The Pragmatics of Hope: Class, Elections and Political Management in Contemporary Colombia.
Vidart Delgado, Maria
Boyer, Dominic C.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the recent introduction of U.S.-style, image-based political management techniques into Colombian politics, a phenomenon facilitated by the comprehensive market and political reforms of the 1990s. The Colombian elites who favored these reforms hoped to dismantle the clientelistic networks of private interests that, in their view, perpetuated a corrupt, ineffective, and at times, collusive two-party system. They hoped that a multi-party system would provide Colombian voters with real political choice. However, despite these efforts, clientelism continues to thrive under the new regime. With party/faction loyalty no longer the dominant driver in elections, campaigns now hire political managers to guide voters’ choices based on individual candidates’ appeal. Ironically, these practices have created “electoral industries,” networks of voters organized around political figures as opposed to party platforms. These electoral industries have easily adapted to existing clientelistic networks, the very networks the reforms were meant to dismantle. Meanwhile, through the language of market segmentation, political elites have publicly moralized clientelism’s resilience, characterizing it as a persistent, anti-modern behavior that can be objectively correlated with lower class voters. Their portrait of clientelism stands in stark contrast to the liberal political subjectivity (grounded in individual choice) that they attribute to urban middle and upper classes. According to these ideas, political managers mobilize specific technologies meant to more effectively manage each kind of vote. While lower class voters are managed through face-to-face networks and informal channels of communication, middle and upper class voters are reached through broadcast media and web-based social media. By looking at the institutional platforms, expert knowledge, political technologies and normative political ideas at work in the organization of these environments for political participation, my work explores the features of liberalism that allow clientelism and media-based politics to coexist, and even thrive, under a single system. Specifically, I trace the emergence of a form of “strategic citizenship,” to borrow Partha Chatterjee’s term, that I argue is the latest guise that the transactional dimensions of liberalism has taken.