In recent decades, Latin America has made great progress in moving from authoritarianism to democracy. As a result of this third wave, Freedom House qualifies almost all countries in the region as electoral democracies. This means that these countries hold free, fair and regular elections and that the will of the people determines election outcomes. This however does not mean that elections do not encounter any problems, nor that democracy is strong and permanent. On the one hand, these regimes are far from becoming modern, well established democracies: they are characterised by a weak rule of law, corruption, a lack of accountability and problems in the protection of some civil liberties. On the other hand, poverty, inequality and exclusion are a common phenomenon: groups with different economic, social and cultural resources have different levels of influence on political and juridical decisions (Bordieu, 1986). This is what has led some analysts to call these delegative and partial democracies (ODonell, 1994; Sznajder and Roniger, 2003).
In order to deepen and strengthen democracy, there has been a permanent, diverse and rich tradition of social, cultural and political movements in the region. This participation needs to be discussed, assessing its advantages, disadvantages and challenges. Can citizen participation strengthen electoral processes, make institutions more accountable, strengthen the protection of human rights, reduce inequality and, in the end, improve democracy?
The Sussex conference on Democracy and Participation in Latin America is designed to encourage lateral thinking on this important topic by considering a wide range of perspectives across disciplines, and by reaching out to both scholars and practitioners working on this subject. Possible topics include but are not limited to:
1. Citizen participation in elections
2. Transparency, corruption and participation
3. Civil society and social movements
4. Human rights
5. Democracy and development (i.e. social, economic, cultural)
6. Dictatorships, political violence and its memory, and the pursuit of democracy
7. Cultural movements