UCL Institute of the Americas


AMER0007: Democratisation in Latin America

***NOT RUNNING IN 2023/24***

Module convenor: TBC


This module examines transitions from authoritarian rule and the challenges confronting democratic regimes in contemporary Latin America, focusing both on key analytic themes and the national experiences of individual countries. The cases of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela provide the principal empirical bases for a consideration of these issues.

The first part of the module analyses the historically significant processes of democratic regime change that swept much of Latin America after the late 1970s and early 1980s. Readings and lectures identify core concepts and terms of debate (including the question of how "democracy" should be defined, the indeterminance of transition processes, and so forth), distinguish among different models of regime change (especially "actor-centred" versus "structural" models of democratization) and consider the domestic and international forces that contributed to the breakdown of authoritarian regimes and subsequent transitions to political democracy in a number of countries. This material sets the stage for an analysis of both individual country experiences and the role of particular actors (political parties, the armed forces, the Roman Catholic Church, labour unions, human rights movements, and so forth) in democratic transitions.

The second part of the module highlights the multiple dilemmas facing consolidating democratic regimes. Readings and lectures provide the basis for a thematic investigation of the role of political parties, social movements and the struggle for citizenship rights, the implications of Latin America's far-reaching process of market-oriented economic reform for democratic consolidation, and international dimensions of democratization in the region.

One way of assessing the possible future course of democracy in Latin America is to examine the changing role of political forces on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The readings and lectures in the final section of the course do so by analysing recent developments in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela. 

This module is assessed by a 4,000 word essay.

There are no prerequisites.

Introductory Reading

A list of introductory reading is given below. A full reading list is normally issued at the beginning of the session.

  • L. Bethell (ed.), The Cambridge History of Latin America, vols. VII and VIII (Cambridge, 1991);
  • L. Diamond, J. Linz, and S. Martin Lipset (eds.), Democracy in Developing Countries: Latin America, 2nd ed. (Boulder, 1996);
  • J. I. Domínguez and M. Shifter, Constructing Democratic Governance, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, 2003);
  • S. Mainwaring, G. O'Donnell, and J. Samuel Valenzuela (eds.), Issues of Democratic Consolidation: The New South American Democracies in Comparative Perspective (Notre Dame, 1992);

N.B. The module is offered subject to availability of staff, and may change without notice. The Institute will endeavour to enable students to take their preferred combination of module subject to quotas and timetabling.