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The gap between legality and legitimacy: the Bolivian state crisis (2000-2008) in historical and regional perspective

Bonifaz Moreno, Gustavo (2017) The gap between legality and legitimacy: the Bolivian state crisis (2000-2008) in historical and regional perspective. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.t269wesb1biy


The present thesis investigates the causes of the Bolivian state crisis (2000-2008). The case study is intriguing because, compared to other countries in the region, Bolivia appeared to successfully implement competitive elections and neo-liberal reforms. Nevertheless, by 2008 the country was on the verge of civil war. This sudden political collapse, I argue, shows that Bolivia represents an extreme case of a regional trend, namely the periodic opening of a gap between legality and legitimacy in periods of social change, punctuated by external shocks. Most accounts of the crisis try to explain it based on the historical prevalence of ethnic, regional or class cleavages within the Bolivian society. Other explanations claim that the crisis was caused by the inability of the country to sustain positive reforms. The former explanations fail because they try to explain what has changed, based on what has not. The latter fail to explain the sudden collapse of the system. In order to provide a better explanation of the Bolivian state crisis, I followed Samuel Huntington´s (1968) study on the relationship between social change, political institutions and instability. I revisited and revised Huntington’s theory combining historical sociology and historical institutionalism. The thesis makes a theoretical contribution through a conceptual advancement to Huntington’s approach by embedding it in a more adequate framework: the gap between legality and legitimacy. Empirically, the research is based on elite interviews, original electoral data, archival records of the CA, and secondary sources. Methodologically, a process-tracing analysis of this evidence led me to conclude that intense social changes, punctuated by external shocks, unsettled and politicised the Bolivian structure of cleavages, giving way to a situation by which political institutions were unable to process social conflicts within the constitutional structure. A cross-temporal comparative analysis of former Bolivian state crises strengthened the analytical framework.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Gustavo Bonifaz Moreno
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JL Political institutions (America except United States)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Panizza, Francisco

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