Sociology, Latin American
Sociology, Latin American
Sociology did not gain a foothold in Latin America until after World War II when Latin American universities opened sociology departments. Latin American sociology has, in general, a number of features that make it distinct from U.S. or European sociology. First, Latin American sociologists have been concerned with understanding issues of poverty and inequality. In general, they have been less concerned with value-neutral research than with research that is concerned with analyzing and improving the quality of life for the poor. As the Brazilian sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso stated, “The intellectuals in Latin America are important because they are the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves” (Kahl 1988, p. 179).
The scholar Alejandro Portes pointed out that in contrast to North American or European sociologists, Latin American sociologists are frequently marginalized, having little access to government and/or private institutions that fund research in wealthier nations. He also noted that the intellectual and political commitments of Latin American sociologists mean that they are frequently the first academics to suffer under authoritarian regimes. For example, sociology was outlawed in Cuba following Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959 and in Chile following the military coup d’etat of 1973. In the 1980s and 1990s, sociology made a strong comeback in Latin America in sync with its return to democracy.
Latin American sociologists are probably best known for dependency theory, a school of loosely Marxist thought that arose in the 1960s and 1970s as a critical response to modernization theory. In the 1950s and 1960s, modernization theory was the dominant approach to questions of third world development. It was the policy prescribed by the United Nations and informed by the work of U.S.-based academics. In essence, modernization theory argued that underdeveloped countries, such as those in Latin America, could develop along lines similar to the United States and other developed countries in Europe. Raúl Prebisch, an influential Argentine economist, noted that the policy prescriptions of the modernization theorists were flawed because underdeveloped countries were exporting raw materials (agricultural products and minerals) with declining rates of profit while they imported finished goods from advanced countries that were more expensive every year.
Drawing on the work of Prebisch, but also Gino Germani, an economist based in Argentina, Latin American sociologists began developing dependency theory as a critical response to modernization theory. Dependency scholars argued that the underdevelopment of the third world was generated by the expansion of capitalism in advanced countries. That is, first world development occurred at the expense of the third world. Thus, underdeveloped countries could not follow the path of advanced countries because they lacked another set of countries to exploit; in addition, they could not compete with the more advanced economies and firms of the first world.
There were two schools of thought in dependency theory. The first, associated with the work of Andre Gunder Frank (but also Celso Furtado and Theotonio dos Santos), is considered the radical version of dependency theory. These scholars emphasized that third world economies were bound to stagnate because first world firms repatriated profits gained in the third world. Thus, third world countries would never benefit from opening their countries to multinational corporations. Consequently, they recommended either socialist revolution or autarky; that is, delinking from the global economy as the best means to promote national development. Critics of dependency theory have been quick to point out that this strategy, seen in cases such as Cuba and North Korea, has failed.
A second strand of dependency theory, associated with the work of Cardoso and Enzo Falleto, suggests a much less radical view. These scholars argued that external constraints (competition in a global capitalist market) and internal factors (such as class relations and political alliances) explain the trajectory of individual third world countries. They argued that “associated dependent development” was possible; that is, that less developed countries could have simultaneously participated in the global economy and improved the lives of their citizens. In essence, national leaders enjoyed more room to maneuver than the radical dependency scholars allowed.
In addition to the aforementioned scholars, the work of the Mexican Pablo González Casanova should be discussed. His widely read book Democracy in Mexico (1970) offers a complex portrait of the ruling PRI party (Party of the Institutional Revolution) in Mexico. González Casanova acknowledged the advances made by the PRI (including land reform and a booming economy). However, he pointed out that a growing number of people, especially the indigenous, were left out of the PRI’s benefits. González Casanova noted that the indigenous were experiencing what he called “internal colonialism,” which acknowledges that they had traded one set of colonial powers (the Spanish) for a new one (the Creole-Spanish descendants who ruled Mexico after the War of Independence). González Casanova offered a critique of the PRI, calling for a democratic opening from within the party so that more Mexicans could benefit from its legacy.
Dependency theory played an important role in Latin American intellectual life, influencing the thought of activists in the liberation theology movement and in the United States among scholars of third world development. Dependency theory faced criticisms on the one hand from Marxists, such as the scholar Robert Brenner, who in the late 1970s underscored that dependency theorists betrayed an implicit intellectual tie, not to the German political philosopher Karl Marx but to the Scottish economist Adam Smith. Mainstream scholars criticized dependency theory because it failed to explain the trajectory of a number of newly industrialized countries (such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan). That, in combination with the eclipse of the Soviet Union in 1989, suggested dependency theory was doomed for the dustbin of history. In fact, a parting shot was provided by Cardoso himself, who was elected president of Brazil from 1995 to 2003 and implemented policies that differed greatly from the positions he outlined earlier in his academic career.
While the more radical variants of dependency theory have been abandoned, in the 2000s the theory is somewhat influential among scholars of development, much to the chagrin of its critics. As Portes noted in his reflection on sociology in Latin America in 2004, radical dependency theory was easily rebutted by the course of history; however, radical neoliberal development policies should also be criticized for their poor results, including increasing levels of inequality and the immiseration of the working class.
SEE ALSO Sociology
Brenner, Robert. 1977. The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism. New Left Review 104 (July-August): 25–92.
Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, and Enzo Falletto. 1979. Dependency and Development in Latin America. Trans. Marjory Mattingly Urquidi. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kahl, Joseph. 1988. Three Latin American Sociologists: Gino Germani, Pablo González Casanova, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Portes, Alejandro. 2004. La sociologia en el continente: convergencias preteritas y una nueva agenda de alcance medio. Revista Mexicana de Sociología 66 (3): 1–37.
Robert Sean Mackin