MSc International Relations of the Americas
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AMERG019: Society and Development: Peru since 1968


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Peruvians believed that their country was on the verge of succumbing to a nightmarish Andean version of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime. Two decades later, Peru is a poster child of neoliberal development; the new Chile, perhaps. In this module, we will examine the history of Peru since 1968 in order to develop an in-depth understanding of one of Latin America’s most diverse societies during a period marked by profound, and often dramatic, change but also by clearly discernible continuities in the economic and social structure of the country. We will be working with a varied scholarship in order to acquire a multi and interdisciplinary perspective on society and development in Peru and will therefore combine insights drawn from historians, anthropologists, political scientists, economists, sociologist and others. Where relevant, we will also seek to frame the questions that will guide our study in comparative perspective, particularly within the Latin American context, but also beyond.

After examining briefly the historical background to the period under review in week 1, we begin in week 2 by looking at the pivotal Velasco regime (1968-1975) and the attempts of the ‘revolutionary’ armed forces to radically transform Peruvian society ‘from above’. We try to explain why, in most cases, such attempts failed. In week 3, we will look at the process of democratisation in Peru, both formal and substantive, in the 1980s, and the challenges that Peruvian democracy, and the Peruvian population, faced in a context of acute economic crisis, poor governance, and insurgency.
We next, in week 4, examine the Shining Path insurgency itself, and try to account for its extremely violent nature (and the violence of the state response), and explore debates over its origins and causes (and its sui generis character in the Latin American context) and the reasons for its ultimate failure. In week 5, we turn to look at the Fujimori regime (1990-2000), its authoritarian turn in a context of a broader process of democratic consolidation in Latin America, and the ‘neoliberal’ transformation of the economy that the regime orchestrated. Particular focus will be placed on the gendered (and racialised) social policy that the regime introduced and which has received extensive attention from scholars. Both these sessions will prove useful in week 6 when we will watch and discuss the film ‘State of Fear’, which explores both the Shining Path insurgency and the consequences for Peruvian democracy of the counterinsurgency strategies pursued by the governments of the 1980s and 1990s.
We next, in week 7, turn to examine the politics of memory that developed in the context of the establishment of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2001-2003) and focus in particular on why memory politics has been largely unable, in the Peruvian context, to find acceptance among the majority of the population. We then, in week 8, will examine an apparent absence. While other Andean countries, notably Ecuador and Bolivia, have developed strong ethnic political movements in the last couple of decades, in Peru such movements appear to be absent, or if a form ethnic politics exists, it is an ethnic politics in itself rather than for itself, to rework the old Marxian phrase. We will examine the literature on this topic, focusing particularly on claims made by some scholars that ethnic political movements are indeed present in Peru but not where most scholars have been looking for them.
In the following session, in week 9, we will look at the politics of extractivism, and specifically, at the conflicts that have developed in the last couple of decades around Peru’s extractive focused development. Peru has experienced sustained economic growth in the last couple of decades on the back of a commodity boom fueled by demand from emerging economies, particularly China. But this growth has generated a range of social and environmental conflicts which have led to questions over the sustainability, or perhaps even the desirability, of commodity-led development. This session will provide us with a broad understanding of the issues addressed in the film ‘Choropampa’, which we will watch and discuss in class in week 10.

The course is taught by means of weekly two-hour seminars. Most seminars will be structured around student presentations. The course is assessed by means of a 4,000 word essay.