The Right to the City

Popular Contention in Contemporary Buenos Aires

Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

Based on extensive, original fieldwork, as well as new survey data, The Right to the City contributes to the study of democratization by focusing on the dilemmas and opportunities of popular contention in the city of Buenos Aires. It also offers an excellent overview of the history of social mobilization in Argentina. Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell’s main assertion in this study is that through various channels of collective action and associational activities, as well as by voting, the urban popular sector is a fundamental actor in the pursuit of the expansion and consolidation of citizenship rights.

Using both qualitative analysis and quantitative data, Ippolito-O’Donnell explores what factors—economic, politico-institutional, organizational, and subjective—account for the emergence in the 1980s, and collapse in the 1990s, of a wave of grassroots popular organizations in Villa Lugano, a poor neighborhood located in the south of Buenos Aires. She identifies factors crucial for explaining the organizational weakness and concomitant cyclical patterns of collective action by the urban poor, as well as the consequences for alleviating poverty and inequality in this newly democratized nation.

Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell is professor in the School of Politics and Government at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín in Argentina.

“Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell’s The Right to the City is an important contribution to the literature on social movements, democratization, and Latin American studies. It is timely, well written, theoretically ambitious, and rich in its empirical analysis. Ippolito-O’Donnell makes a strong case against clientelism in the context of Argentina’s democratization, based on her analysis of contentious politics among Buenos Aires’s poor. Her work will be of interest to scholars in the social sciences as well as to policy-makers involved in anti-poverty programs and local development, including urban, housing, and transportation policies.” — Verónica Montecinos, Penn State University

“Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell’s book revisits and reshapes the long-standing debate about the logic of popular urban social movements and its relationship to democracy. By focusing on the rise and decline of a popular movement—the Villa Lugano Neighborhood Committee—in one of the poorest sectors of the City of Buenos Aires, her analysis manages to transcend Argentina and Latin America, to address universal issues. Ippolito-O’Donnell puts together an analytic narrative that reassesses old questions and puts forth new ones: the material and symbolic goals at stake in the struggle for citizenship, the necessary role of both a contentious civil society and a receptive state, as well as the limited capacity of voting, for the expansion of democracy and citizenship rights are at the core of her analysis and conclusions. An analysis that also sheds new light on the impact of clientelistic practices on social hostility among poor citizens, as well as on—in Ippolito-O’Donnell’s words—’the relevance of geography, space, and territory for understanding the dynamics of contention.’ ” — Carlos H. Acuña, Universidad de San Andrés/CONICET, Buenos Aires

“This book addresses an important topic—the determinants and role of popular mobilization in deepening democracy—and it offers interesting theoretical insights. It is based on extensive and original fieldwork as well as on new survey data that is worth reporting in its own right. The book also provides an excellent overview of the history of social mobilization in Argentina.” — Daniel M. Brinks, University of Texas at Austin


“Mobilizing a diverse set of conceptual tools—ranging from democratic theory to social movement scholarship—and drawing upon a multi-method approach that combines qualitative and quantitative data production techniques, Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell reconstructs the cycle of popular contention in the city of Buenos Aires from 1983 until the early 2000s.” — Journal of Latin American Studies