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  • Demanding the Land: Urban Popular Movements in Peru and Ecuador, 1990-2005
  • Marc Becker
Demanding the Land: Urban Popular Movements in Peru and Ecuador, 1990-2005. By Paul Dosh. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 2010. Pp. xviii, 288. Figures. Tables. Photos. Appendix. Index.

Paul Dosh examines ten examples of land invasions that resulted in squatter settlements in Lima, Peru, and Quito, Ecuador, between 1990 and 2005. He divides these invasions into three groups. The first was a veteran "Old Guard" that insisted on radical and extralegal strategies that had previously worked, but its lack of innovation resulted in weak and divided neighborhood leadership structures. A younger "Next Generation" group of invaders combined disruptive and militant extra-legal strategies with clientelistic partnerships that focused on material goals rather than higher ideologies. This approach led to a decline in neighborhood participation that resulted in crucial unmet needs. A final group of "Innovators" had a stronger sense of mission and organizational activism. They employed a mix of novel tactics including a flexible combination of legal and extralegal strategies that continued to acquire new services for its members.

Dosh asks how and why some land invasion strategies were successful while others were not, and why leaders adhered to certain strategies even when they were not successful. In seeking to address these questions, he examines organizational strategies, success, and survival. Using social movement theories to analyze these factors, Dosh constructs what he calls a strategy life cycle to conceptualize external and internal factors that explain the success or failure of land invasions.

The result is a very detailed study that incorporates multiple factors to explain the relative successes and failures of different aspects of the ten land invasions. As a political scientist, Dosh employs a quantitative social science methodology with many charts designed to explain why and when strategies succeed or fail. As a historian, I often found myself asking different questions of the rich ethnographic material that Dosh provides in this book. For example, we read about the Old Guard militant Edgar Coral, who emerged out of the communist left as a leader of the Pisulli invasion in Quito. Dosh is highly critical of Coral's authoritarian tendencies but fails to connect them to his political background. A constant theme running through the history of the Latin American left is the tension between a vertical vanguard leadership and horizontal mass movements. [End Page 301] The histories of land invasions in this book provide rich material for gaining deeper understandings of the ongoing dances between different organizational strategies.

A stronger political context would also be helpful in gaining a fuller understanding of the deeper significance of the land invasions. For example, in the 1990s the Itchimbía invasion in Quito occurred under the hostile mayorship of Jamil Mahuad, but even this does not explain why as the elected president in 2000 he would be "hated" (p. 174). Land invasions do not operate outside of a broader political context and, frankly, politics matter.

Repeatedly Dosh explains how land invasion leaders play into the hands of clientelistic policy-makers. Rather than remaining ideologically grounded in alternative visions of how society might be structured, leaders trade access to services for electoral support for politicians. Current leaders of New Left movements committed to participatory forms of democracy continue to struggle against this heavy legacy of clientelism, and Dosh misses opportunities to provide a deeper political analysis of these historic patterns.

The book ends with an epilogue, "From Scholarship to Activism," with Dosh returning to Villa El Salvador in Lima after the conclusion of the study to engage in social justice and development work with his nonprofit organization Building Dignity. Now he sees himself as a causal factor, which makes it impossible for him to analyze recent changes in the settlement communities. Rather than a conclusion for the study, I would have preferred for this to be a point of departure. Scholarship and activism, similar to scholarship and teaching, do not have to be held in tension with each other, but can build on and inform each other. Bringing insights from political engagement into this type of academic study would heighten its analytical insights, probing interpretations, and political...


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pp. 301-302
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