Revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela: One Hope, Two Realities

Pedraza, Silvia and Carlos A. Romero. 2022. Revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela: One Hope, Two Realities. University Press of Florida. Revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela compares the sociopolitical processes behind two major revolutions—Cuba in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power, and Venezuela in 1999, when Hugo Chávez won the presidential election. With special attention to the Cuba-Venezuela alliance, particularly in regards to foreign policy and the trade of doctors for oil, Silvia Pedraza and Carlos Romero show that the geopolitical theater where these events played out determined the dynamics and reach of the revolutions.   Updating and enriching the current understanding of the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions, this study is unique in its focus on the massive exodus they generated. Pedraza and Romero argue that this factor is crucial for comprehending a revolution’s capacity to succeed or fail. By externalizing dissent, refugees helped to consolidate the revolutions, but as the diasporas became significant political actors and the lifelines of each economy, they eventually served to undermine the social movements.   Using comparative historical analysis and data collected through fieldwork in Cuba and Venezuela as well as from immigrant communities in the U.S., Pedraza and Romero discuss issues of politics, economics, migrations, authoritarianism, human rights, and democracy in two nations that hoped to make a better world through their revolutionary journeys. 

The Refugee System: A Sociological Approach

Arar, Rawan and David Scott FitzGerald. 2022. The Refugee System: A Sociological Approach. Polity Press.
the refugee system
Some people facing violence and persecution flee. Others stay. How do households in danger decide who should go, where to relocate, and whether to keep moving? What are the conditions in countries of origin, transit, and reception that shape people’s options? This incisive book tells the story of how one Syrian family, spread across several countries, tried to survive the civil war and live in dignity. This story forms a backdrop to explore and explain the refugee system. Departing from studies that create siloes of knowledge about just one setting or “”solution”” to displacement, the book’s sociological approach describes a global system that shapes refugee movements. Changes in one part of the system reverberate elsewhere. Feedback mechanisms change processes across time and place. Earlier migrations shape later movements. Immobility on one path redirects migration along others. Past policies, laws, population movements, and regional responses all contribute to shape states’ responses in the present. As Arar and FitzGerald illustrate, all these processes are forged by deep inequalities of economic, political, military, and ideological power. Presenting a sharp analysis of refugee structures worldwide, this book offers invaluable insights for students and scholars of international migration and refugee studies across the social sciences, as well as policy makers and those involved in refugee and asylum work.

Book Review: First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship

Please enjoy this review of Richard Lachmann’s First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship by Emily Erikson.
First Class Passengers
Throw me a life vest, please! by Emily Erikson, Yale University 

I think we can all agree that Richard Lachmann’s latest book, First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship, is a masterful work of history and political analysis. The question I want to address is whether this book should be read as an analysis of the current situation of the United States, a work on elite conflict theory, or as a work on imperial decline? Or perhaps this question could be better phrased as whether this work’s greatest contribution is to contemporary analysis of the state of the United States, to the development of elite-conflict theory, or to theories of empire.  Lachmann has developed elite-conflict theory in, for example, earlier works like Capitalists in Spirit of Themselves, and From Manor to Market. In those books, as in this one, Lachmann mobilizes and develops elite-conflict theory to explain large-scale political outcomes. But this most recent book is not really about exploring the possible dimensions and contours of elite-conflict theory as much as it is about explaining imperial decline in general and US imperial decline in particular.  That balance between the general and particular is interesting because for a lot of readers there is going to be some implicit tension between how they feel about the current situation in the US and the idea of the end of US imperial ambitions. On the one hand, we might be ambivalent or even vaguely pleased about the end of an empire but simultaneously sad about the potentially disastrous way that era is winding down in the US.  To this end it should be noted that the book was finalized before the 2020 elections, and things surely looked much worse at that point than they do now, although Lachmann makes clear that he does not believe a change in administrations — however awful one outgoing administration may be — is going to resolve the underlying conflicts over resources propelling the decline of US power. He does, however, carefully keep the different outcomes of imperial decline and societal decline and/or stasis analytically separate.  It is mainly in the concluding chapter that the problem of rising inequality, the rise of populism, and the decline of democratic institutions are addressed. It is clear that the end of US global hegemony is going to play an important role in how these issues play out over time. But it is equally clear that other factors largely unrelated to international relations and global power also play an extremely important role — such as the presence of union organization and corporate tax rates. Just to drive this point home, only three nations have experienced global hegemony and decline, but nearly all nations have experienced changing patterns of inequality and democratization. Despite the fact that this analysis enters in at the end of the book, it is more than sufficient to advance a strong case that elite-conflict theory should also be at the heart of the analysis of these other very concerning trends — whether or not they intersect with imperial decline. In this regard, Lachmann’s analysis makes a nice companion for Thomas Piketty’s recent volumes, Capital and Capital and Ideology, which give quite a lot of information about laws, taxation, and property regimes, but less on the political configurations that give rise to these institutional outcomes and/or the configurations that might lead to the changes for which Piketty advocates.  

Social conflict on the front lines of reform: Institutional activism and girls’ education in rural India

Mangla, Akshay. 2021. “Social conflict on the front lines of reform: Institutional activism and girls’ education in rural India.Public Administration and Development. How do states realize social reforms for marginalized groups in settings of entrenched inequality? This article argues that reform implementation is a conflict-ridden process driven by the institutional activism of street-level bureaucrats. Through an ethnographic case study of Mahila Samakhya, a novel government program for women’s empowerment in Uttar Pradesh, India, I find that local fieldworkers committed to reform promoted girls’ education by mobilizing marginalized citizens and mediating local conflicts. Organizational processes of gender-based training and deliberation enabled fieldworkers to challenge village patriarchy and exclusion and forge programmatic ties with lower caste women. By altering rules to address the practical needs of households, fieldworkers effectively integrated disadvantaged girls into the education system. Institutional activism also engendered conflicts over rules within the bureaucracy, prompting senior officials to advocate for marginalized groups. The findings suggest that institutional commitment to activism is critical for agencies working on the front lines of reform.

The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila

Garrido, Marco Z. 2019. The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila.
Patchwork City
In contemporary Manila, slums and squatter settlements are peppered throughout the city, often pushing right up against the walled enclaves of the privileged, creating the complex geopolitical pattern of Marco Z. Garrido’s “patchwork city.” Garrido documents the fragmentation of Manila into a mélange of spaces defined by class, particularly slums and upper- and middle-class enclaves. He then looks beyond urban fragmentation to delineate its effects on class relations and politics, arguing that the proliferation of these slums and enclaves and their subsequent proximity have intensified class relations. For enclave residents, the proximity of slums is a source of insecurity, compelling them to impose spatial boundaries on slum residents. For slum residents, the regular imposition of these boundaries creates a pervasive sense of discrimination. Class boundaries then sharpen along the housing divide, and the urban poor and middle class emerge not as labor and capital but as squatters and “villagers,” Manila’s name for subdivision residents. Garrido further examines the politicization of this divide with the case of the populist president Joseph Estrada, finding the two sides drawn into contention over not just the right to the city, but the nature of democracy itself. The Patchwork City illuminates how segregation, class relations, and democracy are all intensely connected.  It makes clear, ultimately, that class as a social structure is as indispensable to the study of Manila—and of many other cities of the Global South—as race is to the study of American cities.