Bureaucratic Activism and Colombian Community Mothers: The Daily Construction of the Rule of Law

by Lina Buchely

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Winner, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights (2014)


Whereas mainstream literature affirms that the rule of law is an abstract concept that comes from democracy and liberal institutional systems, people in the local Global South do not experience this certainty. In some ways, the rule of law is a product of the daily life transactions and bargains of social actors. This article analyzes the case of community mothers as street-level bureaucrats who produce the rule of law in their local spaces, within an institutional or democratic mechanism. This case study of community mothers, developed between June 2012 and February 2013, shows how street-level bureaucrats use the rule of law as a tool of empowerment. Community mothers display an undocumented agency that develops a feminist agenda of helping fellow women, contrary to the government agenda that promotes childcare and the early childhood program policies. In this sense, the fieldwork undertaken portrays mothers and children as conflicting actors. Despite this, the social policy hides this conflict reproducing the normative image that ideologically links mothers with their children. The results of this research project reveal, therefore, that the local agents as the street level bureaucrats play an unexpected role in the power dynamics inherent to the rule of law.

Keywords: community mothers, feminism, Latin America, street level bureaucracy, rule of law

About the author:

Lina Buchely earned her doctorate in law from Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia) in 2014. She is currently a professor and director of the Gender Studies Group at Universidad Icesi (Cali, Colombia).

Related Files

Project & Publications Type: Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights, Rapoport Center Working Paper Series