Carlos Forment is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Sociology and Politics at The New School for Social Research. He is currently Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Sociology, the Janey Program in Latin American Studies, and Founder and Co-director of the graduate minor: Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism. He studied at the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH, Mexico City), Duke University and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining The New School, he was faculty in the Politics Department at the Universidad Nacional de San Martin (Buenos Aires) and at Princeton University; Director of the Centro de investigacion y documentacion de la vida publica (Buenos Aires); and part-time consultant for the United Nation's Development Program (UNDP).
My intellectual development resembles that of a hedgehog rather than a fox, to borrow Isaiah Berlin’s well-known distinction. All my work emanates from a single-minded concern to understand how rights-bearing citizens and undocumented immigrants from all walks of life across Latin America during the nineteenth century in the transition from colony to sovereign nation and in the current moment under conditions of neoliberal globalization and structural adjustment institutionalized, in the course of practicing and imagining everyday self-rule and radical equality, modern democratic and late modern post-democratic regimes. In dialogue with Alexis de Tocqueville, Hannah Arendt and Jacques Ranciere, my work seeks to deflate 'theoreticist-philosophical' accounts by granting primacy and centrality to ‘practical judgment’ and 'ordinary language.' Analyzing their interactions synchronically (pragmatic usage vs semantic meaning) in a given moment as well as diachronically (emergence of new meanings from sedimented terms) over a prolonged period of time provides insight into how citizens and non-citizens in everyday life have made sense of their shared differences across the public landscape. Instead of studying democratic life in this part of the world as an 'accomplished fact: or an "actually existing reality,' I examine it as a socio-political possibility which remains buried beneath various thick and tangled layers of 'abstract concepts' and 'institutional structures' that have had the effect of restricting our imagination to the 'here and now,' and by doing so inhibitting us from exploring the subterranean connections between the 'space of experience' and the 'horizon of expectation.'
These general concerns have guided my work. My study of the emergence of modern democratic life is summarized in Democracy in Latin America, 1760-1900: Civic Selfhood and Public Life in Mexico and Peru, volume I (University of Chicago Press, 2003, 2nd edtion, 2013), La Formacion de la Sociedad Civil y la Democracia en el Peru (Editorial Universidad Pontifica Catolica del Peru, 2012), Public Centers of Sociability and Everyday Forms of Nationhood in Nineteenth Century Latin America (University of Chicago Press, in contract) and in Democracy in Latin America, 1760-1900: Civic Selfhood and Public Life in Cuba and Argentina, volume II (book manuscript; in progress). In taking readers on the southern route, on the road not taken by Tocqueville, my aim has been to explore the different ways citizens and non-citizens practiced everyday forms of self-rule and social equality in civic, economic and political associations; workshops, factories, farms and landed estates; neighborhood plazas, parks and taverns; patriotic and religious celebrations; and in other public centers of sociability that flourished in this part of the world. Along with providing a Tocquevillian account of democracy in Latin American, my work advances a Latin American reading of Tocquevillian democracy.
Democracy in Latin America has been reviewed in 26 academic journals in the fields of Anthropology (4, i.e.: American Anthropologist, Ethno-Historical Journal, Social Anthropology Review); History (18: Annales, Past and Present, Social History, American Historical Review); Sociology (8: International Journal of Sociology, British Journal of Sociology, Thesis 11, though not in the American Journal of Sociology); and Political Science (6: American Political Science Review, Constellations, Citizenship Studies). Distinguished scholars have descibed Forment's work "as one of the most important contributions to thinking about democracy, civil society and public culture in Latin America in the past half century. It is surely going to recast the way in which we think about the relationship between these three features of modern life in the region – and possibly beyond" (Jeremy Adelman, Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor of History, Princeton University); another one remarked: "his magisterial study establishes the distinctness of Latin American democracy---robust in daily life but weakly institutionalized; ethnically fragmented and Catholic rather than republican. This is political sociology at its classical best---wide ranging, erudite, deeply attentive to historical detail and at the same time, comparative and synthesizing in its theoretical conclusions. A major contribution to the new literature on democracy around the world." (Partha Chatterjee, Director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences).
My work on post-democracy in contemporary Latin America is summarized in Citizenship and its Fragments: Post-Democratic Life in Buenos Aires in the Wake of Neo-Liberal Globalization and in Shifting Frontiers of Citizenship in Latin America. A significant portion of the scholarly and popular works on the 'transition to and the consolidation of democratic rule' published in the last thirty years or so has been an expression of the current ethico-political crisis in the region rather than a critical reflection on it. Inspired by Arendt's writings, my current work on post-democratic life seeks to make sense of it without relying on the self-images of the age. My new book is in three parts. In the first (contemplative life), I examine the writings of half a dozen distinguished thinkers whose study of socio-political relations in Buenos Aires' metropolitan region has been incorporated into the 'transnational academic canon.' In analyzing their writings, I study the contradictory demands they experienced as they engaged in scholarly (thinking) and ethico-political pursuits (action) and how they relied on practical judgment to reconcile the two. The second part of the book (political life), examines the proliferation and spread of divergent types of assemblies that were organized by fair-skinned elites and non-elites, dark-skinned plebeians and undocumented indigenous immigrants across Buenos Aires. Under conditions of post-democracy, assemblyism, I am persuaded, has displaced Arendtian councils as the most significant type of socio-political formation. In the closing section (crisis of authority and tradition), i advance the claim that the centuries-old dispute between supporters and detractors of 'liberal republicanism and 'national populism' is anachronistic. These traditions continue to be invoked ritualistically, however, in the last three decades they have been hollowed due to radical changes wrought by neoliberal globalization and structural adjustment. However, instead of ushering in an Arendtian crisis of authority, the unravelling of liberal republicanism and national populism, has predisposed residents to become nostalgically attached and melancholically identified to them.
PhD 1991, Harvard University
La Formacion de la Sociedad Civil y la Democracia en el Peru (Editorial Universidad Catolica del Peru, 2012)
Democracy in Latin America: Civic Selfhood and Public Life, vol I; Mexico and Peru (The University of Chicago Press, 2003; Second Ed. 2013)
Shifting Frontiers of Citizenship: The Latin American Experience, co-editor with Mario Sznajder and Luis Roniger (Brill, 2013)
Books in Contract and in Progress:
Public Spaces of Sociability and Everyday Forms of Nationhood in Nineteenth Century Latin America (in contract, The University of Chicago Press)
Remains of Citizenship: Postdemocratic Forms of Representation in Buenos Aires in the Wake of Marketization
Co-edited Journal Issues:
On Plebeianism, (with A. Kalyvas) Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory (December 2019)
Civility: Global Perspectives, (co-authored with S Thiranagama and T. Kelly) Anthropological Theory, Special Double Issue. 8: 2-3 (July 2018)
Recently Published Peer Reviewed Journal Articles and Book Chapters
"From Populations to Plebeians in the Global South: Buenos Aires's waste pickers," Constellations: A Journal of Democratic and Critical Theory," 26:4 (December 2019) 554-568.
"Buenos Aires' neighborhood assemblies and the emergence of a new socio-political form: Everyday practices, ordinary language and the reskilling of citizens," Constellation: A Journal of Democratic and Critical Theory, Anniversary Issue: Democracy in a World of Crisis (Vol. 26, Issue 3) 475-491.
"Trashing Violence/ Recycling Civility: Buenos Aires' Scavengers and Everyday Forms of Plebeian Citizen, Anthropological Theory, 18:3 (July 2018) 409-431.
"Introduction: Whose Civility?" (co-authored with S Thiranagama and T. Kelly) Anthropological Theory, Special Double Issue. 18: 2-3 (2018) pp.153-174.
"Buenos Aires's La Salada Market and Plebeian Citizenship," in The Postcolonial Contemporary: Political Imagines for the Global Present (eds.) Jini Kim Watson and Gary Wilder, (New York City: Fordham Press, 2018) 224-241.
"Communitarian Cosmopolitanism: Buenos Aires’ Recuperated Factory Workers, Neoliberal Globalization and Democratic Citizenship. An Arendtian Perspective," in The Trouble with Democracy: Political Modernity in the 21st century, (eds.) Gerard Rosich and Peter Wagner, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) 148-184.
"Argentina's Recuperated Factory Movement and Citizenship," in Shfiting Frontiers of Citizenship: The Latin American Experience, (eds.) Carlos Forment, Mario Sznajder, Luis Roniger Leiden: Brill, 2013) 187-215.
“Recuperated Factories in Contemporary Buenos Aires from the Perspective of Workers and Businessmen,” Enduring Reform: Progressive Activism and Business Visions of Change in Latin America’s Democracies, (eds.) Jeffrey W. Rubin and Vivienne Bennett, (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012) 147-175.
Performances and Appearances
Carlos contributes occasionally to public debates by participating in gatherings of writers, journalist, scholars and activists across Latin America such as the Guadalajara Book Fair; publishing articles in Nexos, one of Latin America's leading literary and political magazine, Open Democracy and several other publications with mass circulation; and in New York City by sometimes serving as co-anchor and commentator to the Spanish language television program, NY1 News / Noticias.
Classical, Modern and Contemporary Social and Politcal Theory; Democratic and Postdemocratic Life; Neoliberalism; Contemporary Assemblyism and the Council Form; Representational Practices; Governmentalized Populations and Plebeian Citizenship; Civil Society; Modern and Contemporary Citizenship; Nationhood, Selfhood and the Public Sphere; History of Concepts; Ordinary Language and Practical Judgment; Macro-Historical Change and Socio-Political Transformations; and, Democratic and Heterodox Forms of Subjectivation and Disidentification
Sample Courses Taught Recently:
Modernity and the Invention of Social Science (Spring 2021)
The Theory and Politcs of Councils (Spring 2020)
Classical Social Theory (Fall 2020)
Democratic Citizenship in Settler and Post-Colonial Countries (Eastern Correctional Institute, Bard Prison Initiative, Spring 2019)
Post-Democracy in Core and Peripheral Countries (Spring 2018)
Democracy in Contemporary Latin America (Fall 2018)
Civil Society in Contemporary Africa, India and Latin America (Spring 2017)
The Interpretive Turn in the Human Sciences (Fall 2016)
Awards And Honors
Carlos has been a Fulbright Scholar and a member of the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Studies. Over the years, his works has received funding from Argentina's Consejo Nacional de Investigacion y Tecnologia (CONICET), Chile's Fondo de Ciencia y Tecnologia (FONDECYT) and in the US from the Open Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Social Science Research Council.