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Revolution from below: cleavage displacement and the collapse of elite politics in Bolivia

Faguet, Jean-Paul (2019) Revolution from below: cleavage displacement and the collapse of elite politics in Bolivia. Politics and Society, 47 (2). pp. 205-250. ISSN 0032-3292

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Identification Number: 10.1177%2F0032329219845944


For 50 years, Bolivia’s political party system was a surprisingly robust component of an otherwise fragile democracy, withstanding coups, hyperinflation, guerrilla insurgencies, and economic chaos. Why did it suddenly collapse around 2002? I propose a theoretical lens combining cleavage theory with Schattschneider’s concept of competitive dimensions, and then empirically analyze the structural and ideological characteristics of Bolivia’s party system between 1952-2010. Politics shifted from a conventional left-right axis of competition unsuited to Bolivian society, to an ethnic/rural vs. cosmopolitan/urban axis closely aligned with its major social cleavage. This shift fatally undermined elite parties, facilitating the rise of structurally and ideologically distinct organizations, and a new indigenous political class, that transformed the country’s politics. Decentralization and political liberalization were the triggers that made Bolivia’s latent cleavage political, sparking revolution from below. I suggest a folk theorem of identitarian cleavage, and outline a mechanism linking deep social cleavage to sudden political change.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 The Author
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2019 10:30
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2019 23:54

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