Political Inequality in Latin America in IJS 2011


Table of Contents
Summer 2011
Vol. 41 No. 02

Political Inequality in Latin America

Guest Editors

Soraya Vargas Cortes
Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul

Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow
Polish Academy of Sciences

Guest Editors’ Introduction: Political Inequality in Latin America 

Democracy establishes formal conditions for political life, such as universal suffrage, civil liberties, and the right to form political organizations, yet political inequality is the outcome. While the literature on other major types of inequality, such as economic and educational inequalities, addresses the basic question “What are the causes and consequences of this inequality?” empirical studies of political inequality, especially outside of the West, are few. This is true of Latin America. Scholarship produced by Latin American scholars rarely reaches English-speaking audiences. This issue of the International Journal of Sociology draws together in a single volume empirically based articles that focus on the unique impact of the Latin American context on the form, causes, and consequences of political inequality.

How Do Social Networks Matter in Reducing the Effects of Poverty? 

This article discusses the role of social networks and sociability in poor people’s access to goods and services obtained from outside the markets. The article uses qualitative information from research into social networks of poor individuals living in segregated places in São Paulo. The results show the importance of networks and suggest that the help mediating such access depends upon the types of ties and trust involved as well as the cost of providing the help. The observed processes tend to reiterate inequalities, establishing circularities of poverty reproduction.

The Role of Social Capital in Citizen Support for Government Action to Reduce Economic Inequality 

This article suggests that an important source of political conflict in Latin America and the Caribbean is the disagreement among the citizenry on the role of government in reducing economic inequality, particularly between the very rich and the poor. While the poor clamor for vigorous public policies to reduce economic inequality, the rich show significantly lower support. The findings of this article, however, indicate that social capital, in the form of interpersonal trust, does work as a conciliatory force between haves and have-nots. The results shed light on the importance of cultivating social capital in the region to boost support among the wealthy for public policies that favor the poor, and consequently for creating the political conditions for governments to fight economic inequality and, in turn, political disparities.
State, Third Sector, and the Political Sphere in Brazil: Evolution and Current Scenario 
p. 50

This article examines the recent development of the relationship between the state and third sector organizations (TSOs) in Brazil and the role of the political sphere in this process. The steady increase in fund transfers, impartial resource allocation, and the greater permeability of decision-making bodies to TSOs-in the Public Policy Management Councils (Conselhos Nacionais de Políticas Públicas)-indicate a trend of declining political inequality. We explore this indication of political inequality reduction by analyzing sixty-one in-depth interviews conducted with TSO directors, centered on their perceptions of the interaction of TSOs and the political sphere. We highlight the low level of legitimacy that clientelistic practices have in the interaction between the third sector and the political sphere, which indicates an important shift in values that historically had been a key feature of the Brazilian political system.

Explaining Political Activism in Southern Brazil: Engagement in Political and Nonpolitical Organizations, Education, Motivation, and the Role of the State  
p. 74

As the Brazilian public demands more active, direct citizen participation in the policy-making process, more and more new social movements and protest groups emerge. At the same time, Brazilian state political institutions and corporatist structures play a central role in structuring opportunities for civic engagement and activism. Our main argument, rooted in the Brazilian context, is the following: Spurred by state and corporatist structures in Brazilian political life, engagement in organizations of all types-political and nonpolitical-positively affects chances of engaging in political activism in metropolitan southern Brazil. In this context, we also examine the independent influences of education, motivation (interest in politics), gender, and age (the youth generation) on political activism. To address our research concern, we use data from the Brazilian Metropolitan Observatory Survey, carried out in 2006-7 in São Paulo and Porto Alegre (n = 1,536). Considering the strong role of the state, we find that engagement in political organizations has a greater impact on political activism than engagement in nonpolitical organizations.

Political Inequality of Law: A Comparative Study of Migrant Electoral Rights in MERCOSUR Countries 
p. 94

In 1991, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay signed the Asunción treaty, whose purpose was to set up a common economic market, Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur, or Southern Common Market). Mercosurean migrants receive special treatment in the bloc. They enjoy broad legal protection and benefits in comparison to other aliens and have been incorporated into labor, civil, and social rights regimes. However, some political rights, electoral rights in particular, have not been improved. I examine political inequality before the law in a critical analysis of electoral legislation in the original four Mercosur states, focusing on migrants’ rights to vote and to be candidates in local, regional, and national elections. The main findings of this study are that (a) electoral laws consistently discriminate against migrants, (b) each country has its own legal framework for discrimination, and (c) these discriminatory laws constitute gaps in the social and economic protections provided by Mercosur.