Foreword
arturo escobar
This is a comprehensive and ambitious tome, an “anthology” of a field at its
best. It was easy to name this field when it was emerging, sometime in the
1980s, in both Latin American and U.S.- based Latin Americanist scholar-
ship. “Back then,” we called it, simply, “social movements theory and research.”
The field has grown more complex ever since, as the social, cultural, and po-
liti cal pro cesses it seeks to name, and the strug gles themselves, became more
complex— less bounded, less neatly oppositional, more massive in some cases
but fragile in others, and certainly more resistant to theory. Out of this messi-
ness and complexity, but also and fundamentally out of the continued and ever
renewed commitment to understanding them and to contribute to the strug gles
for change, there arose, over the past de cade, the incredibly diverse but coherent
set of inquiries, categories, and empirical research that make up this compelling
volume. “Beyond Civil Society” serves as a shorthand for this emergence.
To appreciate what has changed, it might be useful to go back and trace a
bit of the genealogy of the collective research program of which this volume
forms part. In the mid-1980s, Sonia Alvarez and I or ganized a Latin Ameri-
can social movements research group at the University of California, Santa
Cruz. From the outset, the group’s proj ect maintained a balance on many
fronts: gender, for sure, but also perspectives (Latin American versus Euro-
American), age, discipline, and geo graphical coverage. This explicit balance
fostered a richness of perspectives that has remained a feature of the vari ous
collaborative proj ects ever since. It also bridged paradigms, examining si mul-
ta neously what had remained separate aspects in social movements’ research,
namely, their role in constituting identities, their strategies to pursue social
change, and their contributions to democracy and alternative visions of de-
velopment. This three- pronged approach was reflected in the book’s full title:
The Making of Social Movements in Latin Amer i ca: Identity, Strategy, and De-
mocracy (1992).
About 1994, Sonia and I undertook a follow-up collective proj ect with
Brazilian po litical scientist Evelina Dagnino. This time our shorthand organ-
izing rubric was the need to explore si multaneously the cultural dimensions
of the po litical and the po litical dimensions of the cultural. The increasing
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