Democratic Anxieties in the Americas Research Grants


Does deliberation produce peaceful consensus? In the wake of increasingly frequent protests by peasant and indigenous communities affected by extraction, Peru’s government adopted diálogo as its strategy for democratic governance in the multicultural country. Diálogo enshrines deliberative democracy’s central promise: to provide substantive inclusion by transcending difference through consensus. Through nonviolent deliberation, dialogue roundtables seek to quell extraction-related social unrest by helping peasant and indigenous communities peacefully reach agreements with urban bureaucrats about how extraction can proceed. But most disputes, like access to scarce communal resources, are zero-sum (Nader 1994). Why and how do culturally distinct groups chase consensus on issues for which they are apparently in diametric opposition? An ethnography of diálogo makes it possible to trace the contradictory tactics through which diverse peoples holding different worldviews, modes of living, and means of self-expression pursue consensus in hopes of peaceful coexistence. The conflicted processes through which diverse groups endeavor to reach agreements with one another call into question some key assumptions buttressing liberal democracy’s conceptual infrastructure: 1) that deliberation can transform conflict into consensus; and 2) that consensus is necessary for democracy. The complex cultural diversity, persistent protests, and ever-elusive nature of consensus shaping diálogo’s implementation in Peru invite scholars to revise long-standing assumptions about consensus’ place in a multicultural democracy. My project explores the enchantment of agreement in democratic politics and why diverse groups continue chasing it—even if it fails to live up to its promise of substantive inclusion and peaceful coexistence.

Principal Investigator

Adela Zhang

PhD Candidate, Stanford University

Adela Zhang is a PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at Stanford University. Zhang’s research explores how seemingly intractable conflicts over resource extraction illustrate long-standing tensions between the priorities of large-scale development and democracy promotion in Latin America. Using ethnography and qualitative digital methods, her work examines how historically unequal groups in Peru endeavor to transform disputes over mining and oil and gas extraction into particular visions for democracy and inclusion, even when separated by distinct lifeways and diverging interests. Zhang previously received her BA in economics and Latin American Studies from the University of Chicago.