Friday, January 14, 2005

End of the week thoughts

After the first week back at classes, just a couple of observations which I’ve made from the readings and discussions:

On democracy

If procedural notions of democracy (i.e. elections, parties, free media, civil rights) take precedence over more substantive issues like social rights (health care, education, etc), how can public support be secured? Failure to deliver on the latter in Latin America serves to discredit democracy. Indeed, it’s unsurprising that last year’s Latinobarometer showed that a sizeable proportion of people would prefer any other form of government, including authoritarian, if it will deliver social benefits.

Then there’s the difficulty of defining what democracy actually is. This is so difficult that scholars tend to focus on the former rather than the latter. This has implications for democratic practice, since governments find it easier to implement that form rather than provide the more comprehensive approach (e.g. Washington’s preference in Afghanistan and Iraq).

On poverty

The study of social policy in Latin America takes the starting point that universal provision has never been available, unlike other regions of the world. There’s also the problem that what is spent is both never enough nor spent efficiently.

What’s interesting is the distinct social policy discourse by Latin America area specialists on one hand and those dealing with (usually) North America on the other. The former argues for more comprehensive social policy provision to support the poor while the latter maintains the neo-liberal argument that welfare creates dependency. Yet in much of the Latin American literature that argument never seems to be made.

Is this the danger of area studies? By focusing on one region we overlook the arguments made about other societies and parts of the world?

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