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An Interview with Kathleen Bruhn, Author of “Politics and the Pink Tide”

Kathleen Bruhn is a professor in and the chair of the Department of Political Science at University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Urban Protest in Mexico and Brazil. The University of Notre Dame Press is thrilled to publish her newest book, Politics and the Pink Tide: A Comparative Analysis of Protest in Latin America (April 2024). She recently answered some of our questions about her research and writing processes.

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

I started thinking about this book shortly after the publication of my previous book on urban protest in Mexico and Brazil. I was finding interesting differences between leftist and non-leftist governments at the local level and wanted to explore how these dynamics might play out on a national scale given that there were many leftist governments that had just assumed power. I didn’t get to it right away because of other pending projects but I always knew I wanted to get back to this topic.

What can readers find in your book that will resonate with them in our current political landscape? 

We seem to be living in a moment where grievances and polarization and also protest are growing, including in countries like the United States. My book has a lot to say about how the causes of protest differ according to the agendas of the government in power (both economic and political) and how political parties matter in this scenario. Parties and party leaders often play a significant role in organizing major episodes of protest—as we can see in January 6—such that strengthening parties does not necessarily lead to reductions in protest.

How did you research for this book?

A lot of the research for this book was driven by archival exploration of accounts of protest in national newspapers from the five countries covered in the book (Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela). It made for fascinating reading. Despite the attention sometimes given to unusual episodes, a lot of protest is driven by ordinary issues like the cost of bus tickets (almost everywhere). Yet the tactics used can be quite creative!

What did you learn while writing it?

I learned a lot about the politics of the five countries the book covers, and some new methodological techniques. I think the most surprising thing I learned (to me) was that parties with stronger linkages to civil society not only didn’t necessarily reduce protest (which my previous book also hinted at), but didn’t handle protest with less repression either. Moreover, the country with the strongest democracy and state actually used the most repression (Chile). I think to the general reader what might be surprising is that parties actually encourage protest and people with stronger links to parties are more likely to participate in protests.

In what way is the book that you wrote different from the book that you set out to write?

The biggest difference between the book I planned (a cross-national comparison of four countries) and the book I wrote was that it turned out to be necessary to look at protest within countries across time in order to really demonstrate how government agendas work to reduce or increase protest. There are significant differences between countries in terms of the “cultures of protest” and repression. Some countries simply protest (or repress) more than others regardless of who is in power. So I added the case of Ecuador and Bolivia before the Pink Tide to show how these factors worked within a single country.

Who is the biggest influence on you and your work?

Gosh, there are so many! Charles Tilly stands out to me, because of his seminal work on protests. Also Sidney Tarrow, for the same reason.

What is your writing schedule like?

Over the years, I’ve learned that my most productive writing hours are in the morning. So I try to save mornings for writing and leave less intellectually draining tasks like preparing for classes to the afternoons. I usually plan for at least a two hour block at least four days a week when I’m in writing mode.

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?

Writing itself is only the tip of the iceberg. A lot of work goes into designing the project, doing the research, reading and organizing notes, and planning the chapter outlines. Once the writing itself starts, be prepared to be surprised, and be patient. Some days, most of my planned writing time passes and I’ll only write a page, and other days, in the same amount of time, I’ll write five pages. Take advantage when it flows, and just sit there in front of the computer until it does! Don’t try to critique what you write as you are writing. Save that for the revision stage. The important thing is first to get it down as you initially think of it and then to refine it. Too much critique at the beginning can block you entirely because nothing will seem good enough.

Who would you like to read Politics and the Pink Tide and why?

I hope people interested in Latin America and the left will read it, because I think it offers important insight into this period in Latin American history and the potential consequences of a return of the left to power. But I also hope that people interested in protest in general will read it. I think I make several theoretical contributions to how protest works, including the relationship between grievances and political opportunities.

What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book on political parties in Mexico (Los partidos políticos en México a través de las elecciones presidenciales) and (for fun) The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

What project are you working on next?

I am working on a project that examines how to measure and understand the consequences of populism, using the contemporary case of Mexico under López Obrador. There will be some articles and hopefully a book at the end of it.

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