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Latin America: Power, Politics and El Pueblo Rising

  • Module code: PO5006
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: Year 5
  • Credits: 30.00
  • Pre-requisites: Successful completion of level 4 Politics or equivalent
  • Co-requisites: None


This module begins with a survey of the main sweep of historical, political and economic developments, social actors and movements that gave shape to Latin American politics from its colonial beginnings to the early modern era.  The over-arching theme in the first teaching block is the contentious development of the nation-state and national economy in the global system, the legacy of which continues to shape the political landscape of the region.  In the second teaching block, students engage with substantive themes in contemporary Latin American politics, and examine current flashpoints in regional politics through the eyes of a range of actors.  We explore and evaluate the range of new forms of political participation that have emerged since the 1990s to contest the limitations of rights and formal democracy under neoliberal globalization: from the barrio to factories, communities taking root on occupied land and urban spaces, constituent assemblies, popular assemblies and UN summits – or if all else fails, the streets.  We end by examining national and regional development strategies that emerged at the beginning of the 21st century as a response to the perceived failure of neoliberalism, and ask, is there a new politics emerging in the region?


  • To examine the principal national and international power relations, political debates, themes and issues in the region of Latin America
  • To explore competing theories of underdevelopment in their regional context and a variety of contemporary political actors and forms of popular resistance
  • To develop inter-disciplinary research skills, awareness of data sources and capacity for comparative studies

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Outline the historical context situating political challenges, actors and institutions
  • Evaluate principle debates over contested political ideas, issues and processes
  • Critically engage with the competing theoretical frameworks explaining underdevelopment in Latin America
  • Locate and incorporate information from a variety of qualitative and quantitative sources
  • Make a comparative study of politics and movements in two or more countries in the area.
  • Investigate themes that link the politics of the area with its history, international relations, economics, society or culture.

Curriculum content

Section 1 – Debating Colonialism

Interpreting the Conquest I: Indigenous ‘America' (‘Time Immemorial'-1530)

Interpreting the Conquest II: The Colonial Empires (1492-1780)

Independence, Freedom & Progress (1791-1898)

The British Century (19th Century)

U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America I (1823-1933)

Section 2 – Latin America in the Twentieth Century

Land & Liberty! The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)

Cuba: the Long Road to Independence (1898-1959)

U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America II: 1930-1980s (Guatemala)

The Persistence of Peronismo: Populism in Argentina (1916-1974)

State Terror and Development: Chile (1973-1990)

Section 3 – Democracy in the Neoliberal Era

‘This is what democracy looks like...?!': Formal & Participatory Democracy (1990s-today)

Mexico: Neoliberalism and the Politics of the Possible

Venezuela Since 1988: Two Tales of Democracy

Brazil: Human Rights and the Cost of Inclusion

Section 4 – Contemporary Themes and Issues

The Crisis of Labour: Mexico, Brazil

Climate Change, Extractivism, Development

The Troubled Nation: Identity and Inclusion in Bolivia and Brazil

The War on Drugs I: Colombia, the Roots of a Drug War

The War on Drugs II: Plan Colombia & Hemispheric Security

Two Americas in the World

Teaching and learning strategy

The teaching strategy has been designed to allay this potential fear through two means.  First, every week we examine the ways in which Latin Americans have attempted, or are attempting, to address what are in fact common issues that all human societies, to some degree, have had to grapple (e.g., how to balance competing notions of freedom and sovereignty, or to address episodes of mass human rights violations and violence in a nation's past, or to cope with competing understandings of ‘development' in a context of climate change).  We use a particular case study to give focus and substance to the debate around such issues, which will be introduced in lecture and explore in a more interactive way during in the second hour seminar that follows.  To prepare for this work, students will be encouraged to complete worksheets before class to prepare for small group activities in this space during TB1; in TB2, we will continue to work with key questions in formative activities to prepare for the final essay.

Secondly, the module is structured so that core debates (rather than a particular standpoint) are reinforced through a series of key questions and keywords that link every level of teaching and learning; in turn, these key questions explore some aspect of the two overarching themes of TB1 (the emergence of the Latin American nation-state and economy in the global system) and TB2 (formal and participatory sites of democracy).  Students will be encouraged to engage with different perspectives on the key issues in the historical, political science, international relations, development studies and human rights literature, as well as through the lens of different theoretical frameworks (including liberalism, political economy, and the "vision of the vanquished," which may involve postcolonial, Indigenous and Afro-descendant emancipatory thought, feminism or autonomist thought).  

Finally, students will also be encouraged to develop their knowledge base, and skill sets surrounding critical analysis, the research process, group work and project management, and writing, during a series of rotating one-hour workshops.  In TB1, workshop tasks will include locating and evaluating central arguments, interpreting key development indicators, assembling a research strategy, and project management in a team setting.  Students will also have time to work in working groups in preparation for the second assessment.  Topics in TB2 include communicating research findings, comparative analysis and debate, working with essay plans and constructing coherent arguments.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive KIS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching Lectures Seminars 44 8
Guided independent study 256
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

The assessment strategy is closely aligned with the teaching and learning strategy, and has been designed to allow students to explore key concepts, debates, and to develop their own interests and ideas in relation to the region's political development.  Each assessment has been designed to direct students towards a particular area of the political and historical literature, but to also provide enough choice to allow students to develop independent lines of research.  The second and third assessments also allow students to practice the independent analytical, project management, and research skills that they will need to successfully complete their level 6 dissertations.

Formative Assessment.  Students will take part in a series of formative work and assessments which take place during the second-hour seminar, and which garner informal feedback from the module leader and their peers in that setting.  In TB1, students will be asked to complete weekly worksheets (350-400 words each) that have been prepared to guide them to the core debate in the readings for that week, and to encourage them to develop their own ideas and position in preparation for seminar.  Worksheets will be collected at the end of seminar, and given informal feedback and a provisional grade.

 In TB2, students will be graduated from answering worksheets that the module leader prepares to being encouraged to independently develop reading notes using key questions in the module guide, in preparation for seminar.  In both teaching blocks, preparation may occasionally involve preparing a given position for role playing activities.  In TB2, students will also practice making essay plans, which will be circulated in seminar for peer review.

Summative Assessment.  There are three points of assessment, two of which are the culmination of student engagement with core readings and debates in each respective teaching block, and a third which allows students to explore their own interests in Latin America.

In Portfolio 1 (TB1), the top 3 provisional grades of the 8 worksheets submitted will be combined in a summative grade, with an output of 1200 words worth 30%. 

In Portfolio 2 (TB1-2), students will participate in a country-specific working group with the goal of producing a critical country report which combines thematic chapters of interest to each student.  This project has two parts.  Students will be coached on how to develop a research strategy, which will be assessed formally during a preliminary research review; a group presentation that will take place in TW11/12.  Students will be graded on their contribution to the overall presentation, including their presentation of 2 slides which critically reflect on their research to date (worth 5%).  Students will then work to produce the final country report in TB2.  Each student will be graded on his or her contribution to the group work process through a project log, and their individual contribution of a 1400-word chapter, all worth 35%.

The final assessment will be a short essay (1400 words) reflecting on the main themes of TB2, worth 30% of the final grade.

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
Outline the historical context situating the political challenges, actors and institutions Worksheet Portfolio (formative/summative) Workshops (formative) Critical Country Report (summative) Essay (summative)
Evaluate principle debates concerning contested political ideas, issues and processes Worksheet Portfolio (formative/summative) Workshops (formative) Critical Country Report (summative) Essay (summative)
Critically engage with the competing theoretical frameworks explaining underdevelopment in Latin America Worksheet Portfolio (formative/summative) Workshops (formative) Essay (summative)
Locate and incorporate information from a variety of qualitative and quantitative sources Workshops (formative) Critical Country Report (summative) Preliminary Research Review (summative) Essay (summative)
Make a comparative study of politics and movements in two or more countries in the area Worksheet Portfolio (formative/summative) Workshops (formative) Critical Country Report (summative) Essay (summative)
Investigate themes that link the politics of the area with its history, international relations, economics, society or culture. Worksheet Portfolio (formative/summative) Critical Country Report (summative) Preliminary Research Review (summative) Essay (summative)

Breakdown of Major Categories of Assessment

Assessment Type Assessment Name Assessment Weighting
CWK Portfolio 1 30
CWK Portfolio 2 40
CWK Essay 30
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major assessment category is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module

Bibliography core texts

Burns, E. Bradford and Charlip, J. A. (2010) Latin America – An Interpretive History.9th Edition.  New Brunswick NJ: Prentice Hall.

(E-book) Hellinger, Daniel C. (2015) Comparative Politics of Latin America: Democracy at Last? 2nd edition.  London: Routledge.

Bibliography recommended reading

Chilcote, R. and Edelstein, J. (eds.) (1974) Latin America: The Struggle with Dependency and Beyond.  London: Wiley.

Galeano, E. (2009) Open Veins of Latin America: five centuries of the pillage of a continent. New Edition.New York: Monthly Review Press

Green, D. and Branford, S. (2012) Faces of Latin America.4thedition.  New York: Monthly Review Press

Keen, Benjamin & Keith Haynes (2012).A History of Latin America.9th edition.Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Meade, T.A. (2009) A History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to the present.  London: Wiley-Blackwell.

(E-Book) O'Toole, G.  (2011)  Politics Latin America.2nd edition.  London: Pearson.

Skidmore, T.E. & Smith, P.H. (2013) Modern Latin America.8th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williamson, E. (2009) The Penguin History of Latin America. New Edition. London: Penguin Books Ltd.  

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