UCL Institute of the Americas


Signs of democracy. Street art in Latin America

30 January 2019, 5:00 pm–6:30 pm

Street Art in Latin America

Exploring signs of democracy in the streets of Latin American cities.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Dr Par Engstrom – UCL Institute of the Americas
020 7679 2000


Lecture Room 103
UCL Institute of the Americas
51 Gordon Square
United Kingdom

Manifestations of democratic vitality often go unnoticed because nation-states and governments are generally the sole units of analysis and the electoral processes are the only metric to gauge democracy. As a reaction, this paper  makes the case for exploring signs of democracy in the streets of Latin American cities. Its argument is twofold.

First, when artists invade public space for the sake of voicing rage and disseminating claims or statements, they raise public awareness, nurture public debate and hold authorities accountable. They can also interact with neighbors and thereby contribute to community building. Consequently, I argue that they behave as urban citizens, fostering street-level democracy despite often violating the law. Second, street art reveals how public space is governed. When local authorities try to contain, regulate or repress public space invasions, they can achieve their goals democratically if, instead of simply criminalizing their activity, they dialogue with the artists and try to reach a consensus inspired by a conception of the city as a commons.

The paper is based on five case studies: Bogota (Colombia), São Paulo (Brazil), Valparaíso (Chile), Oaxaca (Mexico) and Havana (Cuba).

While attendance at this event is free, places are limited and so booking is required to avoid disappointment.

About the Speakers

Olivier Dabène

Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po (Paris, France)

Olivier Dabène is professor of political science at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and senior researcher at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI, Sciences Po). He is also the President of the Political Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean (www.sciencespo.fr/opalc) and visiting professor in many Latin American universities. His latest books include: The Politics of Regional Integration in Latin America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), La gauche en Amérique latine, 1998-2012 (Presses de Sciences Po, 2012) and Summits and Regional Governance: The Americas in Comparative Perspective (with Gordon Mace, Jean-Philippe Terrien and Diana Tussie, Routledge, 2016).

Arturo Alvarado

Researcher-Professor at Centro de Estudios Sociológicos in El Colegio de México

Arturo Alvarado holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from El Colegio de México. He has been a faculty member of El Colegio de México since 1986 and was Director of the Center for Sociological Studies from 2012 to 2018. Arturo has dedicated much of his career to studying human rights, justice, criminality, urban governance and democracy in Latin America, and has founded organizations to promote Human Rights.