Chavistas are the local leaders and activists in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, working to establish democracy through government-sponsored social missions, community self-governance, and popular collectives. We Are the State! tells the story of their grassroots activism. In perspectives gleaned from participant observation with barrio residents in workplaces, communal kitchens, city-wide forums, and grassroots meetings and assemblies, as well as family and recreational events, anthropologist Cristobal Valencia vividly recounts tensions between activists, local officials, and the wealthy opposition.
The author offers an anthropological analysis of the state, social movements, and democracy as lived experiences of the poor, gendered, and racialized residents of two parishes in Caracas, Venezuela, and Afro-Venezuelan communities nearby. Ethnographic research reveals the shift in relationships of power and the evolving political practices among the Chavistas, the Chávez government, and the opposition. Examining the subjective experiences of barrio residents in everyday processes of state formation, this book provides a new perspective on the Chavistas, arguing that they are a broad-based social movement and driving force behind a revolution struggling to transfer state power to organized civil society.
Through his intense engagement with the constantly changing social, political, and economic dynamics, Valencia dramatically challenges top-down understandings of the state and power in Venezuela. He shows the unequal relationships between sectors of civil society, and he shows state formation as a process enmeshed in the struggles for social justice, demonstrating that the state is a sociopolitical entity that acts through civil society, rather than above it.
Participatory democracy calls for the creation and proliferation of practices and institutions that enable individuals and groups to better determine the conditions in which they act and relate to others. Michael Menser’s timely book We Decide! is arguably the most comprehensive treatment of participatory democracy. He explains the three waves of participatory democracy theory to show that this movement is attentive to the mechanics of contemporary political practices. Menser also outlines “maximal democracy,” his own view of participatory democracy that expands people’s abilities to shape their own lives, reduce inequality, and promote solidarity.
We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.
What is the spirit that animates collective action? What is the ethos of democracy? Worldly Ethics offers a powerful and original response to these questions, arguing that associative democratic politics, in which citizens join together and struggle to shape shared conditions, requires a world-centered ethos. This distinctive ethos, Ella Myers shows, involves care for "worldly things," which are the common and contentious objects of concern around which democratic actors mobilize. In articulating the meaning of worldly ethics, she reveals the limits of previous modes of ethics, including Michel Foucault's therapeutic model, based on a "care of the self," and Emmanuel Levinas's charitable model, based on care for the Other. Myers contends that these approaches occlude the worldly character of political life and are therefore unlikely to inspire and support collective democratic activity. The alternative ethics she proposes is informed by Hannah Arendt's notion of amor mundi, or love of the world, and it focuses on the ways democratic actors align around issues, goals, or things in the world, practicing collaborative care for them. Myers sees worldly ethics as a resource that can inspire and motivate ordinary citizens to participate in democratic politics, and the book highlights civic organizations that already embody its principles.