Tribute to Manuel Antonio Garretón, LASA 2015 Kalman Silvert Award.
It is truly an honor and a privilege for me to say a few words of tribute in recognition of Manual Antonio Garretón's selection for the 2015 Kalman Silvert Award for distinguished lifetime contributions to the study of Latin America. Manuel Antonio is richly deserving of this award, and he has long been an intellectual inspiration to me and many other scholars who have studied the political sociology of Latin America in recent decades.
I was first exposed to his work when I was a graduate student in the 1980s, working on issues of democratic transition in Chile and other Latin American countries. I quickly discovered that Manuel Antonio had written some of the most theoretically insightful and sophisticated work on the military dictatorship in Chile and its democratic opposition. I benefitted enormously from his research on social mobilization and protest against the dictatorship, as well as his work on the strategic alignments and maneuvering of opposition parties as they struggled to open political space to contest one of Latin America's most ruthless dictatorships.
Later, when I began to conduct field research in Chile, I discovered another, earlier strand of Manuel Antonio's scholarship, one that was focused on the evolving relationship between socialism and democracy in Chile and Latin America. This work included penetrating analyses of the failure of the Allende experiment in Chile, as well as seminal contributions to region-wide theoretical debates about the "socialist renovation" and the reconciliation of socialist and democratic projects. Manuel Antonio's reconceptualization of socialism as a pluralistic and open-ended process of "deepening democracy" left an indelible mark on my own scholarly thinking. Indeed, just last week, after returning from a conference in Egypt on the challenges of constructing democracy in the Middle East, I scanned and forwarded a copy of one of Manual Antonio's classic articles on the socialist renovation to an Egyptian colleague who is struggling to understand how Islamic movements can be incorporated within fledgling democratic regimes in that troubled region of the world. I'm sure Manuel Antonio will be pleased to know that his work is being read by scholars in distant lands who are grappling with some of the same kinds of challenges that Chile and Latin America confronted in the 1980s!
Indeed, Manuel Antonio's work on political learning in the Chilean and Latin American party systems has been instrumental for much of the scholarly thinking on the normative and cultural bases of democracy in the region. To his credit, however, Manuel Antonio was never content to simply analyze the dynamics of regime transitions and consolidation. From the very beginning of Latin America's "third wave" of democratization, he has taken care to document not only the achievements of democratic triumphs against military dictatorships, but also the limitations and failures of new democratic regimes. His writings on "authoritarian enclaves" and the institutional and socio-economic legacies of authoritarian rule shed new light on the challenges faced by popular social and political actors in post-transitional, neoliberal settings. They remain essential reading for anyone who strives to understand why popular sovereignty has been so difficult to construct in Latin America, and why the region's democratic project remains incomplete.
The common thread that connects the diverse strands of Manuel Antonio's scholarship is his recognition that social, economic, and political fields not only intersect, but are in fact woven together in myriad ways that shape any given socio-political order. These different fields provide mutual reinforcement, but they also create specific fault lines and contradictions that open space for political contestation and create opportunities for political change. His scholarship is, then, political sociology in its deepest and most penetrating manifestation. It is a political sociology that invariably sees the "big picture" and asks important questions about the social, economic, and institutional bases of political order and how they are transformed over time.
As a political scientist based in the U.S., where more narrow, micro-analytic modes of research are heavily in vogue, it is always refreshing for me to read Manuel Antonio's work and be reminded of these big picture questions. His writings never fail to contextualize the micro-analytic accounts and provide a deeper theoretical perspective on how different social fields connect. Through his work, we not only have a better understanding of how democracy came to be established in Latin America's third wave, but also why it so often fails to live up to its promise. His work teaches us how the social and institutional legacies of authoritarian rule restrain democratic majorities, limit popular participation in democratic arenas, and ultimately reproduce egregious social and economic inequalities. For anyone seeking to understand the democratic dilemma in contemporary Chile and Latin America, there is no better place to start than with a thorough reading of Manuel Antonio Garretón. For that, we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. The Kalman Silvert Award could not be given to anyone more deserving.