Creating political opportunities: civil society organizations, advocacy, and policy influence in Argentina and Chile
MetadataShow full item record
Much of the existing literature on Latin American democracies leads us to expect limited civil society involvement in policy making. Scholars tend to emphasize a plethora of institutional, structural, and societal factors that conspire against meaningful citizen participation in the region. However, in the dissertation, I demonstrate that nongovernmental organizations and other civil society groups have managed to exert considerable influence over policy making. In some cases, they have been effective agents of change through their efforts to shape the content of policy, collaborate with government officials, and pressure legislators to adopt reforms. This finding is puzzling given the received wisdom, which suggests that groups’ advocacy efforts will meet with little success. The main goal of my project is to explain why some civil society organizations are more likely than others to achieve policy influence in democratizing countries. Focusing on the strategies that groups use to influence the policy process, I identify two important “pathways” to participation: the successful framing of issues and the formation of effective civil society alliances. I argue that when civil societal actors frame ideas in persuasive ways and join forces in alliances, they increase their chances of participating in policy agenda setting, formulation, and adoption. This approach helps solve the puzzle of influence in environments where access to the political system is restricted and/or individual groups lack resources and political strength. I test the theory with empirical evidence collected in Argentina and Chile. Specifically, I perform a comparative analysis of multiple cases of policy making drawn from three issue areas: the environment, the rights and well-being of children, and transparency in government institutions. By offering an original theory of civil society participation in policy, I seek to bridge a lacuna in the democratization literature, which has largely neglected this theme, and to contribute to the comparative politics field. The central themes motivating my research are political participation and influence, the exercise of citizenship, and the impact of civil society activism in democratizing nations. These themes have implications for both the consolidation and the quality of democracy.