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The Democracy Development Machine

Neoliberalism, Radical Pessimism, and Authoritarian Populism in Mayan Guatemala

Nicholas Copeland

Publisher: Cornell University Press
eBook ISBN: 9781501736063


Nicholas Copeland sheds new light on rural politics in Guatemala and across neoliberal and post-conflict settings in The Democracy Development Machine. This historical ethnography examines how governmentalized spaces of democracy and development fell short, enabling and disfiguring an ethnic Mayan resurgence.

In a passionate and politically engaged book, Copeland argues that the transition to democracy in Guatemalan Mayan communities has led to a troubling paradox. He finds that while liberal democracy is celebrated in most of the world as the ideal, it can subvert political desires and channel them into illiberal spaces. As a result, Copeland explores alternative ways of imagining liberal democracy and economic and social amelioration in a traumatized and highly unequal society as it strives to transition from war and authoritarian rule to open elections and free-market democracy.

The Democracy Development Machine follows Guatemala's transition, reflects on Mayan involvement in politics during and after the conflict, and provides novel ways to link democratic development with economic and political development.


"The Democracy Development Machine is a fantastic book. It’s exactly what political ethnography should be—insightful, analytically rigorous, ethnographically rich, and provocative."

- Jennifer Burrell, Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, SUNY-Albany, and author of Maya After War

"Nicholas Copeland has written a powerful critique of grassroots democracy. Copeland captures the complicated ways local allegiances work in practice; shattering romantic notions of community cooperation. This reveals much about Guatemala's troubled politics and enriches our understanding of the multifaceted, often unintended, effects of social action."

- Edward Fischer, Vanderbilt University