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Review of "Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty-First Century: Resistance, Power and Democracy," by Richard Stahler-Sholk, Harry E. Vanden, and Glen David Kuecker (eds.)

Authors:
Copyright ©2009, American Sociological Association, Volume XV, Number 1, Pages 124-133
ISSN 1076-156X
BOOK REVIEWS
Clifton, Judith, Francisco Comin, and Daniel Díaz-Fuentes (eds.) 2007. Transforming Public
Enterprise in Europe and North America. New York, Palgrave Macmillan. 239 pages. ISBN-13:
978-0-262-68161-2 Paper ($26.00).
Readers who are concerned about globalization need to study the experience of the privatization
of public enterprise in Europe and North America very carefully. What forces cause the
nationalization and privatization of firms? Does privatization lead to greater foreign control? Do
foreign owned or privatized firms behave differently than locally owned or public ones? Are any
of these configurations better or worse for public welfare? If there are differentials in
privatization, what explains these, and are these differentials consequential? These are all
important questions in the study of the world system.
Answering such a system requires a clear description of the spread of nationalization or
privatization – a map of the causes or effects of such differences – and some general explanations
about why some firms privatize and others do not. With these elements one could construct a
theory of privatization that would be a critical component of world systems theory. This book is
not that theory – and does not intend to be that theory. It is the first step in the construction of that
theory. Nearly all books on comparative capitalism, be they about comparative labor relations,
comparative democracy or comparative ethnic relations, need to start with a simple laying out of
the facts regarding the nations of advanced capitalism. The first books in the field tend to be
edited collections of chapters – with one chapter per nation describing the dependent variable – in
this case the balance between public and private enterprise.
Like other books of this type, there are a lot of facts to get on the table. This book
requires no fewer than fourteen chapters to do a basic description of the balance between public
and private enterprise in various capitalist nations. Fourteen chapters is obviously just a
beginning, since there are no treatments of Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Israel, or some of
the wealthier Eastern European nations such as Slovenia. That said, fourteen is a lot for a
collection of this kind. The chapters are written by different authors – and it is notoriously hard to
get authors in a collection to follow a standardized formula. In comparison with other collections,
this is fairly disciplined with the chapters more or less covering similar materials and addressing
similar schemes.
The reader should not expect a generalized theory of privatization here. The reader does
get a final essay by the editors marking about eight or nine different themes from the reading.
These are discursive and general (Examples: Privatization is increasing – Experiences of different
nations are different More prestigious firms fare better in their treatment by foreign investors)
The summary statements are probably mostly true, but they are hardly tested, and there is no
attempt to see if all or even most of the cases fit the generalities.
This is fine for what the book is trying to accomplish. It is hard to come up with a general
theory that fits all of the amazingly complex twists and turns that can characterize inter-European
differences in institutional structure. (Labor relations theorists have been tried and failed many
times to explain North European vs South European systems of industrial relations.) All the book
is trying to accomplish is establish the basic chronologies so that somebody else can come up
with the grand theory.
125 JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH
That said, the authors and editors could have done a lot more to assist in the task of
collective description. Summary tables and simplifying displays of complex data are entirely
absent. We get long, long lists in the form of A is private, B was public until 1980, C has been
private for a long time, D has always been public, with the lists going on and on interminably. It
is like having an election summarized by hearing the results of every precinct listed one at a time
with no repeats and nobody showing you a map of who is winning where or even adding up the
totals to give you the final results.
Maybe the editors could have provided a table of nations broken down into typical types
or maybe a set of tables of nations subbroken down by industries? Maybe some description
could have been made of general industrial trends with the nations who are the most obvious
exceptions being marked as distinctive cases?
This book is a tremendous raw material source for any one who wants to do a study of the
causes and consequences of privatization under capitalism. But the scholar using this book had
better have some strong coffee, and a legal pad. They will have to keep score themselves if they
want to follow the game.
Samuel Cohn
Department of Sociology
Texas A and M University
profcohn@yahoo.com
Mielants, Eric H. 2007. The Origins of Capitalism and the Rise of the West. Philadelphia, PA:
Temple University Press. 256 pages, ISBN-10 1592135757 Cloth (64.50). ISBN-10 1592135765
Paper ($25.95).
Why Europe? is among the most persistent and vexing questions in all of social science: The
Origins of Capitalism and the Rise of the West explains European ascendance through a
comparative-historical analysis of the relationship between political structures and capitalist
development. The central argument of the book is that Europe’s rare political structures enabled
its rise to worldwide predominance. Specifically, only in Europe were urban merchant elites able
to wrest enough political and military power away from nobilities to allow for the use of state
infrastructures to broaden and deepen capital accumulation both within Europe and abroad.
The opening chapter of the book presents the theoretical foundation for the comparative
analysis in a review and critique of four theoretical perspectives on the origins of capitalism:
orthodox Marxism, neo-Marxist “Brennerism” (p. 2), modernization theory, and world-systems
analysis. The review is more than merely a passing genuflection before the alter of grand theory.
Mielants concisely, but carefully and in some detail, evaluates each of these frameworks. Among
other criticisms, orthodox Marxism and modernization theory are too short-sighted. Each
overemphasizes the Industrial Revolution as the basis of modern economic growth, while failing
to recognize that it was but “…the outcome of different processes that must be traced back to the
period before the Industrial Revolution” (p. 10). Brennerism? It is overly preoccupied with
“…class struggle between the exploited (the peasants) and the exploiters (the nobility) within a
given territorial unit (the nation-state)” (p. 2-3).
BOOK REVIEWS 126
And what of world-systems analysis? It needs to be modified. Specifically, Wallerstein’s
world-systems analysis neglects “historical continuity” (p. 23) in the transition to capitalism.
Mielants contends that the origins of capitalism are found not in the long 16
th
century as is more
customary in the world-systems literature, but in the late-12
th
century Western European city-
states. He argues that many of the capitalist features commonly identified as specific to the 16
th
century world-economy were already present in many of the late-12
th
century urban centers of
Western Europe: “…for example, wage labor, the specialization of industries, a complex division
of labor, class struggles, profits from trade (derived from the fact that entrepreneurs who own the
means of production are involved in specialized production and competition), complex financial
techniques, and the systematic construction of an exploitable periphery to further the ceaseless
accumulation of capital” (pp. 31-32). Thus, medieval European cities were early “power
containers of the bourgeoisie” (p. 42) that would eventually yield to nation-states, which would
later intensify and expand the scale of capital accumulation: “The same policies and techniques of
domination and exploitation experimented with and implemented by elites in the medieval
European city-state system were later used by the elites of nation-states during the 16
th
and 17
th
centuries to foster their ceaseless accumulation of capital” (p. 43).
Similarly, Mielants contends that Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis minimizes the
importance of the non-European world in Europe’s transition to capitalism. By emphasizing an
“extreme break with the past” (p. 23) within Europe in the 16
th
century, Wallerstein does not
recognize the myriad impacts of the external, non-European, arena on medieval Western
European city-states. And in these city-states, Mielants argues, interactions with non-Europe were
shaping the preconditions for the large-scale transition to capitalism in the long 16
th
century.
Thus, world-systems theory also leaves the question unanswered: Why Europe?
For Mielants, the answer lies in the unusual political systems of medieval Western
European city-states. From the theoretical review and critique, he sets out into the heart of the
book, which is a series of comparative-historical investigations into the political economies of
China, South Asia, and North Africa. Why Europe and not China or South Asia? Europe was
certainly not exceptional in the size of its cities, the extensity of its urban networks, the intensity
of its division of labor, the scale of trade, nor in its propensity to generate wealth. Compared to
Europe, however, the Chinese state, and the gentry, was much more powerful vis-à-vis merchant
elites. The Chinese Empire was able to extract revenue from the taxation of land, making it
relatively “self-sufficient” (p. 74). The South Asian nobility was in a similarly powerful position.
In contrast, European political structures were much less centralized, which meant that European
nobilities were much weaker vis-à-vis merchant elites: “It was the European nobility’s relative
poverty…that restricted their political power; their need to call on credit and financiers was
structurally unavoidable…charters and concessions had to be given in return for the financial
(and at times, political or military) support of the urban-based elites in charge of the city-state
politically, economically, and judicially” (p. 79). Thus, unlike their counterparts in Europe,
economic elites in China and South Asia were never able to effectively use the state to advance
their interests at home or abroad.
So why not North Africa? Islam was not particularly antithetical to capitalist
development (p. 126, footnote 2) and North African cities also achieved particularly high levels
of economic development as early as the 10
th
century. Again, however, the existence of
autonomous city-states controlled by a mercantile bourgeoisie was much more limited in North
Africa when compared to Europe. North African political institutions were frequently
127 JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH
characterized by tribalism, which was “not quite conducive to state-building formation or
capitalist development in the long run” (p. 150). If relatively independent city-states would
emerge, such as Timbuktu, it was “…more as a consequence of geographical opportunities and
economic needs than through political decisions” (p. 133). Without a stable, institutionalized state
structure, economic elites were not able to effectively form a “commune or bourgeoisie” (p. 133)
that could achieve power “as a class” (p. 143).
As one might imagine, identifying the origins of capitalism is a cumbersome task. The
sheer scope of the topic makes it possible to digress into any number of potentially tangential
topics. Mielants, however, manages to adhere closely to his thesis, confining many of the less
consequential issues to the footnotes. Mielants marshals an impressive collection of research from
across the social sciences to investigate the question at hand. In doing so, Mielants makes a
convincing case both for the utility of alternative (i.e., non-nation-state) units of analysis and a
longer time horizon in world-systems analysis.
Beyond challenging the more conventional views on the appropriate unit of analysis and
time horizon, Mielants also wants to help dispel the “Eurocentric biases” that tend to pervade
world-systems analysis (p. 43). On this count, the book is marginally less effective. The analyses
of China, South Asia, and especially North Africa, do indeed serve to bring them out of “history’s
dustbin” (p. 125), and the comparisons with Europe are very revealing. However, if this was an
important objective, then the analyses could have investigated the impacts of non-Europe on the
transition to capitalism in Europe more systematically. For example, only in the comparison of
China and Europe are these impacts of ‘non-Europe’ most clearly articulated. Mielants provides
an enlightening, and perhaps somewhat provocative, account of how Pax Mongolica (ca. 1250-
1350), by providing relatively stable political-economic contexts in East Asia, facilitated an
expansion in the division of labor between Western European city-states and their hinterlands.
Even here, however, while it is quite convincing, the analysis is given surprisingly brief
treatment. In short, the comparative analyses could have been strengthened with a more thorough
explanation of how non-European regions were also consequential for capitalist development in
medieval Western European city-states.
This relatively minor reservation aside, The Origins of Capitalism and the Rise of the
West is an important contribution both to world history and to world-systems analysis. Countless
others have examined the relationship between political structures and capitalist development in
attempting to grapple with the ‘rise of the west’ question. Thus, the book treads on well-worn
ground. However, Mielants is able to clear a relatively novel path by assembling a holistic and
coherent account that challenges some of the prevailing wisdom regarding why, how, and when
capitalism emerged in Europe. In doing so, he provides an intriguing explanation of why Europe
ultimately gained ascendance in the world-system.
Matthew R. Sanderson
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Lehigh University
matthew.sanderson@lehigh.edu
BOOK REVIEWS 128
Loveman, Brian, ed. 2004. Strategy for Empire: U.S. Regional Security Policy in the Post-Cold
War Era. Lanham, MD: SR Books. 339 pages, ISBN 0-8420-5176-7 Cloth, ISBN 0-8420-5177-5
Paper ($29.95).
Strategy for Empire is a collection of essays by academics and policy makers who have
specialized for decades in assessing the consequences of US foreign policy domestically and
internationally. These essays address the practical results of a recent turn in US foreign policy
that sees leading foreign policy establishment figures openly embracing the idea that the US
should be exerting its power openly as a hegemon. Especially in the post-911 period (though the
“War” on “Terror” seems to preclude there ever existing such a time in the near or long-term
future), this is advocated unapologetically and declared to be inevitable and urgently necessary.
The book is divided into two halves; essays in the first half by foreign policy experts who regard
the consequences of this ostensible sea change in a positive light followed by those who take a
critical perspective.
The book begins with a series of official policy statements from the White House in the
aftermath of 911. Contradictory calls for unilateralism and multilateralism deliver what might
appear a schizophrenic message. However, there is in fact no clash of identities, since the latter is
plainly subordinated to the former by the present administration. The first chapter is a speech on
“The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September, 2002,” which
George Bush delivered in the runup to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The message
contains an air of confidence in American military capacity (that now five years into the Iraqi and
Afghani quagmires has come to be regarded as the stuff of bluster) to destroy once and for all
terrorist organizations with ‘global reach.’ Leaving aside what is to be done about terrorist
organizations without a ‘global reach,’ it is the renewed commitment of the US to an imperial
role in not only defeating ‘enemies,’ but in rewarding ‘friends’ of ‘freedom’ who organize their
markets in line with a neo-liberal vision of deregulation.
Ralph Peters immediately spells out the dilemma for the US, namely that for most of its
history the US has committed itself to ‘break the imperial hierarchies that held mankind in
bondage’ (pg. 35). Indeed, there are times that, if put side by side, policy statements on
colonialism by the Roosevelt and Truman administrations in the early post-War years echoed
those you would find from Ho Chi-Minh or Frantz Fanon. Even such a rhetorical posture, forget
substantive commitment to such principles, is now seen as an impediment since the fall of the
Berlin Wall. Now the need for a UN is decried as hosting ‘backward, vicious regimes, such as
those of China or Russia’ (pg. 41). Instead, new organizations (backed by an assertive US
military) are needed such as a Union of Democratic Nations.” Michael Ignatieff laments the
‘lack of stomach’ America has for a fight, which he fears has given terrorists resolve since the
Somalia ‘debacle’ of 1993. America has since been forced to ‘awaken to the barbarians’ (pg. 45).
The rationale for global regime-change is, for Ignatieff, self-evident. The dilemma that remains
(witness Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq!) is how to create nation state stability in post-colonial
zones. This is no small problem, since the logics of nation-building and neo-liberal regimens of
cost-cutting rarely work well together.
Robert Wilkie argues for the need to bring Europe on board in this global pursuit of post-
911 hidden and dispersed enemies, yet it is a Europe that needs to recognize its interest in
submitting to the military leadership of the US. “Europe” lacks the capacity to reorganize its
economy along a militarist line, which the unilateralists insist is the only way terror can be fought
129 JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH
while sustaining neo-liberal patterns of global economic restructuring. Modernization of
European militaries, it is argued, is now key to Europe’s ability to contribute to the global search
and destroy missions for terrorists. A win-win if there ever were one for the US defense sector.
In Asia, Andrew Scobell asserts that the US Empire must play a more active role in the
training of militaries spanning the geographical stretch from Tokyo to Jakarta, especially to
countervail the presumably growing threat of North Korea. The need to deal with ‘powderkeg’
states (Indonesia, China, and Pakistan) requires more involvement on the part of the US army in
the training friendly nation-states armies. It is here where the unilateralist vision seems most
oblivious to the complex ways in which the developmental priorities of states such as South
Korea relies on future cooperation with and investment in North Korea and a less militaristic
approach to the resolution of the half-century old Korean War. The unilateralist approach not
only avoids historical context, it even seems unaware of how real world patterns of capitalist
restructuring shape the interests of developing economies vis a vis relationships with markets that
the US deems not ready to be opened until the US deems them so.
James A. Russell’s contribution, written on the eve of the US invasion and occupation of
Iraq, perhaps most honestly states what is at stake from the unilateralist perspective, namely how
intervention in a post-Saddam would affect regional stability. This matter is considered primarily
(and unashamedly) in terms of ‘reasonably priced’ oil access for the US. Yet how to reconstruct a
“Post-Saddam” Iraq in a way that would bring stability and the growth of Iraq’s contribution to
oil development is regarded by Russell as a sticking point that neither he nor the Pentagon/State
Department have figured out how to execute going on over 5 years now.
It is a lack of confidence in US capacity to pull off this hat trick that drives the authors
featured in the volume’s second half. Their perspectives range from skeptical toward
unilateralists’ underdeveloped sense of practicality to more critical of the underlying motives of
US foreign policy that drive pre- (subtle) and post-911 (out of the closet) strategies for empire.
And it is in this section that more serious effort is finally spent in theorizing matters of
complexity. As Celeste Wallander notes, no serious theory of US foreign policy can take place
without acknowledging the limits of US influence in key regions of the global political-economy,
instead of apriori taking for granted a ‘need’ for increased exertion of US military power in
‘hotspots.’
Other contributors likewise point out the glaring contradictions in the presumptions of the
unilateralist empire ‘re’building project. Stephen Zunes points out that the US might argue that it
is defending against the expansion of “WMD”s in the Mideast, but this holds little purchase for
those in the Mideast who know the role of the US as the leading arms (i.e., WMD) seller in that
region and the rest of the world. Zunes argues, in line with other contributors who address
contradictions and fault-lines in the unilateralist project in Latin America and South Asia, that it
is the departure from the values of ‘human rights, democracy, the rule of law,…” that prevents
the US from “increas(ing) its influence and promote its strategic and economic interests in this
important region” (pg. 249). This seems, as a Noam Chomsky would remind us, to beg the
unanswered matter of whether those interests are necessarily as given or desirable for the majority
of the world’s peoples as Zunes seems to take for granted.
In any event, it is not at this level that the ‘alternative’ perspectives chosen for this
volume are strongest. Rather, it is where we find due attention the banal reality that inequality of
economic power within and among nation-states shapes US strategies of empire in both its
‘softer’ and ‘harder’ forms. Chalmers Johnson’s essay is one of the most powerful contributions
BOOK REVIEWS 130
in the sense of the word ‘alternative.’ Johnson contends that today’s policy of military
expansionism merely continues the Cold War US strategy of developing ‘thousands of overseas
military installations’ to encircle the Soviet Union and China. Noting the case of Japan, Johnson
argues that US military bases were exchanged for Japan’s access to US markets. Such access was
denied to most of the developing economies during the Cold War and that contradiction was
hardly lost on their peoples.
Herein lays the source of much of the ‘instability’ and ‘resentment’ facing the US as it
strategizes not how to build empire anew, but how to maintain that empire. While the global
treaties maintained ‘peace’ during the Cold War, US foreign policy makers face a number of real
threats, all tied to the instability of world capitalist markets. Inequalities between nations grow as
‘foreign aid’ declines, resentment and conflicts over resources emerge between rich and poor
internationally, intensified global competition among transnational capital in deregulated markets,
and violent responses from non-state entities to the volatile consequences of these as combined
social processes. We live in an age when US capitalism faces not only heightened concerns about
new economic competitors in (ever more volatile) global markets, but unpredictable forms of
political violence in the form of ‘international’ terrorism. Thus, Johnson correctly warns, panics
about terrorism and ‘rogue states’ now replace the Red Scare as the means to distract the
American populace from how the political-economic origins of global instability impact their
lives in ways made immediately palpable on September 11
th
, 2001.
Yet Johnson also seems to assume that the US foreign policy making establishment acts
in a self-delusional fashion, declaring that “There is no reason why an economically prosperous
China should threaten American vital interests” (pg. 177). I am not so sure. Presumably this
would depend on the definition of such interests, in which case the link between strategies for
global hegemony and itchy matters such as secular declines in rates of profits, overproduction,
and the attendant conflicts that these give rise to have to also come into consideration before
assessing such interests objectively; i.e. global capitalist markets must be studied not as they
should be, but as they are.
It is here that this collection, whether in its ‘unilateralist’ or ‘alternative’ halves falls
short. Of all of the contributors, Johnson takes most seriously the need to explore the link
between global political economy and foreign policy choices. It might well be that the seeming
disasters created by the unilateralists have merely reflected realistic concerns about maintaining
US dominance in a world economy that generates decreasing rates of growth, overcapacity,
greater levels of inequality, and the possibility down the road that China will, via ‘unfair’ means,
challenge US hegemony in global markets. And it is here where the ‘alternative’ vision expressed
in this book misses the point; this heightened state of anxiety is one shared by the anti-
unilateralist wing of the US foreign policy making establishment. One need only listen to the
rhetoric of the Democratic presidential candidates on the ‘China problem’ or their uniform
support for Columbia’s recent incursion into Ecuador to see that the architects of empire in the
post-911 period, whether unilateralist or multi-literalists, are not listening to (or taking seriously)
alternative visions of US interests. A discussion that debates the origins and consequences of both
pre-and post-911 empire making projects needs to ask which powerful actors and institutions in
US capitalism both uni- and multi-lateralists and listen to and why. Then, and only then, can we
make alternatives to pre- and post-911 empire projects, whether they are dressed up in
unilateralist or multi-lateralist sheepskins.
131 JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH
Stephen Philion
St. Cloud State University
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
sephilion@stcloudstate.edu
Stahler-Sholk, Richard, Harry E. Vanden, and Glen David Kuecker (eds.) Latin American Social
Movements in the Twenty-First Century: Resistance, Power and Democracy. Boulder: Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers. 393 pages, ISBN 0-7425-5646-8 Cloth ($85) 0-7425-5647-6 Paper
($34.95).
As I read this book, the global financial meltdown was beginning to unfold, providing an
intriguing backdrop to the analyses raised by the authors of this volume. Latin American Social
Movements provides multiple lenses on questions about popular mobilization in a region that has
become a source of hope and a catalyst for change in the global economic order. Given that Latin
Americans have long experience with the downsides of economic globalization, we in the United
States may find ourselves looking to accounts such as those in this book for inspiration and
guidance through this time of economic turmoil in the core of the world economy.
The book is a collection of three reprints from two 1994 special issues of Latin American
Perspectives (edited by David Slater), nine papers from a 2007 special issue of the same journal,
and seven original chapters. The papers have been edited from their original versions into short
and concise chapters that raise important themes in the study of social movements, Latin
American politics, and economic globalization. The editors provide a short introduction to each
of the book’s seven sections. It is fascinating to see how much the chapters written in the early
nineties anticipated the developments and themes of today’s movements for economic justice.
And in many ways, it is also frustrating to see that we still have some distance to go in
confronting what Slater called the “ethnocentric universalism or ‘Euro-Americanism’” of
Western social science (p. 28). Latin American social movements have, according to the editors,
“challenged scholars to rethink old categories, push debates deeper, and advance new ideas for
understanding [social realities]” (p. 340).
Slater’s chapter situates Latin American movements in a global and historical context,
while problematizing basic analytical categories such as class, identity, and social movements.
His discussion sets the stage for the subsequent analyses of particular movements. While each
chapter engages with important theoretical debates—such as the use of ritual and culture in social
movements (Issa), race, gender, and identity processes (Mora, Becker, Dixon, Perry),
democratization (Vanden, Hellman) and the learning and socialization processes (Schild,
Swanger, Villalón, Alcañiz and Scheier), the people and movements of Latin America are at the
forefront of this rich collection. Each chapter situates the case within the global historical context,
but some chapters go further than others to show the relationships between global economic and
political processes and local contexts. Overall, though, the book reflects a good balance of theory
and case material that strengthens its value as a course text. In addition, while a central goal of the
editors was to explore Latin American movements in light of their relationship to the world-
system and the contemporary globalization project, important meso- and micro-level dynamics
within movements—such as those related to identity-building and learning—remain the focus of
several chapters.
BOOK REVIEWS 132
The book includes multiple different chapters on some of the more prominent
movements, such as Brazil’s landless worker movement, the MST, and the Zapatistas of southern
Mexico. And many readers will be familiar with the piquiteros, cacerolazos, neighborhood
assemblies, and barter clubs that arose in response to the financial crises in Argentina in the
1990s and 2001. Readers in the U.S. will also be familiar with the femicides in Ciudad Juárez,
and will in any case be drawn in by Swanger’s account of an anti-domestic violence group and its
role in advancing alternatives to neoliberal models of economic and social life. In addition, Latin
American Social Movements provides accounts of less well-known indigenous, environmental,
and resource-based movements in Ecuador and Bolivia.
The book’s final section on transnational dimensions of social movements explores the
global networks of the Zapatistas and the emergence of Via Campesina as well as the regional
transnationalism reflected in the Foro Mesoamericano. Swords’s analysis of how groups
operating within the broader Zapatista network maintained their autonomy and distinct
programmatic identities while still engaging with and supporting the larger struggle provides
insights into contemporary global justice networks. Indeed, the challenge of cultivating local
ownership and commitment to struggles defined in global terms is central to the success of any
attempt to transform global capitalism, and the Zapatista movement has been an important source
of insights and models for action in this regard.
Via Campesina is a particularly interesting organization, based as it is on a social
category that was to have disappeared with advanced capitalism. This global peasant movement
has succeeded during its rather short existence in advancing the notion of “food sovereignty” to
the global policy agenda. As the global food crisis we are now seeing continues, the conceptual
and organizational resources of Via Campesina may prove to be invaluable for both communities
and policy makers.
The editors provide a helpful summary of the lessons from the cases in Latin American
Social Movements as they identify important challenges ahead. Numerous cases explored in the
volume emphasize the role of historical memory and learning in the evolution of social
movements. Another prominent theme in the book’s cases is the ways challenges to neoliberal
globalization expand activists’ “political imaginations” (p. 339), considering the ways global
structures and processes impact local experiences and possibilities for social change. Although
enmeshed in sometimes overwhelmingly oppressive social relations, activists were able to
imagine alternatives and identify steps towards their realization. Their work continues in
contemporary struggles in Latin America and elsewhere. Finally, the most important consequence
of the movements explored in this volume is that they helped challenge proponents of global
neoliberalism by demanding a place at the table. They were claiming “the right to have rights,”
(p. 339) and in doing so they both inspired and helped pave the way for future movements against
global capitalism.
One question that I was left with after reading this book is how these streams of activism
across Latin America have contributed to ongoing struggles against neoliberalism that extend far
beyond this region. Clearly Latin American activists and movements have played key roles in the
contemporary global justice movement and the Zapatistas and the World Social Forum process
are the most prominent, but certainly not the only, examples of this. A task for a future volume
may be to trace the connections between Latin American feminist, indigenous, anti-racist, and
economic justice movements and the global networks that help constitute the counter-hegemonic
bloc known as the global justice movement.
133 JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH
Latin American Social Movements is an enjoyable book to read. As part of Rowman &
Littlefield’s Latin American Perspectives in the Classroom series, and I believe it will be a very
useful and highly accessible text for a variety of courses.
Jackie Smith
Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies & Department of Sociology
University of Notre Dame
Jsmith40@nd.edu
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