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The discourse on civil society in poverty reduction policy in the Argentina of the 1990s: the neoliberal and populist political project’s struggles for hegemony

Miorelli, Romina (2008) The discourse on civil society in poverty reduction policy in the Argentina of the 1990s: the neoliberal and populist political project’s struggles for hegemony. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis looks at how the long-standing battle between liberalism and populism in Argentina manifested in the 1990s in the struggles between neoliberalism and populism to hegemonise the discourse on civil society in national poverty reduction policy. It traces how, through their struggles to remain or become hegemonic, neoliberalism and the concrete form that populism took in the country – henceforth Argentinean populism – each incorporated some of the other’s views, made the other change, and transformed. Neoliberalism and Argentinean populism are considered antagonistic political projects that struggle to become hegemonic. Each project has normative viewpoints at its core, but also includes contingent characteristics acquired in specific historical contexts. For example, the package of market-liberalisation measures and the model of inward economic development are contingent characteristics of neoliberalism and Argentinean populism respectively. Civil society is seen as both a discourse emerging from struggles to hegemonise its meaning and the arena where struggles for political hegemony take place and, thus, where hegemony and counter-hegemony are manufactured (Gramsci, 1998 [1971]: 12, 13, 15, 204). Defining a discourse on civil society is, therefore, a fundamental hegemonic operation, which entails setting limits to the possibilities of hegemonic struggles that can take place in that arena. The thesis argues that the discourse on civil society in the poverty reduction policy area in the Argentina of the 1990s was neopopulist, understood here as the articulation of neoliberal and Argentinean populist discourses on civil society. The neopopulist discourse, however, was not fixed throughout the decade. It emerged (1990-1994), turned into what this thesis characterises as technopopulism (1995-1999) and was then challenged by populist views (2000-2001). While neoliberalism predominated during the decade, the mutations of the neopopulist discourse reflected the gradual colonisation of the predominantly neoliberal discourse by populism and the attempts of neoliberalism to retain its predominance. The conclusion stresses that the centrality of technical and institutional aspects in the neoliberal logic of hegemonic construction created a crucial interstice through which the intrinsically political populist discourse could permeate the neoliberal hegemony. As dislocations in the hegemonic discourse emerged, domestic factors and actors enabled the Argentinean populist discourse on civil society to grow within the neopopulist discourse, partially colonise it, and eventually challenge it. Policy-makers and implementers, whose profiles combined technical skills with deeply embedded populist views, were crucial in this process. Additionally, changes in the neoliberal discourse of the Multilateral Development Banks during the 1990s, as well as differences between these banks and between their official positions and their staff views, were contributory factors in this colonisation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2008 Romina Miorelli
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Panizza, Francisco

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