Grupos de Investigación

New forms of civil participation in Latin America

  • Dr. Christelle Cazabat (United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report Office)
Over the past fifteen years, a transition has begun. Traditional forms of civil participation are declining all around the world, along with people’s confidence in their governments. Several developments have impacted the way Latin American people participate in public and political life. Significant progress was achieved in providing primary education, and gender equity is improving. These expanded capabilities have allowed groups of people who were previously excluded to enter public or political life.
The exponential spread of new technologies has provided individuals with new tools for participation, such as e-government services, cyber activism, crowdfunding and online volunteering. Individuals can access and publish information with minimal resources, sharing their opinions and reaching a wider audience than ever before. These new tools, along with a general trend of globalization in information, economy, politics and public goods, have facilitated the creation of social and political communities that extend across borders. Corporate Social Responsibility and consumer activism have bridged the divide between civil participation and the private sector. Citizens tend to be more directly engaged in public and political matters.
The last decades have also led to significant changes in the regional political, social and economic environment, including globalization, rising inequalities or democratization. Ethnic minorities, migrants, poor people, youth or women, are using new technologies to take a more active role in political and public life. The potential of new technologies to reach individuals beyond geographical and physical barriers can bring masses of inhabitants from rural areas, or people with limited mobility, to civic engagement. Anyone can now take part in the public debate with limited resources and reduced control from the authorities. It is not only the instruments, but the entire landscape of civil participation that is now evolving.
The hope that these new tools would result in a more equitable representation of all citizens in the political sphere is not unreasonable. Yet the imperfections of traditional forms of civil participation, such as the overwhelming influence of high-income groups, men and developed countries, have not been completely erased. Specific challenges will have to be addressed to bring new forms of civil participation to their full potential.

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