Associative Networks: New Structures of Representation for the Popular Sectors?

Douglas A. Chalmers, Scott B. Martin and Kerianne Piester

in The New Politics of Inequality in Latin America

Published in print January 1997 | ISBN: 9780198781837
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598968 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Democratization

 Associative Networks: New Structures of Representation for the Popular Sectors?

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Despite renewed awareness of poverty and inequality, there has been a marked absence of past forms of popular mobilization. Populist, corporatist, clientelist, and broad mobilization around parties broke down in the 1970s and have not dominated in the new period of democratization. Citing the evidence presented in the articles in this volume, it is argued that new forms of popular representation are emerging, denoted as ‘associative networks’. Polycentric decision‐making, internationalized politics, the importance of new forms of communication, and the search for new policy answers had led to a new form of representation characterized by bringing a diversity of actors and organizations together in networks that rapidly reconfigure with changing circumstances, an emphasis on ‘cognitive politics’ and a more flexible style of conflict than direct confrontation. These are not pluralist ‘interest groups’, nor simply organizations in civil society, but varied links that tie civil society and polycentric government. A political process dominated by associative networks is not necessarily more democratic than other forms of popular representation. Whether it is democratic depends on institutions that link these networks and policy making (including parties and legislatures), and especially manage their rapid change as challenges and conditions change. Democracy also depends on whether citizens have the rights and resources to form and participate in such networks, and whether popular leaders find strategies that will take advantage of these new forms that require going beyond simple confrontation.

Keywords: associative networks; civil society; cognitive politics; democratic requirements; institutions to manage change; polycentric decision‐making; popular representation; populism

Chapter.  20044 words. 

Subjects: Politics

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