Dependency, Bureaucratic Authoritarianism and Transnational Networks of Expertise

January 24, 2017

In the rich lexicon of the global social sciences, there are perhaps two distinctly Latin American contributions. Dependency and bureaucratic authoritarianism—produced and disseminated in the late and 1960s and early 1970s—sought to capture the experience of Latin America with economic development, on the one hand, and with military dictatorships, on the other. In North American and European academic circles, the concepts stimulated unfolding discussions about modernization, state-formation, and imperialism that riveted scholars at a time when the postwar liberal order and the welfare state seemed to be coming to an end.

Surpassing the narratives of diffusion of knowledge from center to peripheries, we show (see my co-authored article in LARR with Jeremy Adelman) that these terms provided the ground for the transition to a new paradigm for the social sciences in and about Latin America that was, nonetheless, carried out and mediated through international, North-South networks of expertise. The result of this collaboration was David Collier’s edited volume The New Authoritarianism in Latin America of which this article presents a biography.

Caught up in an unrelenting tension between economic progress and social and political inclusion, Latin America continued to puzzle the Lettered City. This time, it was the turn of the emerging social sciences to address that tension.  Despite strong echoes of the past, authoritarianism and development created new challenges. Confronting the limits of industrialization and populism—the pillars of the prevailing model of political economy—and the material and political constraints imposed by authoritarian states, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Guillermo O’Donnell, and other intellectuals actively and consciously moved across national boundaries and disciplinary fields. Equipped with academic tools yet striving for political intervention, these social scientists were breaking ground not just in the intellectual arena. They were also institution-builders, carving a space for a new kind of expertise both within and outside of academia of which institutes like Centro Brasileiro de Planejamento Econômico (CEBRAP) in São Paulo and Centro de Estudios de Estado y Sociedad (CEDES) in Buenos Aires are key examples.

When the national and public institutions were under distress by censorship and surveillance, the Ford Foundation and the Social Scientific Research Council provided alternative employment and funding mechanisms. Institutional support, as well as the intervention of crucial brokers such as that of economist Albert Hirschman, provided a certain visibility and legitimacy that both safeguarded the intellectuals and their enterprise but also associated them, in the eyes of many, with foreign interests. Capitalizing on international networks of expertise, these intellectuals refocused the intellectual gaze from what the state does to what the state is, from policies to power relations.

In the opening of funding possibilities for Latin American social sciences in the United States, dependency and bureaucratic authoritarianism provided the intellectual framing to formulate what was initially a project on public policy in Latin America. O’Donnell, Hirschman, and Cardoso recruited more members for the collaborative project, some of which functioned as brokers between a North American empirical style and Latin American theoretical tendencies. These brokers helped articulate workable research proposals for the funding institutions.

David Collier and Julio Cotler moved the project forward with the creation of a “Working Group on State and Public Policy.” Methodology was as important as framing. In an attempt to reverse the causality from economic structures to state institutions, Collier and Cotler proposed to analyze authoritarianism under different historical political regimes. Yet, questioning O’Donnell’s own bureaucratic authoritarianism became the ultimate target of the collaborative project. More than a compilation of case studies, The New Authoritarianism in Latin America revealed the state of a field in transition and the doubts and tensions of these intellectuals regarding the state as object of analysis as well as comparative analysis as methodology. As a result, the notion that the authoritarian state itself was a space for contestation of multiple forces gained traction and opened up the possibilities for political mobilization and eventually democracy.

The intervention of North American academic and philanthropic institutions offered the possibility of sidestepping the coercive effects of authoritarianism on traditional spaces such as universities but also offered the chance to establish a shared agenda between North and South intellectuals. The article, as well as the broader research agenda of the authors, is an attempt to demonstrate the importance of surpassing the local-foreign binary that animates narratives of knowledge and expertise. It is also an effort to bridge the gap between the world of ideas and the institutional landscape. The article shows how in the context of authoritarianism, as well in the development and structuralism era that proceeded, global or international institutions underpinned the construction of knowledge in and of Latin America.

The case of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA in English and CEPAL in Spanish and Portuguese) and the long-history of dependency theory, examined by one of the authors is a case in point. The article attempts to overcome another shortcoming in our understanding of production and circulation of knowledge, especially when it comes to the modern social sciences. Patronage and interests embedded in the academic or funding institutions certainly impose limits on topics, problems, and individuals; yet, as the article shows, some institutions were remolded and others were created to establish connections between embattled intellectuals interested in grappling and overcoming the authoritarian State. Institutions did not just house ideas. As with the paradigm of development and the lexicon of center and peripheries of the past, institution making and network building was an essential component of the production of knowledge and the creation of research agendas and paradigms.


Adelman, Jeremy and Margarita Fajardo. 2016. “Between Capitalism and Democracy: A Study in the Political Economy of Ideas in Latin America.” Latin American Research Review 51(3): 3-22. DOI: 10.1353/lar.2016.0031

About Author(s)

Margarita Fajardo
Margarita Fajardo is an assistant professor of Latin American history and Global Studies at Sarah Lawrence College. She studied History and Economics at Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia) and obtained her MA and PhD in History at Princeton University in 2011 and 2015, respectively. She is the co-author of the article "Between Capitalism and Democracy: A Study in the Political Economy of Ideas in Latin America" published in the Latin American Research Review, and is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled The World that Latin America Created: Knowledge and Power in the Development Era.