The Fluctuating Relationship Between Sociology and Politics in Chilean History (1950-2011)

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Marcos GONZALEZ HERNANDO, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
This paper will attempt to sketch a history of Sociology in Chile and its relationship to politics. Inspired by recent developments in the sociology of intellectuals –shifting from intellectuals to interventions– I intend to trace changes in what type of sociological orientation is believed to be authoritative across different moments. In the process, theories become prominent and wane, other disciplines enter in competition, and different institutional frameworks (universities, think tanks, international organisations) and ways of understanding the role of sociologists (experts, activists, intellectuals) frame the relationship between knowledge about society and policymaking. Each of these moments –and the institutional and intellectual conditions that underpin them– leaves a substrata that is both the condition of possibility and the opposition against which each new generation defines itself.

In Chile’s case, we start with the formation of internationally-funded FLACSO and ECLAC in Santiago in the early 1950s – which coincides with the formation of the first undergraduate degrees. These reputable institutions brought together both economists and sociologists and provided the first push for an international and professional –albeit distinctly Latin American– social science. This is followed by increasing specialisation with the objectives of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’ in mind. 

However, especially following Project Camelot’s scandal, heightened political tensions raised suspicions on sociology –especially in a cold war context– and more critical and Marxist-inspired perspectives begin to dominate. This is brought to an abrupt end with Pinochet’s coup d’état, and sociology is all but proscribed from universities, but not from think tanks. Hence, given the constraints imposed by the dictatorship, preoccupations shift towards technical aspects of policymaking and democratisation theory, while economics and political science gain prominence. After the Pinochet era, Chilean sociology start to expand once again, and begins the painful process of attempting to come to terms with its past.