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Policy Implementation and Contentious Action: Indigenous Territorial Demands in Post-Dictatorship Chile Open Access

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When and how will a government respond to contentious political action through institutionalized policy procedures? Institutionalized political institutions are set up to transparently manage societal conflict, yet contentious action has the potential to dynamically reshape these institutions. Conceptual and theoretical challenges complicate analysis of the outcomes and consequences of social movements, leaving us with the general expectation that governments respond to the perceived threat posed by contentious action; do these expectations apply to the implementation of institutionalized public policy? This interaction between citizens and the state is a crucial expression of democratic citizenship, particularly for historically marginalized groups, who more frequently rely on extra-institutional forms of political action, and in Latin America, where leaders have promised to deepen democracy and redefine citizenship despite prioritizing extractivist development models. My dissertation explores these questions in the context of indigenous political action surrounding territorial demands in Chile. Known for its removed and technocratic style of governance, Chile is a least likely case in which contentious action would be expected to drive implementation decisions. Why are some Mapuche communities more successful than others in utilizing Chile’s land policy to acquire territorial rights? I argue that when a democratic government uses institutionalized public policy to respond to contentious action, it is trapped between preserving stability and preserving the transparency of institutional procedures. Using contentious action, groups can acquire leverage, defined as a tool to exercise power, over how the government balances between those competing ways of preserving governability. The effect of this leverage is conditioned by both the presence of powerful, local interests and the degree of policy institutionalization. Quantitative analysis of an original dataset of instances of contentious action in 266 communities over 20 years reveals that the government is aware of and responding to local instances of both violent and nonviolent contentious action, as well as to regional economic interests. Interviews with government officials and indigenous leaders highlight the government’s persisting motivation to use land policy to appease political tension over four presidential administrations; over time, however, the institutionalization of procedures limits politicians and bureaucrats’ ability to do so. Extensive secondary research reveals that the acquisition of territorial rights in Bolivia is similarly determined. These interventions into policy implementation procedures set a problematic precedent for patterns of governance and interest articulation in the region. This research highlights the persisting strength of powerful economic stakeholders, reinforcing historic patterns of exclusion and undermining the broad exercise of indigenous rights. Yet, this research also highlights that indigenous communities have been able to leverage political elites at the expense of powerful competing interests across time, country, demand, political ideology, and institutional strength; the state, usually seen as something to be resisted, can become a point of leverage for historically marginalized groups who participate in policy through both institutional and extra-institutional strategies. Building on an emerging body of literature on the micro-dynamics of deepening democracy in Latin America, these insights into the dynamics of minority demands and state responses provide valuable conclusions about link between the development of the state and the empowerment of historically underrepresented groups.

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