relations. Defining an epoch in Latin America going back to 1973, neoliberalism has been repudiated rhetorically by the leftist political parties that swept to power in many Latin American countries after 1998 (see Post-neoliberalism).

General Overviews

The sheer breadth of publications detailing some aspect of neoliberalism—exacerbated by a notorious terminological inconsistency—make wading through the literature particularly difficult for those new to the topic. This section, organized by scale, aims to provide the reader with a firm grounding in the pool of debates, issues, concepts, and arguments from which the wider literature draws from. The first subsection (Defining Neoliberalism) assembles multiple definitions and ways of approaching neoliberalism conceptually, while the second subsection (Regional Analyses) compiles regional surveys of what neoliberalism has meant for Latin America as a whole. The final subsection (Global Perspectives) situates Latin America within global neoliberal processes and interregional comparison.

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