21A.506 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

The Business of Politics: A View of Latin America


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Class Description

Teams of political consultants deploy sophisticated marketing techniques to carefully manage elections worldwide. Although today political marketing is indispensable to manage campaigns around the world, this was not always the case. Political consulting was invented in the United States in the 1930s, as new media (radio, film and TV) became more entrenched in American daily life. When a wave of democratization and liberal reformation swept the world in the 1970s and 1980s, and television consumption dramatically increased worldwide, American political consultants found new and exciting business opportunities in these contexts of political reform, especially in Latin America. The introduction of an American-inspired form of doing politics to the Latin American context fostered complex political processes that challenged straightforward definitions of what democracy and civic participation meant.

In this class, we will analyze the birth and international spread of an American industry of political marketing from an anthropological perspective. For this purpose, we will focus our attention on the cultural processes, sociopolitical contexts and moral utopias that shape the practice of political marketing in the U.S. and abroad. By focusing on the debates and expert practices at the core of the business of politics, we will explore how the “universal” concept of democracy is interpreted and reworked as it travels through space and time. Specifically, we will study how different groups experimenting with political marketing in different cultural contexts understand the role of citizens in a democracy.


In this class students will:

  • Identify the main features of liberalism and liberalization in Latin America.
  • Learn key debates about public formation and civic engagement in the age of mass media.
  • Acquire research skills to relate specific ethnographic material to broader political and cultural processes.


In this class, we will combine a diversity of sources in order to study the emergence and establishment of political marketing as a global industry. We will explore journalistic accounts, memoirs, documentaries and academic sources (mainly from anthropology, political sociology and political science). We will analyze these materials as objects produced within situated cultural contexts. In this way, we will pay close attention to the geopolitical conditions, legal frameworks and local processes that inform the production of these objects.


The students will develop a semester long research project that will be divided into different tasks throughout the semester. Students can work on the project individually or in pairs.

Goal: You will pretend to be the international political consultant for a presidential political campaign in a Latin American country of your choice. The goal of the project is to design a plausible campaign strategy for the political context you have chosen. The last week of class you will present your results to the rest of the class.

For further detail, please see the Assignments section.

Grading Policy

Task 1: Written report – Knowing the rules 20
Task 2: Written report – Political histories 20
Task 3: Written report – Media platforms and political attitudes 20
Task 4: Campaign strategy report and presentation 15
Task 5: Final report 20
Participation in class 5

Student Responsibilities

Students must come to class and participate actively in class discussions. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to catch-up. It is your responsibility to inform the instructor of any missed classes or assignments

For all research reports, students must cite research sources using the Chicago Manual of Style.

If you miss a deadline without a valid excuse (religious observance, illness, family calamity, circumstances beyond your control), a penalty of 5 points will be applied for every day past the deadline. For example, if the original assignment was worth 20 points, the day after the deadline your work will be worth a maximum of 15 points.

If you need specific accommodations in order to complete your work successfully, please inform the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

Reading Materials

The required books for this course are:

Dezalay, Yves, and Bryant G. Garth. The Internationalization of Palace Wars: Lawyers, Economists, and the Contest to Transform Latin American States. University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780226144269. [Preview with Google Books]

Harding, James. Alpha Dogs: The Americans who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009. ISBN: 9780374531751.

Remaining readings are detailed in the Readings section.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples
Instructor Insights