My dissertation, “Machines of Political Articulation: Transnational Advocacy Networks of Free-Market Think Tanks in Latin America,” focuses on the key role of think tanks for the development of right-wing politics in the region. During 15 months of fieldwork, I conducted more than 140 interviews with think tank directors and policymakers across nine Latin American countries, the United States, Germany and Spain. I also conducted participant observation at political events, carried out archival research on the strategies of local and international foundations, and collected network data on the evolution of transnational ties between foundations of the Global North and South.
Drawing upon these data, I first show how free-market advocacy networks expanded and evolved over time in the region since the beginning of the Cold war until the present time. Identifying different historical stages of knowledge transmission and tie formation, I argue that free-market political entrepreneurs in Latin American learned how to exploit different types of ties with international foundations to increase their size and influence within their own countries. I term this process “Transnational Network Layering.”
In the second part of my dissertation, I compare the political brokerage of think tank organizations across Chile and Argentina – two countries that have been identified with neoliberal resilience and failure, respectively. I show that ideological fragmentation and different political interests weakened free-market coalitions in Argentina, with an opposite pattern emerging in Chile. These early differences deepened during periods of authoritarian rule. In Chile, neoliberal intellectuals and technocrats became institutionally entrenched, controlling key positions within Pinochet’s administration, and enforcing several legal changes. Think tanks exploited this technocratic expertise and adopted defensive strategies to shield these institutional changes during during democratic times, contributing to neoliberal resilience. Conversely, Argentine think tanks developed several offensive strategies to reach political power, but became unable to anchor their projects within the state. As a result of their failure in generating free-market political articulation, they were forced to move their activity towards the realms of cultural production or economic consultancy.
My findings underscore the importance of understanding how civil society organizations can actively develop different types of expertise and strategies to contribute to neoliberal resilience across a wide variety of political regimes and field configurations.