Intervención de Sofía Donoso, PhD Oxford University, en la ceremonia de entrega del Premio Kalman Silvert, Latin American Studies Association, (LASA), San Juan Puerto Rico, 29 de Mayo, 2015
When I asked former students of Manuel Antonio what they remembered about him, not a few of them mentioned his colorful shirts - and yet another few actually referred to his use of pink ties. Others highlighted his strong interest in cinema and how Manuel Antonio - to the joy of his students - spent quite some time analyzing both older movies and new releases during his lectures. "La duda", Manuel Antonio once said when a student raised his hand to express that he had "una duda" - a doubt, or a question - is an excellent movie featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. And then he analyzed it for 15 minutes. When Machuca came out - the award-winning movie about two boys from different social classes that become close friends in the midst of the political turmoil of the Unidad Popular in the 1970s - Manuel Antonio famously noted that it "depicted an era in a way that not even the best analyst ------ pause and a smile ------ had ever done". I myself remember when Manuel Antonio visited Oxford while I was a doctoral student and he spent a whole formal dinner - or high table as they call it - criticizing the movie "No". This movie, for those of you who haven't seen it, portrays the "No to Pinochet" campaign in 1989, giving an important role to the advertising agency that put together the campaign. This, to the detriment of the political parties that spearheaded this process, as Manuel Antonio cogently argued. And there could not be anything more annoying for Manuel Antonio than a movie that downplays the role of the political process behind the democratic transitions in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America.
One thing that everyone I asked remembered about Manuel Antonio was the fights. Because Manuel Antonio will never avoid a discussion about what probably is his greatest passion - namely, politics. And, as he told a former student of his: "I've lost a lot of things in my life, but I have never, never lost an argument". To accomplish this admirable task, Manuel Antonio sometimes employs dubious techniques. As another student recalled, once he got involved in a discussion about transitions to democracy and Manuel Antonio challenged him to "give him one, one single example" of a regime transition that had not been attained through negotiations. Seeing the panic in the eyes of his young student, Manuel Antonio laughed and recognized that there in fact were several examples but that the "one-example-technique" was a great one that often worked.
One much-commented on and at this point classic discussion - something like the fight of the century for anyone interested in collective action - is a discussion that took place in Chile in December last year. The Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies had organized a 3-day-long seminar on collective action and one of the international guest speakers was Sidney Tarrow from Cornell University.
In his key note on the morning of the first conference day, Tarrow had declared that he was a "garretoniano" in his understanding of social movements. Yet, later that same day, during a panel in which doctoral students presented their ongoing research on various social movements in Latin America, Manuel Antonio and Tarrow embarked on a discussion on the very definition of social movements.
While Tarrow defended the analytical lens of the papers presented in the panel and the specific cases that had been chosen, Manuel Antonio criticized that the paper-givers did not make enough effort to identify the main historical problematique of contemporary societies. The cases presented, according to Manuel Antonio, represented instrumental responses to specific problems or situations but they did not explain how social movements, and sometimes the Social Movement (in singular and with capital letters) emerges as an expression of the main societal conflict, embodying the sense of history while driving social change.
In other words, Manuel Antonio was challenging the presenters - and everyone in the audience - to think about the larger significance of the specific cases addressed in the papers, and to take a step back and advance a theoretical understanding of these cases.
In his efforts to identify the driving forces of societal transformation, Manuel Antonio's work is deeply rooted in political sociology. It is by elucidating the social and economic foundations of formal politics that Manuel Antonio has made his contributions to scholarship in Chile - and as this award acknowledges - to scholarship way beyond Chilean academia.
His widely used concept of socio-political matrix, in particular, offers an analytical lens to comprehend the intertwined relationships between the state, political parties and social movements. Emphasizing these close links, this framework invites us to think about how the components of the socio-political matrix co-evolve, and how they are shaped by internal tensions and international processes.
In his work, Manuel Antonio both develops his theoretical proposal and provides rich accounts about each of the components that is comprised by the socio-political matrix. His contributions on the renovation of the left in Chile, for example, are key to understand the transformation of one of the political actors that historically spearheaded projects of social transformation. And the distinct levels of analyses are also present in Manuel Antonio's more recently published assessment of the 4 consecutive Concertación governments, that is, of the historical period between 1990 and 2010.
Manuel Antonio's work also contributes greatly to the understanding of the change of political regimes in the region, and their capacity to mediate between the state, political parties and social movements. As I am sure many of you are familiar with, a great part of his scholarly contribution has centered on the democratization of political regimes, and on identifying what hampers the advancement of more inclusive societies in Chile and elsewhere in the region.
Manuel Antonio's concept of authoritarian enclave, for example, is key for anyone who wishes to understand Chile's recent history, as it helps us to grasp both the formal and informal institutional constraints that hinder social change. His recent investigation on the presidential advisory commissions during the Bachelet administration as a way of channeling social discontent is a more recent example of Manuel Antonio's constant effort to understand the extent into which political regimes are being democratized.
For us interested in social movements, finally, the work of Manuel Antonio has also been crucial. Not only has the concept of socio-political matrix challenged us to analyze the emergence and impact of social movements paying close attention to what is happening at the institutional terrain, but it has also helped us to comprehend recent historical processes of transformation of collective action in the region. In addition, Manuel Antonio has offered a framework to understand the role that social movements play as a democratizing force - certainly a topic which continues protest waves in the region never stops to be relevant.
Underpinning Manuel Antonio endeavor to offer analytical tools to understand the social and economic foundations of political processes is a profound commitment with democracy in Chile and other countries in the region. This was expressed in his own experience as a student leader, various participations in expert commissions since 1990 - but also in the classroom.
Manuel Antonio - besides his constant references to cinema and other art forms - always showed his concern with current political events in Chile. When Pinochet died, for example, he improvised a much-remembered talk on the larger significance of what was happening in the country. In recent years of mass mobilization in Chile, Manuel Antonio's lectures have provided a forum for the analysis of the broader significance of the change of political and social cycle in the country.
But Manuel Antonio's political commitment was also manifest in his relationship with his students. One former president of the FECH, the student federation of the Universidad de Chile, remembered - still grateful - that Manuel Antonio was the first one - much before his own parents - to call him and offer him help when he was arrested while demonstrating. And there wasn't any questioning about whether this FECh president actually had been involved in anything dodgy - as he expressed "he didn't doubt a second about supporting me - personally, and as the authority that he is at the Universidad de Chile, institutionally.
CONCLUSION - "BIG QUESTIONS"
In an era in which scholars are put under pressure to publish as many I S I - ranked papers, as soon as possible, and often find themselves too much in a rush to conceptualize the broader significance of their research, to read and to listen to Manuel Antonio always results refreshing. Refreshing because Manuel Antonio reminds us about what attracted many of us to academia in the first place - that is, to understand how social change comes about in order to contribute to it to happen
And refreshing because Manuel Antonio constantly challenges us to go back to the big questions that have been at the heart of his scholarly contribution and which remain as relevant as ever.