Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Female Politicians in Chile: Unfolding the Meanings and Implications for Chilean Politics in the Twenty First Century

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posted on 2021-11-11, 23:14 authored by Peréz, Paula Andrea Pereda

The aim of this thesis is to unfold the meanings and implications of female politicians in Chile in the twenty-first century. Based on interviews with Chilean politicians and employing a methodology based on Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology and relational ontology, I unpack the complex relationships between gender and political power. My central claim is that the way in which female politicians are perceived by themselves and by male politicians, and how female politicians might affect views on political behaviour, is something widely influenced by the history and trajectory of Chilean politics. I explore issues of representation in politics and democracy and reassess the relevancy of the concept of representation for elaborating the meanings and implications of increased numbers of female politicians in Chile. Highlighting the strategic character of political practices, I analyse symbolic representation by looking at it from political representatives’ points of view. I problematize the complex relationships between democracy, representation, and economic development in the context of neoliberal globalization, in which the place of women in politics remains both promising and uncertain. I analyse interview data collected by integrating ‘conceptual blending theory’, critical discourse analysis and Bourdieu’s theory. From this integral perspective, I analyse political practices as both embodied experience and as a reflection of socio-political reality. Through a socio-historical journey, I explore the foundations of Chilean democracy, political participation, and representation. I argue that the main milestone which affects the meanings and implications can be found in Chile’s late granting of women’s suffrage (1949) and in the democratic breakdown during Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990). I argue that Chilean political institutions of formal representation impede women’s descriptive, substantive, and symbolic representation from fully taking place in the Chilean political system. Interview analysis demonstrated that political institutional design is an expression and reflection of the shortcomings of Chilean political culture. This was found to prevent the furthering of a democracy in which female politicians are central actors. This political context sheds light on Michelle Bachelet’s presidential triumph in 2006, which represented a push for a more democratic and egalitarian society, as well as the political strategy by the weakened ruling coalition who sought to remain in power. Finally, I explore the temporal dimension of the meanings and implications of female politicians in Chile. By looking at the temporality of political processes, practices and institutions, I return to the symbolic dimension of representation. I demonstrate that the states of uncertainty and crises of politics offer contested spaces for political power distribution and for further elaboration on the private and public division of social life. The temporality of politics as social practice reflects its deeply gendered nature, as well as the arbitrariness of political power.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Grey, Sandra; Neale, Jenny