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Popular Participation and Governance in the Kirchners' Argentina and Chávez's Venezuela: Recognition, Incorporation and Supportive Mobilisation



How did governance in Kirchner's Argentina and Chávez's Venezuela interact with popular mobilisation? How have popular sectors engaged with and participated in Left-of-centre governance? Using ethnographic data, we argue that the answers to these questions lie in three social mechanisms that we call recognition, incorporation and selective mobilisation. We analyse how activists and participants interpreted and contested these mechanisms, paying attention to how they informed the everyday life of activism and the situated actions of participants. Underscoring their socially embedded and path-dependent nature, we argue that these mechanisms shaped mobilisation differently in each country.

¿De qué manera las gobernanzas de la Argentina de Kirchner y la Venezuela de Chávez interactuaron con las movilizaciones populares? ¿En qué forma los sectores populares se involucraron y participaron en la gobernanza de centro-izquierda? Utilizando datos etnográficos, argumentamos que las respuestas a estas preguntas radican en tres mecanismos sociales que llamamos reconocimiento, incorporación y movilización selectiva. Analizamos cómo los activistas y participantes interpretaron y cuestionaron estos mecanismos, prestando atención a cómo afectaron la vida cotidiana del activismo y las acciones situadas de los participantes. Subrayando su naturaleza socialmente enraizada y dependiente de trayectorias históricas específicas, argumentamos que dichos mecanismos moldearon la movilización de forma diferente en cada país.

Na Argentina de Kirchner e na Venezuela de Chávez, como a governança interagiu com a mobilização popular? Como setores populares engajaram-se e participaram na governança de centro-esquerda? Utilizando dados etnográficos, argumentamos que as repostas a estas questões estão em três mecanismos sociais que chamamos reconhecimento, incorporação e mobilização seletiva. Analisamos como ativistas e participantes interpretaram e contestaram estes mecanismos, com particular atenção à maneira pela qual estes mecanismos informavam o dia-a-dia do ativismo e as ações específicas dos participantes. Destacando as naturezas intrinsecamente sociais e históricas destes mecanismos, argumentamos que estes moldaram a mobilização diferentemente nos dois países.



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1 See, for instance, Bull, Benedicte, ‘Social Movements and the “Pink Tide” Governments in Latin America: Transformation, Inclusion and Rejection’, in Stokke, Kristian and Törnquist, Olle (eds.), Democratization in the Global South (New York: Palgrave, 2013), pp. 7599 ; Burdick, John, Oxhorn, Philip and Roberts, Kenneth M. (eds.), Beyond Neoliberalism in Latin America? (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Cameron, Maxwell A. and Hershberg, Eric (eds.), Latin America's Left Turns (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010); Grugel, Jean and Riggirozzi, Pía (eds.), Governance after Neoliberalism in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Kingstone, Peter R., The Political Economy of Latin America (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2011); Levitsky, Steven and Roberts, Kenneth M. (eds.), The Resurgence of the Latin American Left (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011); Weyland, Kurt, Madrid, Raúl and Hunter, Wendy (eds.), Leftist Governments in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

2 Castañeda, Jorge G., ‘Latin America's Left Turn’, Foreign Affairs, 85 (2006), pp. 2843 ; Mudde, Cas and Kaltwasser, Cristóbal Rovira, Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy? (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Kurt Weyland, ‘The Performance of Leftist Governments in Latin America’, in Weyland et al. (eds.), Leftist Governments in Latin, pp. 1–27.

3 See, for instance, Campos, Carlos Oliva, Prevost, Gary and Vanden, Harry E. (eds.), Social Movements and Leftist Governments in Latin America (London: Zed Books, 2012); Veltmeyer, Henry and Petras, James, The New Extractivism: A Post-neoliberal Development Model or Imperialism of the Twenty-First Century? (New York: Zed Books, 2014); Webber, Jeffery R., From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation, and the Politics of Evo Morales (Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011); Spronk, Susan and Webber, Jeffery R. (eds.), Crisis and Contradiction: Marxist Perspectives on Latin America in the Global Political Economy (Boston, MA: Brill, 2014).

4 Barrett, Patrick, Chavez, Daniel and Rodríguez-Garavito, César, The New Latin American Left: Utopia Reborn (London: Pluto Press, 2008).

5 For instance, Beasley-Murray, Jon, Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and Ciccariello-Maher, George, We Created Chávez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

6 For mechanisms in contentious politics, see McAdam, Doug, Tarrow, Sidney and Tilly, Charles, Dynamics of Contention (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2001).

7 Gross, Neil, ‘A Pragmatist Theory of Social Mechanisms’, American Sociological Review, 74: 3 (2009), pp. 358–79.

8 Auyero, Javier, Poor People's Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000).

9 Roberts, Kenneth, ‘The Mobilization of Opposition to Economic Liberalization’, Annual Review of Political Science, 11 (2008), pp. 327–49.

10 ‘The social policies to reincorporate the popular sectors were not function- or class-based but territory-based (i.e., defined by the physical location of the actors)’: Rossi, Federico M., ‘The Second Wave of Incorporation in Latin America: A Conceptualization of the Quest for Inclusion Applied to Argentina’, Latin American Politics and Society, 57: 1 (2015), p. 7 .

11 Auyero, Javier, Contentious Lives: Two Argentine Women, Two Protests, and the Quest for Recognition (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

12 Fraser, Nancy, ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a “Post-Socialist” Age’, in Phillips, Anne (ed.), Feminism and Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1998), pp. 430–60; Hobson, Barbara (ed.), Recognition Struggles and Social Movements: Contested Identities, Agency and Power (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Alvarez, Sonia E., Dagnino, Evelina and Escobar, Arturo, Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998); Alvarez, Sonia E. and Escobar, Arturo, The Making of Social Movements in Latin America: Identity, Strategy, and Democracy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992).

13 Fraser, Nancy and Honneth, Axel, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange (London: Verso, 2003); cf. Swanson, Jacinda, ‘Recognition and Redistribution: Rethinking Culture and the Economic’, Theory, Culture & Society, 22: 4 (2005), pp. 87118 .

14 Martínez, Juliana, Molyneux, Maxine and Sánchez-Ancochea, Diego, ‘Latin American Capitalism: Economic and Social Policy in Transition,’ Economy and Society, 38:1 (2009), pp. 116 .

15 Recognition resembles the mechanism of certification favoured by McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly (Dynamics of Contention, p. 158), yet we use a different term to emphasise meaning-making processes.

16 Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking Recognition: Overcoming Displacement and Reification in Cultural Politics’, in Hobson (ed.), Recognition Struggles and Social Movements, pp. 21–32.

17 Ibid., p. 27.

18 Silva, Eduardo, Challenging Neoliberalism in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 49 .

19 Luna, Juan Pablo and Filgueira, Fernando, in ‘The Left Turns as Multiple Paradigmatic Crises’, Third World Quarterly, 30: 2 (2009), pp. 371–95, argue that incorporation has both political and socioeconomic dimensions. This distinction is an important one to understand the success of incorporation attempts. Here, however, we set aside the issue of the economic stability of current incorporation attempts in order to focus on the political dimension.

20 Rossi, ‘The Second Wave of Incorporation in Latin America’, p. 4.

21 Collier, Ruth and Collier, David, Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, The Labor Movement and Regime Dynamics in Latin America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); Luna and Filgueira, ‘The Left Turns as Multiple Paradigmatic Crises’.

22 Ruth Collier and Samuel Handlin, Reorganizing Popular Politics: Participation and the New Interest Regime in Latin America (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press).

23 Ibid., p. 77.

24 Tarrow, Sidney, Strangers at the Gates: Movements and States in Contentious Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

25 See Rivadulla, María José Alvarez, ‘Clientelism or Something Else? Squatter Politics in Montevideo’, Latin American Politics and Society, 54: 1 (2012), pp. 3763 ; Auyero, Poor People's Politics; Baiocchi, Gianpaolo, Militants and Citizens: The Politics of Participatory Democracy in Porto Alegre (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); Lazar, Sian, El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Park, Yun-Joo and Richards, Patricia, ‘Negotiating Neoliberal Multiculturalism: Mapuche Workers in the Chilean State’, Social Forces, 85: 3 (2007), pp. 1319–39; Smilde, David and Hellinger, Daniel (eds.), Venezuela's Bolivarian Democracy: Participation, Politics, and Culture under Chávez (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

26 For a review, see Almeida, Paul and Ulate, Allen Cordero (eds.), Handbook of Social Movements across Latin America (New York: Springer, 2015).

27 For instance, de la Torre, Carlos, ‘In the Name of the People: Democratization, Popular Organizations, and Populism in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador’, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 95 (2013), pp. 2748 ; Jansen, Robert S., ‘Populist Mobilization: A New Theoretical Approach to Populism’, Sociological Theory, 29: 2 (2011), pp. 7596 ; Kaltwasser, Cristóbal Rovira, ‘Latin American Populism: Some Conceptual and Normative Lessons’, Constellations, 21: 4 (2014), pp. 494504 .

28 Lapegna, Pablo, ‘Popular Demobilization, Agribusiness Mobilization, and the Agrarian Boom in Post-neoliberal Argentina’, Journal of World-Systems Research, 21:1 (2015), pp. 6987 ; Wolff, Jonas, ‘(De-)mobilising the Marginalised: A Comparison of the Argentine Piqueteros and Ecuador's Indigenous Movement’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 39: 1 (2007), pp. 129 .

29 Number of protests per year using data provided by Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos (Venezuelan Programme for Education in Action for Human Rights, PROVEA) at (last access 21 Jan. 2017).

30 Roberts, Kenneth M., ‘Populism, Political Conflict, and Grass-roots Organization in Latin America’, Comparative Politics, 38: 2 (2006), p. 137 .

31 Jansen, ‘Populist Mobilization,’ p. 82, original emphasis.

32 Tilly, Charles, ‘Afterword: Political Ethnography as Art and Science’, in Joseph, Lauren, Mahler, Matthew and Auyero, Javier (eds.), New Perspectives in Political Ethnography (New York: Springer, 2007), p. 248 .

33 Exemplified in the ‘Abaeté Manifesto’ and the network coordinated by anthropologists Márcio Goldman and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro; see Abaeté, Rede de Antropologia Simétrica’, Cadernos de Campo, 14/15 (2006), pp. 177–90. For ANT and symmetry, see Baiocchi, Gianpaolo, Graizbord, Diana and Rodríguez-Muñiz, Michael, ‘Actor-Network Theory and the Ethnographic Imagination: An Exercise in Translation’, Qualitative Sociology, 36: 4 (2013), pp. 323–41.

34 Roberts, ‘The Mobilization of Opposition’, p. 344.

35 Emirbayer, Mustafa, ‘Manifesto for a Relational Sociology,’ American Journal of Sociology, 103: 2 (1997), pp. 281317 ; McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly, Dynamics of Contention, p. 50. In Latin America, see Wolford, Wendy, This Land is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings of Land in Brazil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 412 ; Edelman, Marc, Peasants against Globalization: Rural Social Movements in Costa Rica (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Rubin, Jeffrey W., Decentering the Regime: Ethnicity, Radicalism, and Democracy in Juchitán, Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997).

36 Wolford, This Land is Ours Now; Rubin, Decentering the Regime.

37 Baiocchi, Militants and Citizens, p. 4.

38 Javier Auyero and Lauren Joseph, ‘Introduction: Politics under the Ethnographic Microscope’, in Joseph, Mahler and Auyero (eds.), New Perspectives, p. 5.

39 Goodale, Mark and Postero, Nancy, ‘Revolution and Retrenchment: Illuminating the Present in Latin America’, in Goodale, Mark and Postero, Nancy (eds.), Neoliberalism, Interrupted: Social Change and Contested Governance in Contemporary Latin America (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), pp. 122 ; Leeuwen, Mathijs Van, ‘To Conform or to Confront? CSOs and Agrarian Conflict in Post-conflict Guatemala,’ Journal of Latin American Studies, 42: 1 (2010), pp. 91119 .

40 Laclau, Ernesto, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).

41 Kingstone, The Political Economy of Latin America.

42 Steven Levitsky and Kenneth M. Roberts, ‘Latin America's “Left Turn”’, in Levitsky and Roberts (eds.), The Resurgence of the Latin American Left, pp. 1–28.

43 On the different forms of authority and party organisation see ibid., pp. 12–16.

44 Emerson, Robert M., Fretz, Rachel I. and Shaw, Linda L., Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

45 Paz, Raúl, ‘Agricultura familiar en el agro argentino: una contribución al debate sobre el futuro del campesinado’, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 91 (2011), pp. 4970 .

46 Peck, Jamie and Tickell, Adam, ‘Neoliberalizing Space’, Antipode, 34: 3 (2002), pp. 380404 .

47 For the process of Peronism turned political machine, see Auyero, Poor People's Politics and Levitsky, Steven, ‘An “Organised Disorganisation”: Informal Organisation and the Persistence of Local Party Structures in Argentine Peronism’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 33: 1 (2001), pp. 2965 .

48 The term piquetero refers to the organised unemployed in Argentina, who during the 1990s blocked roads as their main form of protest. See Svampa, Maristella and Pereyra, Sebastián, Entre la ruta y el barrio: la experiencia de las organizaciones piqueteras (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2003); Rossi, ‘The Second Wave of Incorporation in Latin America’; Wolff, ‘(De-)mobilising the Marginalised’.

49 FPDS (Frente Popular Darío Santillán), Darío y Maxi: Dignidad piquetera (Buenos Aires: Editorial El Colectivo, 2003).

50 ‘Los piqueteros apuestan a dar un respiro al nuevo gobierno’, La Nación, 19 May 2003.

51 ‘Los piqueteros entregaron un petitorio en la Casa de Gobierno’, La Nación, 28 May 2003; ‘Fuerte apoyo de líderes piqueteros a Kirchner’, La Nación, 6 June 2003; ‘Kirchner recibió los reclamos de los piqueteros “duros”’, La Nación, 10 June 2003; ‘Fuerte ayuda oficial a los piqueteros,’ La Nación, 14 Aug. 2003; ‘El Gobierno recibe hoy a piqueteros de Mosconi’, La Nación, 25 Nov. 2003.

52 ‘Con cautela, contra Duhalde’, Página 12, 30 Nov. 2003; ‘Kirchner se enojó con Duhalde por los piqueteros’, La Nación, 30 Nov. 2003.

53 Auyero, Poor People's Politics.

54 Rossi, ‘The Second Wave of Incorporation in Latin America’.

55 See For further information see also Resolution 1189/2006 of the Ministry of Social Development that created the programme, available here: (date of last access of both URLs, 25 Jan. 2017).

56 ‘Kirchner llamó a un “boicot nacional” por los aumentos’, La Nación, 10 March 2005, and ‘Escracharon a Shell y bloquearon dos estaciones’, Página 12, 11 March 2005.

57 Rossi, ‘The Second Wave of Incorporation in Latin America’, p. 15.

58 Lapegna, ‘Popular Demobilization’.

59 Haggerty, Richard A. (ed.), Venezuela: A Country Study (Washington, DC, US Government Printing Office, 1993), p. 53 .

60 Censo nacional de población y vivienda (Caracas: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, 2014).

61 Kenneth Roberts, ‘Social Polarization and the Populist Resurgence in Venezuela’, in Steve Ellner and Daniel Hellinger (eds.), Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner), pp. 55–72.

62 Hellinger, Daniel, ‘Populism and Nationalism in Venezuela: New Perspectives on Acción Democrática’, Latin American Perspectives, 11: 4 (1984), pp. 3359 .

63 The number of people killed by state forces is disputed and difficult to verify. While the government claimed that around 300 people had been killed, other sources put this number at 1,000. See Coronil, Fernando and Skurski, Julie, State of Violence (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2005); Maya, Margarita Lopez, ‘The Venezuelan Caracazo of 1989: Popular Protest and Institutional Weakness’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 35: 1 (2003), pp. 117–37.

64 60–75 per cent of voters in Sucre have voted for Chavista presidential candidates over the years.

65 Guadilla, María Pilar García, ‘La sociedad civil venezolana, 1961–2004’, in Gruson, Alberto (ed.), Una lectura sociológica de la Venezuela actual II (Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2005), pp. 83117 ; Maya, Margarita López, ‘Democracia participativa y políticas sociales en el gobierno de Hugo Chávez Frías’, Revista Venezolana de Gerencia, 9: 28 (2004), pp. 122 .

66 Ellner, Steve, ‘Venezuela's Social-Based Democratic Model: Innovations and Limitations’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 43: 3 (2011), pp. 421–49.

67 This law was updated in 2009, with a reorganisation of council funding and the addition of language linking the councils to twenty-first century socialism.

68 The designation as spokespeople rather than representatives emphasises that these elected participants are not representatives but rather transmit community decisions and needs to the government.

69 The complete steps for setting up a council are too detailed to include here; see (last access 22 Jan. 2017).

70 Residency letters prove residence in a neighbourhood and are needed to apply for utilities, government programmes, bank accounts, etc.

71 Antillano, Andrés, ‘La lucha por el reconocimiento y la inclusión en los barrios populares: la experiencia de los comités de tierras urbanas’, Revista Venezolana de Economía y Ciencias Sociales, 11: 3 (2005), pp. 205–18; Velasco, Alejandro, Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015).

72 Fernandes, Sujatha, Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chávez's Venezuela (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 56 .

73 Ibid., p. 40.

74 Ellner, Steve, ‘Obstáculos a la consolidación del movimiento vecinal venezolano: la brecha entre lo nacional y lo local’, Revista Venezolana de Economía y Ciencias Sociales, 5: 1 (1999), pp. 3357 .

75 Collier and Handlin, Reorganizing Popular Politics, p. 50.

76 Ciccariello-Maher, We Created Chávez, p. 18.

77 See (last access 22 Jan. 2017).

78 Ciccariello-Maher, We Created Chávez, p. 18.

79 Wilde, Matt, ‘Contested Spaces: The Communal Councils and Participatory Democracy in Chávez's Venezuela’, Latin American Perspectives, 44: 1 (2016), pp. 140–58.

80 Hawkins, Kirk, ‘Who Mobilizes? Participatory Democracy in Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution’, Latin American Politics and Society, 52: 3 (2010), p. 48 .

81 See Wilde, ‘Contested Spaces’.

82 This is not to say that the Chavista governments have not appointed activists and participants to positions within the state.

83 Maya, Margarita López and Lander, Luis E., ‘Novedades y continuidades de la protesta popular en Venezuela’, Revista Venezolana de Economía y Ciencias Sociales, 12: 1 (2006), pp. 1130 .

84 Velasco, Barrio Rising.

85 See PROVEA reports at (last access 21 Jan. 2017).

86 The Mercal system is the chain of government subsidised food markets that were opened in the barrios under Chávez in the mid-2000s.

87 Roberts, ‘Populism, Political Conflict, and Grass-roots Organization’, p. 141.

88 Up to a certain period the mechanisms of recognition, incorporation and mobilisation also operated under the Maduro government in Venezuela. However, owing to changes we discuss below, incorporation and recognition became increasingly less capable of producing supportive mobilisation.

89 Collier and Handlin, Reorganizing Popular Politics.

90 Auyero, Poor People's Politics.

91 For similar trends in the rest of Latin America, see Zibechi, Raúl, ‘Progressive Fatigue?’, NACLA Report on the Americas, 48: 1 (2016), pp. 22–7.

* We would like to thank the people involved in our research in Argentina and Venezuela. Without their support we would not have been able to conduct our work. We hope that we have done justice to their stories and their organisations here. James Dowd, Timothy Gill and the participants in the Culture, Power and History workshop at the University of Georgia provided invaluable feedback on previous versions of this article, but any omissions are our own.

Authors are listed in alphabetical order. Both authors contributed equally to this article.


Popular Participation and Governance in the Kirchners' Argentina and Chávez's Venezuela: Recognition, Incorporation and Supportive Mobilisation



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