(Re)Politicizing Inequalities: Movements, Parties, and Social Citizenship in Chile

Kenneth M. Roberts


For 20 years following the 1989–1990 democratic transition, Chilean politics was characterized by stable forms of party-based political representation, relatively low levels of social mobilization, and a technocratic consensus around a neoliberal development model that generated rapid and sustained, albeit highly unequal, patterns of economic growth. This sociopolitical matrix was challenged, however, when hundreds of thousands of students and their supporters took to the streets to protest against educational inequalities, while smaller numbers of protestors mobilized around a plethora of other labor, environmental, and indigenous rights claims. This wave of social protest occurred in a context of growing detachment of Chilean citizens from traditional parties and representative institutions, and it punctured the aura of inevitability and consensus that surrounded the country’s economic model. The groundswell of popular protest signified the end of a posttransition political era in Chile and the dawning of a new one defined by the repoliticization of social and economic inequalities, including vigorous debates about the social pillars of the neoliberal model and the reach of social citizenship rights. The Chilean case sheds new light on the processes by which inequalities come to be politicized or depoliticized in different structural, institutional, and ideational contexts.

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