Trajectory of a Concept: ‘Corporatism’ in the Study of Latin American Politics
LATIN AMERICA IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE, Peter H. Smith, ed., Westview, 1995
15 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2011
Date Written: 1995
Beginning in the 1970s, “corporatism” became a major focus of research on Latin America, a focus readily embraced by scholars who analyzed the authoritarian political relationships emerging during that period. The concept provided a valuable alternative to earlier pluralist models and offered a useful optic for examining state control of interest group politics. This article explores the trajectory of corporatism as a concept in the study of Latin America. As the literature evolved, it was marked by: (a) convergence around similar, core definitions of corporatism; and (b) a shared understanding that within the domain of group politics, corporatism was a specific form or type in relation to the overarching concept of interest intermediation. Important conceptual innovations in this literature included: (c) revision of the overarching concept to accommodate potentially overlapping or conflicting meanings; and (d) introduction of both classical subtypes, which consist of corporatism plus some further differentiating attribute, and radial subtypes, in which a core attribute of corporatism is lacking. This use of the concept to characterize group politics stood in notable contrast with a much broader usage that posited an Iberic-Latin historical tradition of hierarchal, statist authority relations. This latter perspective has been sharply criticized because it groups together such heterogeneous phenomena under a single concept, and because it yields explanatory claims so sweeping as to be implausible. Yet some caution must be exercised in evaluating these criticisms.
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