Unsettling the Iberian Transitions to Democracy of the 1970s

Authored by: Pamela Radcliff

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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There is no question that one of the most dramatic turning points in twentieth-century Iberian history was the transition from authoritarian to democratic regimes in Spain and in Portugal in the mid 1970s. Almost from the beginning, the two processes were linked together, and, along with Greece, celebrated as the Southern European vanguard of Samuel Huntington’s famous “third wave” of democratic transitions. The “transitology” sub-field that emerged in the 1980s to explain this unexpected “third wave” identified the Southern European transitions as model exemplars and yardsticks that could potentially be exported to other locations, especially Latin America or Eastern Europe. But by the mid 1990s, the hegemonic view of the model Spanish and Portuguese transitions began to unravel, as competing interpretations, both scholarly and popular, pulled out foundational threads from the seamlessly celebratory narrative. While these debates have been multi-faceted, they are clustered around two different sets of questions. The first generally accepts the success of the transitions, but debates which factors were most important in the democratization process. The second reconsiders the unqualified success of the transitions, especially in Spain, where critics unhappy with the perceived deficits of democratic practice today have claimed to locate at least part of their origins in the inadequacies of the transition process. This article maps out these debates and suggests ways in which the disaggregation of the Spanish and Portuguese cases from the singular Iberian model might enrich these debates and shed new comparative light on both democratic transitions.

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