LATINNO goes to class: Democratic Innovations in Latin America in dialogue at Humboldt University

During last summer semester, LATINNO’s coordinator Thamy Pogrebinschi offered a seminar at the Institute of Social Sciences at Humboldt University in Berlin that focused on Democracy and Participation in Latin America. Throughout 12 weeks, students coming from diverse disciplinary fields such as Political Science, Sociology, Cultural and Latin American Studies discussed the historical and political context after the transition of Latin American democracies, focusing on their current situation and specificities.

Particular emphasis was laid on the role that civil society, social movements and the inauguration of new spaces for citizen participation have gained in the last decades  after the Third Wave of Democratization and the later “Left Turn” in governing forces throughout the continent. Beyond the review of a general theoretical framework and the most current debates on comparative studies of democracy, students developed in-depth case studies of democratic innovations in several Latin American countries. These were presented and intensively discussed not only to asses new, experimental and sometimes pioneering institutional designs, but also in an effort to evaluate their functioning and to determine the extent of their actual impact on political life, institutionalization and in deepening democracy.

The cases range from traditional constitutional means of citizen participation, such as Recall in Perú and its unprecedentedly extended use by the population –with more than 5000 activated processes-; through the adaptation of Local Councils to context-specific issues in Nicaragua, Perú, Venezuela or Brazil; to autonomous, non-institutionalized citizen initiatives in public spaces in Argentina and Mexico. Experiences with high degrees of institutionalization were also thematized as their structures undergo radical reformulations through the incorporation of citizen participation and decentralization of state-bound functions, such as in Bolivia’s education system or the continent-wide spread cultural program “Puntos de Cultura”. Digital platforms, websites and applications for mobile devices were also assessed within the current debates on the possibilities, contributions and limitations of E-Democracy. 

Some of these cases have already been collected as part of the LATINNO Database, while others are still on evaluation by the research team. Students also had access to a first version of the website of LATINNO, its theoretical and methodological framework, enabling a very interesting and hopefully productive dialogue between both spaces.