Social Inequalities in Latin American Social Thought: Beyond Culturalism and Class Theory

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:00 PM
Room: F206
Oral Presentation
Pablo HOLMES , Institute for Political Science, University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil
Since its origins in the nineteenth century, Latin American social theory has been primarily concerned with the unequal position of the region in the world society. The “Latin American condition” has been largely explained with reference to its “cultural singularity” vis-a-vis “developed societies”. In the last two decades, following a broader critique of developmental theories, there has been strong criticism of cultural explanations for global, regional and national inequalities in the region. In Brazil, some theoretical attempts have attracted attention. The first one, formulated in the beginning of the nineties, argued that structural forms of extreme social exclusion from modern social systems like law, politics, economy and education would have striking consequences for the institutional reproduction of these systems in the region. Accordingly, there would emerge a small sector of a socially over-integrated population, which would be in the position of using legal and political institutions for its advantage. Simultaneously, a broader sector of under-integrated population would have only an insignificant meaning for institutional operations, remaining thus excluded and being used to reproduce unequal social structures. Another well-known approach has drawn on many elements of this formulation, insisting, however, on classical categories of class theory to explain the social reproduction of inequality.

In the present paper, I would like to look critically at these different interpretations. I will, thus, argue that, although one can consider the existence of social classes as an outcome of important social dynamics, any theoretical explanation of social inequalities in the Latin American context must take into account the role of legal and political institutions. The paper also argues for the necessity of taking not only institutions into account, but also for the importance of bringing back the role of transnational institutional dynamics in the debate, although without stepping back into old culturalist traps.