Civil sphere and democracy in Latin America

(Introductory comment by Viktor Stepanenko)

stmm. 2020 (1): 23-40

UDC 316.454.3/653

DOI https://doi.org/10.15407/sociology2020.01.023

Jeffrey C. Alexander - Professor of Sociology and co-Director of the Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University (New Haven, USA).

ORCID https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3600-8023

Carlo Tognato - Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Director of the Center for Social Studies, National University of Colombia (Bogotá D.C., Colombia).

ORCID https://orcid.org/ 0000-0003-0505-4246

Abstract. The purpose of the article is to demonstrate that the civil spheres of Latin America remain in force, even when under threat, and to expand the method of theorizing democracy, understanding it not only as a state form, but also as a way of life. Moreover, the task of the authors goes beyond the purely application of the theory of the civil sphere in order to emphasize the relevance not only in practice, but also in the theory of democratic culture and institutions of Latin America. This task requires decolonizing the arrogant attitude of North theorists towards democratic processes outside the United States and Europe. The peculiarities of civil spheres in Latin America are emphasized. It is argued that over the course of the nineteenth century the non-civil institutions and value spheres that surrounded civil spheres deeply compromised them. The problems of development that pockmarked Latin America — lagging economies, racial and ethnic and class stratification, religious strife — were invariably filtered through the cultural aspirations and institutional patterns of civil spheres. The appeal of the theory of the civil sphere to the experience of Latin America reveals the ambitious nature of civil society and democracy on new and stronger foundations. Civil spheres had extended significantly as citizens confronted uncomfortable facts, collectively searched for solutions, and envisioned new courses of collective action. However when populism and authoritarianism advance, civil understandings of legitimacy come under pressure from alternative, anti-democratic conceptions of motives, social relations, and political institutions. In these times, a fine-grained understanding of the competitive dynamics between civil, non-civil, and anti-civil becomes particularly critical. Such a vision is constructively applied not only to the realities of Latin America, but also in a wider global context. The authors argue that in order to understand the realities and the limits of populism and polarization, civil sphere scholars need to dive straight into the everyday life of civil communities, setting the civil sphere theory (CST) in a more ethnographic, “anthropological” mode.

Keywords: civil sphere, civility, democracy, Latin America.

Publication in: ukr | rus

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