ANN: 50 Years of Social Movements

Richard Smith Contribution

18 May 2023, 4:00pm - 6:00pm BST

Online, via Zoom


Speakers:  Gabriel Bayarri Toscano (CLACS), Richard G Smith (CLACS), Sam Halvorsen (QMUL), Nicolás Angelcos (Universidad de Chile), Lilija Alijeva(ULIP), Micaela Fernanda Moreira (CLACS)

How did social movements influence political systems to shape today's policy and legislative landscape in the Americas and Europe?

The climate crisis, covid pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war have intensified the multiple challenges democracies face. These range from economic and health inequalities to campaigns based on ‘fake news’ driven by populist politicians and fragile international supply chains driving inflation. Unconventional actions and actors vie with traditional politics and protests to disturb the status quo. The move to less accountable systems of government means understanding how pressure groups succeed is ever more relevant.

Interpreting the role of right- and left-wing social movements in any political system is neither easy nor straightforward. Their relationships with democratic institutions vary in direction, form, dynamism and potency. Critical factors include the era, democratic context, political landscape and external influences. Their contribution to democracy includes the extension of social, civil and political rights, innovative institutions and constitutions, and the ending of autocratic regimes.  

This cross-disciplinary seminar, which will be chaired by Micaela Moreira, Visiting Fellow at CLACS, will explore a range of such relationships drawn from the Americas and Europe in the last half-century to explore their nature and identify the synergies and discords that define(d) their successes and failures in politics. 

Gabriel Bayarri Toscano’s paper, Violence dressed up as heroism: the Latin American far-right as a social movement, analyses a series of memetic images that represent the heroism of the different leaders of the so-called "Latin American far-right", and specifically, the main supporters of the I Latin American Conservative Conference: Kast (Chile), Vizcarra (Perú), Bolsonaro (Brasil), Abdo (Paraguay), Añez (Bolivia), Milei (Argentina) and Duque (Colombia). He will study the main elements that constitute a specific concept of violent heroism via the collection of 48 images. The analysis is composed of two parts: 1. the detection of the connotative dimensions that are related to the legitimisation of violence; 2. the synthesis of the main categories found in the memes studied, according to the grounded theory methodology. Through this analysis he will show that the memetic hero of the Latin American far-right would be characterised by receiving a divine call to save society, and in his journey a series of common symbols would be evident: strength and violent masculinity as forms of action and confrontation against evil; militarism as an ethical and aesthetic element in the organisation of the hero's ethos; shine as an expression of differentiation; diverse cinematographic and pop symbols of appeal and relationship with historical superheroes; and the presence of humour as a form of dehumanisation of the political victims. These elements, as he will discuss in the presentation, have become structural components of the performativity with which the far-right is articulating itself as an online and offline social movement.

Richard G. Smith’s paper will cover his research into the response of Chilean university and school students to the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. It will address the questions: How did resistance to the dictatorship emerge in the University of Chile and Santiago’s secondary school system, and how did it evolve? In particular, it will discuss how the nascent student movements and the underground political parties worked together to build effective opposition. University and secondary school students played an important role in the cycle of protests that swept Chile between 1983 and 1986, being a vital part of the challenge to the regime that led to the return of civilian government in 1990. Following the banning of longstanding democratic student organisations in 1973, opposition to authoritarian rule, and to military intervention in schools and universities, gradually emerged from gatherings such as music clubs, theatrical groups, poetry workshops and sports clubs.⁠ The paper will discuss key features of the movement, such as its beginnings, tactics and nature, and explore the influence of the political youth movements such as the Communist Youth.

Sam Halvorsen and Nicolás Angelcós will present a paper entitled Spatialising popular politics: insights from South America. In 2019 popular politics took a dramatic turn in both Argentina and Chile but along distinctively divergent paths. In Argentina, four years of right-wing government under President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), which saw a return of the IMF, austerity and neoliberal status-quo, was brought to an abrupt end by a centre-left coalition that drew from the mobilizational capacity of the national-popular movement that had governed during the country’s pink tide (2003-2015) and the populist pragmatism of traditional Peronism (the historic movement of Argentine working-classes). Yet four years later the national-poplar movement is split and in crisis and the right is expected to be ushered back into national government by the end of 2023. In Chile, October 2019 saw the largest mobilisation since the recovery of democracy in 1990, bringing the government to its knees. Initially impulsed by secondary students in the capital city, it rapidly extended across the country with the participation of people across all social classes. The strength of the movement led way to the initiation of a constituent assembly yet its proposal was overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum in 2022. The government is currently suffering from low popularity and is disarticulated from the popular sectors that led the 2019 uprising. What can explain the divergent trajectories of popular politics across Argentina and Chile? Moreover, what lessons can be learned from the South American experience at a time where ‘the popular’ is a frequent if contested refrain in contemporary politics worldwide. This paper argues that analysing the spatialities of popular politics provides insights into strategic opportunities and dilemmas that are often downplayed in contemporary scholarship on the Latin American left.

Lilija Alijeva will present her paper: Social Movements in Estonia and Latvia: reflecting on trends before and after the regained independence period from a minority perspective. Over the past five decades, Estonia and Latvia have seen significant social movements that contributed to political and social changes in the two states. The two countries have experienced major political transitions, including the fall of the Soviet Union and policies of nation-building during the establishment of regained independence, and accession to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While the two states are known for the Baltic Way and Singing Revolutions, there are other trends that contribute to understanding the current situation in the region and the roles of minorities in those developments. The case study specifically addresses the role of the large Russian-speaking minority present within the territories of the two states. The presentation reflects the public participation of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia and Latvia and the implementation of international human rights norms. The talk will focus on the roles of minorities in social movements and political developments involving domestic and external actors, as well as the important roles of overlooked stakeholders and their tactics in policy outcomes.



All are welcome to attend this free seminar, which will be held online via Zoom at 4pm BST. You will need to register in advance to receive the online joining link:




Richard Smith / Micaela Moreira

Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies 

Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies (formerly IMLR)

School of Advanced Study | University of London
Senate House | Malet Street | London WC1E 7HU | UK |