Barrio Democracy in Latin America: Participatory Decentralization and Community Activism in Montevideo

Barrio Democracy in Latin America, eduardo canel
Author: Eduardo Canel
Published: October 2010
Publisher: Penn State University Press

The transition to democracy under way in Latin America since the 1980s has recently witnessed a resurgence of interest in experimenting with new forms of local governance emphasizing more participation by ordinary citizens. The hope is both to foster the spread of democracy and to improve equity in the distribution of resources. While participatory budgeting has been a favorite topic of many scholars studying this new phenomenon, there are many other types of ongoing experiments. In Barrio Democracy in Latin America, Eduardo Canel focuses our attention on the innovative participatory programs launched by the leftist government in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early 1990s. Based on his extensive ethnographic fieldwork, Canel examines how local activists in three low-income neighborhoods in that city dealt with the opportunities and challenges of implementing democratic practices and building better relationships with sympathetic city officials.

“Eduardo Canel has written a rich, compelling account of the challenges of promoting participatory democracy in Uruguay. In the process, he successfully demonstrates the importance of local contexts and histories for understanding the potential of participatory institutions at the municipal level to actually democratize local governance. By focusing on three communities with the same institutional structures, Canel is able to derive important insights into how ‘lived experiences of participation,’ different kinds of social capital, and the often conflictual nature of civil society help explain the varying levels of successful inclusion associated with participatory institutions throughout Latin America.”

-- Philip Oxhorn, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University

“In his well-written book Barrio Democracy in Latin America, Eduardo Canel explores the limits and possibilities of urban grassroots democratization in Uruguay. He contrasts how neighborhoods differ in how deeply they democratized, as well as how they evolved under different Latin American, national, and citywide conditions. This is a ‘must’ book for anyone interested in social movements, civil society, the political sociology of cities, and democracy both in general and in the specific context of Uruguay.”

-- Susan Eckstein, Boston University