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Governance and Reform of the State: Signs of Progress?

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 41, Number 1, 2006
pp. 165-177 | 10.1353/lar.2006.0016

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Latin American Research Review 41.1 (2006) 165-177

Signs of Progress?

Robert H. Wilson

The University of Texas at Austin
Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America. Edited by Alfred P. Montero and David J. Samuels. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004. Pp. 320. $47.50 cloth, $27.50 paper.)
Federalism and Democracy in Latin America. Edited by Edward L. Gibson. (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. 377. $49.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.)
Politics Beyond The Capital: The Design of Subnational Institutions in South America. By Kent Eaton. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp. 265. $55.00 cloth.)
The Quiet Revolution: Decentralization and the Rise of Political Participation in Latin American Cities. By Tim Campbell. (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Pp. 216. $24.95 paper.)
Leadership and Innovation in Subnational Government: Case Studies from Latin America. Edited by Tim Campbell and Harald Fuhr. (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2004. Pp. 450. $36.00 paper.)

Democratization and reform of the state in Latin America have been prominent concerns during the last two decades. Responding to authoritarian governments, many constituted by military dictatorships, and to the exhaustion of the state-led development model, the region was ripe for reform. An exciting period of sweeping political and economic change has followed, driven by a range of internal and external factors but manifested according to the unique context of individual countries. The euphoria that accompanied the end of authoritarian governments and the high expectations of social reform and justice have been substantially tempered with the slow progression of the difficult work of instituting democratic governance. Although falling below initial expectations, progress has in fact been made and sufficient time has passed to allow for more rigorous assessments of reform.

Understanding the forces of change and the roles of various actors and institutions involved in state reform is critical for several reasons. In many countries, reform of the state and consolidation of democracy are occurring simultaneously. In addition, high levels of social inequality are quite visible as urbanization rates in the region approach those of the advanced economies, not to mention the fact that the region has a significant number of the world's largest metropolitan areas. Although the period offers interesting challenges and opportunities to scholars, the stakes for establishing effective governance systems are quite high for the countries in the region.

We should expect that the causes of political change in the region include broad structural elements common to many countries as well as elements unique to individual country contexts. State reform, especially the decentralization of governmental structures, has been adopted in many countries and even promoted by multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank. But relatively little formal study of the effectiveness of reform has been published and discussed in the academic literature or in policy communities.

The five books under review here are concerned with causes and consequences of state reform and democratization. Three of the books, Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America, edited by Alfred P. Montero and David J. Samuels, Federalism and Democracy in Latin America, edited by Edward L. Gibson, and Politics Beyond the Capital: The Design of Subnational Institutions in South America, by Kent Eaton, are research monographs intended principally for scholarly communities and political scientists in particular. The other two volumes, The Quiet Revolution: Decentralization and the Rise of Political Participation in Latin American Cities, by Tim Campbell, and Leadership and Innovation in Subnational Government: Case Studies from Latin America, edited by Tim Campbell and Harald Fuhr, are written largely for policy communities. All five books adopt a comparative research framework, although many chapters address individual countries or cases from individual countries. The volumes offer interesting and provocative findings on a wide range of issues and are a welcome addition to the literature.

The authors of Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America are primarily concerned with understanding the dynamics of state reform and democratization in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In the introductory chapter, Montero and Samuels describe the conventional wisdom behind the widespread adoption of public sector decentralization in Latin America. One explanation is the promotion by...



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