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Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper 10: Civil Society and Social Movements: The Dynamics of Intersectoral Alliances and Urban-Rural Linkages in Latin America

29 Dec 2004

  • Author(s): Henry Veltmeyer


The study of development is surrounded by debate about its driving forces, its facilitating and inhibiting conditions, obstacles to its achievement, and the appropriate agents for bringing it about. At the centre of this debate have been questions about structure and agency. These and other such questions have been raised and addressed most recently in terms of the role of civil society and social movements.

Part I discusses the alternative meanings associated with the term “civil society”, a term at the centre of current discourse on development theory and practice. Part II reviews the available studies on the macro and meso dynamics of urban social movements in Latin America. Part III takes a closer look at the role of the urban poor in these movements. In part IV, the role of government and state in the development process is briefly explored, as is the role of the “middle strata” in the social structure of Latin American societies. Part V turns to the struggles and social movements of organized labour, while part VI considers development theory with a brief discussion on the sustainable livelihoods approach to the problem of rural poverty. Part VII makes reference to, and use of, an alternative approach to development in exploring the dynamics of struggle associated with peasant-based rural sociopolitical movements, which, according to the author, are the most dynamic forces for social change in the region. Part VIII examines intra- and intersectoral linkages and strategic alliances in the building of a popular movement of resistance against the system in place. In Henry Veltmeyer’s view, these linkages are critical for the dynamics of an emergent and vibrant civil society and for the coordination of struggles for social change and development.

In his conclusion, Veltmeyer identifies two modalities of change and development, both at odds with the dominant economic model of neoliberal development and its associated project of “globalization”. One of these modalities relates to the political dynamics of Latin America’s social movements, while the other relates to a ubiquitous search in the region for “another development”—development that is initiated from within and below rather than from the outside and above. The author argues that the sustainable livelihoods approach has the greatest potential for bringing about an improvement in the quality of life of the rural poor—that is, for providing a theoretical and practical solution to poverty, social exclusion and underdevelopment.

Henry Veltmeyer is a Professor of Sociology and of International Development Studies at St. Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada.

Order CSSMPP 10 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).