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Exploring the Relationship Between Social Movement Organizations and the State in Latin America

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Abstract:  Under conditions of weak statehood, societal actors are supposed to assume functions usually attributed to the state. Social self-organization is expected to emerge when the state leaves important social problems unattended. Should social self-organization, therefore, be regarded as a reaction to state weakness and as compensation for state failure in the provision of basic services? Does society organize itself on its own in areas where the state is absent or ineffective? By the example of two Latin American social movements, this article aims to show that social self-organization—at least on a larger scale—is not independent of the state, but rather a result of a dynamic interaction with the state. The two examples this article explores are the middle-class Venezuelan neighborhood movement and the Argentine piquetero movement of unemployed workers. Both movements emerged as reactions to the state’s failure and retreat from essential social functions and both developed into extensive and influential social actors. For that reason, they can be regarded as crucial cases for observing the patterns and conditions of social self-organization and autonomous collective action within the specific Latin American context. Despite their different backgrounds and social bases, the two cases reveal remarkable similarities. They show that the emergence and development of self-organized social groups cannot be conceived simply as a reaction to state weakness, but rather should be viewed as a dynamic interaction with the state.

Keywords:  Argentina; neighborhood movement; piquetero movement; social movements; social self‐organization; state–society relations; Venezuela

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v11i2.6383


© Thomas Kestler. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.