Skip to main content
Log in

The structure of political conflict. The oligarchs and the bourgeoisie in the Chilean Congress, 1834–1894

Theory and Society Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Cite this article


This article develops a model to explain the incorporation of new groups into the political elites in oligarchic societies. In this model, factions within the traditional power-holding group compete, and as their conflict escalates, they recruit the support of groups traditionally excluded from politics. This mechanism changes the ruling class’s social composition without the need for a substantial push from lower-status groups. I apply this model to analyze sequential changes in the social composition of the Chilean Congress from 1834 to 1894. To identify old versus new elites, I use an original database of kinship ties among all Chilean ministers and Congress members. By combining social network analysis and historical evidence, I show that, in times of increased intra-oligarchic conflict, groups traditionally excluded from the inner circles of power – the bourgeoisie and the bureaucrats initially – made breakthroughs in their political representation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The data on kinship is available in the link below. Other data used in the study will be available upon request.

Code availability

The code utilized in this study will be available upon request.


  1. Bourdieu is not usually thought of as a historical sociologist. For a discussion on this dimension of his work see Bourdieu and Historical Analysis / Philip S. Gorski, Ed. (2012).

  2. Bourdieu’s most direct empirical referent is the conflict between French king Louis XIII and his immediate family when he exiled his mother, Marie de Medici, and his brother Gaston while upholding the authority of his minister Richelieu.

  3. This database is available in the following link:

  4. See Barbier (1972) and Amunátegui Solar (1903) for a list of entails and nobility titles in Chile’s colonial period.

  5. At its start, the new Liberal party’s meetings rotated between the Errázuriz, Vial, and Ottoman Larraín residences (Vicuña Mackenna, 1878, p. 244).

  6. For instance, a newspaper reported an October 1858 banquet organized by the opposition, which represented all the “old families of Santiago” (Collier, 2003, p. 174).

  7. Pérez was a member of the Ottoman branch of the Larraín extended clan on his mother’s side. The Pérez and the Larraín families had intermarried on multiple occasions and were political allies during independence wars (Felstiner, 1970). However, Pérez was an atypical member. He supported the Pelucón regime in the 1830s despite his clan’s Pipiolo background. Then he endorsed Montt in the presidency despite his family’s Liberal leaning. Pérez’s ambiguous political allegiance probably made him the right consensus candidate in 1861.

  8. The Montt-administration reforms of 1854 had raised the income required for citizens to vote (Amunátegui Solar, 1932, p. 341).

  9. For a discussion on the role of Conservative parties in democratization processes, see (Ziblatt, 2017).

  10. The first member to come to Chile, in 1685, was Santiago Larraín Vicuña. His nephew – Martín José Larraín Vicuña – followed his steps sometime after, attracted by the prospect of partaking in his uncle’s business as a merchant. Uncle and nephew established two branches of the Larraín family that later would be known as Marquises and Ottomans, respectively. The term “Marquis” was given to the older branch of the Larraín clan after José Toribio Larraín Guzmán purchased the title of marquis in 1787. The Spanish viceroy Fernando Abascal referred to the newer addition of the Larraín family as “Ottoman.” The founders of the Vicuña and Errázuriz families in Chile were relatives of the Larraín. Tomás Vicuña Berroeta came from Aranaz in 1715; Francisco Javier Errázuriz Larraín arrived later. Like their Larraín relatives, Vicuña and Errázuriz became merchants and rose in the Santiago society quickly. In 1721, Vicuña became a member of Santiago’s governing body, as did Errázuriz in 1746.

  11. Quoted in Sagredo (2001, p. 129).

  12. Lauro Barros Valdés, Francisco Javier García Huidobro Eyzaguirre, Borja García Huidobro Eyzaguirre, Felix Mackenna Vicuña, Alfredo Ovalle Vicuña, Calixto Ovalle Vicuña, Ruperto Ovalle Vicuña, Ricardo Vicuña Ovalle, Nemesio Vicuña Mackenna, Francisco de Paula Pérez Ovalle.

  13. Álvaro Covarrubias Ortúzar, Daniel Ortúzar Cuevas, Ramón Valdés Ortúzar, Víctor Ismael Valdés Valdés, Federico Errázuriz Echaurren, Ladislao Errázuriz Echaurren, Silvestre Ochagavía Errázuriz, Carlos Irarrázaval Larraín, Manuel José Irarrázaval Larraín, Enrique Larraín Alcalde, Antonio Subercaseaux Vicuña, Francisco Ramón Undurraga Vicuña.

  14. For research in this vein, see Higley (2006).


  • Adams, J., Clemens, E. S., & Orloff, A. S. (2005). “Introduction: Social Theory, Modernity, and the Three Waves of Historical Sociology.” In Remaking Modernity: Politics, History, and Sociology. Duke University Press.

  • Amunátegui Solar, D. (1903). Mayorazgos i títulos de Castilla. Tomo Segundo. Imprenta Barcelona.

    Google Scholar 

  • Amunáteguisolar, D. (1932). Historia Social de Chile. Editorial Nascimento.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, P. (2013). Lineages of the Absolutist State. Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ansell, B. W., & Samuels, D. J. (2014). Inequality and Democratization. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ansell, C. K., Bichir, R., & Zhou, S. (2015). Who says networks, says oligarchy? Oligarchies as ‘rich club’ networks. Connections, 35(2), 20–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arteaga Alemparte, J., & Arteaga Alemparte, D. (1910). Los constituyentes de 1870. Imprenta Barcelona.

  • Bañados Espinosa, J., 1858–1899. (1894). Balmaceda: Su Gobierno y La Revolución de 1891 v. 2. Garnier hermanos.

  • Barbier, J. A. (1972). Elite and Cadres in Bourbon Chile. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 52(3), 416–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barría, D. (2019). Reformas administrativas como fuente de conflicto: estrategias de despresidencialización de la administración pública en Chile, 1886–1889. História Unisinos, 23(2), 231-241–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barros Arana, D. (2000). Historia general de Chile, tomo XVI. Editorial Universitaria: Centro de Investigaciones Diegos Barros Arana.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barros Arana, D. (2003). Un decenio de la historia de Chile (1841–1851), Tomo II. Instituto de Historia, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bauer, A. J. (1975). Chilean Rural Society from the Spanish Conquest to 1930. Cambridge U.P.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bearman, P. S. (1993). Relations into rhetorics: Local elite social structure in Norfolk, England, 1540–1640. Rutgers Univ. Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beramendi, P., Dincecco, M., & Rogers, M. (2019). Intra-elite competition and long-run fiscal development. The Journal of Politics, 81(1), 49–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blondel, V. D., Guillaume, J.-L., Lambiotte, R., & Lefebvre, E. (2008). Fast unfolding of communities in large networks. Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment, 2008(10), P10008.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (2004). “From the King’s House to the Reason of State: A Model of the Genesis of the Bureaucratic Field.” Constellations, Volume11, Issue1.

  • Bourdieu and Historical Analysis / Philip S. Gorski, Ed. (2012). Politics, History, and Culture. Duke University Press.

  • Brubaker, R. (2002). Ethnicity without Groups. European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes De Sociologie, 43(2), 163–189.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burt, R. S. (1995). Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chambers, S. C. (2015). Families in War and Peace : Chile from Colony to Nation / Sarah C. Chambers. Duke University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Chile, Oficina de Estadística. (1875). “Impuesto Agrícola: Rol de Contribuyentes. 1874.” Valparaiso.

  • Chile, Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de. (2014). “Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile.” Text. Portal de la Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. November 27, 2014.

  • Collier, S. (2003). Chile: The Making of a Republic, 1830–1865: Politics and Ideas. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Csardi, G, & Nepusz, T. (2006). “The Igraph Software Package for Complex Network Research.” InterJournal, Complex Systems 1695.

  • Edwards, A., 1874-1932. (1928). La Fronda Aristocrática En Chile. Imprenta Nacional.

  • Encina, F. A. (1949). Historia de Chile desde la prehistoria hasta 1891, XIII. Santiago: Editorial Nascimento.

  • Errázuriz, I. (1877). Historia de la administración Errázuriz: prec. de una introd. que contiene la reseña del movimiento y la lucha de los partidos, desde 1823 hasta 1871. Imprenta de la Patria.

    Google Scholar 

  • Estefane, A., & Ossa, J. L. (2017). Militancy and parliamentary representation in Chile, 1849–79. Notes for a prosopographical study of the chamber of deputies. Parliaments, Estates and Representation, 1–17.

  • Felstiner, M. L. (1970). “The Larrain Family in the Independence of Chile, 1780–1830.” Ph.D., United States, California: Stanford University.

  • Felstiner, M. L. (1976). Kinship politics in the chilean independence movement. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 56(1), 58–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Figueroa, P. P. (1974). Diccionario biográfico de Chile por Pedro Pablo Figueroa. Vol. 4. ed. ilus. con retratos. Santiago de Chile, Impr. y recuadernacion Barcelona.

  • Fruchterman, T. M. J., & Reingold, E. M. (1991). Graph drawing by force-directed placement. Software: Practice and Experience, 21(11), 1129–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • García Huidobro, C. (2009). Yo, Montt. Santiago: Vergara.

  • Gazmuri, R. C. (1992). El “48” chileno: Igualitarios, reformistas, radicales, masones y bomberos. Editorial Universitaria.

    Google Scholar 

  • Góngora, M. (1986). Ensayo Histórico Sobre La Noción de Estado En Chile En Los Siglos XIX y XX. Editorial Universitaria.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gould, R. (1996). Patron-client ties, state centralization, and the whiskey rebellion. American Journal of Sociology, 102(2), 400–429.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gould, R. (2003). Collision of Wills: How Ambiguity about Social Rank Breeds Conflict. University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Handcock, M. S., Hunter, D. R., Butts, C. T., Goodreau, S. M., & Morris, M. (2008). Statnet: Software tools for the representation, visualization, analysis and simulation of network data. Journal of Statistical Software, 24(1), 1548–7660.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heise González, J. (1974). Historia de Chile: el período parlamentario, 1861–1925. Fundamentos histórico-culturales del parlamentarismo chileno. I. Editorial Andrés Bello.

    Google Scholar 

  • Higley, J. (2006). Elite Foundations of Liberal Democracy. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

  • Hillmann, H. (2008). Mediation in multiple networks: Elite mobilization before the english civil war. American Sociological Review, 73(3), 426–454.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huber, E., & Stephens, J. D. (1999). The bourgeoisie and democracy: Historical and contemporary perspectives. Social Research, 66(3), 759–788.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jocelyn-Holt, A. (2014). El Peso de La Noche. Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kandil, Hazem. (2012). Soldiers, Spies, and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt. Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krackardt, D. (1987). QAP partialling as a test of spuriousness. Social Networks, 9(2), 171–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kurtz, M. (2013). Latin American State Building in Comparative Perspective (1 edn). Cambridge University Press.

  • Lachmann, R. (1989). elite conflict and state formation in 16th- and 17th-century England and France. American Sociological Review, 54(2), 141–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lachmann, R. (2002). Capitalists in Spite of Themselves: Elite Conflict and Economic Transitions in Early Modern Europe. Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lastarria, J. V., & Santa María, D. (1861). Cuadro histórico de la administración Montt : escrito según sus proprios documentos. Impr.i Libreria del Mercurio de Santos Tornero.

    Google Scholar 

  • Madrid, R. L. (2019). “Opposition Parties and the Origins of Democracy in Latin America.” Comparative Politics January 2019.

  • Mares, I., & Queralt, D. (2015). The non-democratic origins of income taxation. Comparative Political Studies, 48(14), 1974–2009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marcella, G. (1976). The Structure of Politics in Nineteenth-Century Spanish America: The Chilean Oligarchy, 1833–1891. University of Notre Dame.

  • McLean, P. D. (2004). Widening access while tightening control: Office-holding, marriages, and elite consolidation in early modern Poland. Theory and Society, 33(2), 167–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Medina, J. T. (1964). Los Errazuriz: Notas biograficas y documentos para la historia de esta familia en Chile. Editorial Universitaria.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moody, J., & White, D. R. (2003). Structural cohesion and embeddedness: A hierarchical concept of social groups. American Sociological Review, 68(1), 103–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moore, B. (1966). Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nazer, R. (2002). “El Surgimiento de Una Nueva Elite Empresarial En Chile: 1830–1880.” In Minoranze e Culture Imprenditoriali. Cile e Italia (Secoli Xixxx). Università di Roma.

  • Nazer, R. (2000). La Fortuna de Agustín Edwards Ossandón: 1815–1878. Historia (santiago), 33, 369–415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Padgett, J. F., & Ansell, C. K. (1993). Robust action and the rise of the Medici, 1400–1434. American Journal of Sociology, 98(6), 1259–1319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Palma, M. (1871). Los Candidatos. Imp.r del Mercurio.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pinto Vallejos, J. (2015). El orden y el bajo pueblo: los regímenes de Portales y Rosas frente al mundo popular, 1829–1852.

  • Przeworski, A. (2009). Conquered or granted? A history of suffrage extensions. British Journal of Political Science, 39(2), 291–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reinsch, P. S. (1909). Parliamentary government in Chile. The American Political Science Review, 3(4), 507–538.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ridgeway, C. L. (2019). Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter? Russell Sage Foundation.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sagredo, R. (2001). Vapor al norte, tren al sur: el viaje presidencial como práctica política en Chile : siglo XIX. DIBAM Centro de Investigaciones Diego Arana ; El Colegio de México.

    Google Scholar 

  • Salazar, G. (2015). La enervante levedad histórica de la clase política civil : (Chile, 1900–1973) / Gabriel Salazar. Vol. Primera edición. Historia (Editorial Debate). Santiago de Chile: Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

  • Saylor, R. (2014). State Building in Boom Times: Commodities and Coalitions in Latin America and Africa. Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Scully, T. (1992). Rethinking the Center : Party Politics in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Chile. Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sepúlveda Rondanelli, J. (1983). Pequeño diccionario biográfico masónico: los fundadores de la Gran Logia de Chile y los primeros iniciados de Copiapó, Valparaíso, Santiago y Concepción hasta 1875. Santiago: s.n.

  • Simmel, G. (1950). The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Soifer, H. (2015). State Building in Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Subercaseaux, B. (1997). Historia de las ideas y de la cultura en Chile. Editorial Universitaria.

    Google Scholar 

  • Terrie, L. (2013). ‘State Building and Political Regimes: The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Liberal Democracy in Latin America’. PhD Dissertation, Northwestern University.

  • Therborn, G. (1979). The Travail of Latin American Democracy. New Left Review, I, 113–114(April), 71–109.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valencia Avaria, L. (1986). Anales de la República: textos constitucionales de Chile y registro de los ciudadanos que han integrado los poderes ejectivo y legislativo desde 1810. Editorial Andrés Bello.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valenzuela, A., & Valenzuela, J. S. (1983). ‘Los Orígenes de La Democracia. Reflexiones Teóricas Sobre El Caso de Chile’. Estudios Públicos, No 12.

  • Valenzuela, J. S. (1996a). ‘Building Aspects of Democracy Before Democracy: Electoral Practices in Nineteenth Century Chile’. Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame.

  • Valenzuela, J. S. (1998). ‘La Ley Electoral de 1890 y La Democratización Del Régimen Político Chileno’. Estudios Públicos, 71 (Invierno 1998).

  • Valenzuela, J. S. (1985). Democratización via reforma: la expansión del sufragio en Chile. Instituto de Desarrollo Económico y Social.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valenzuela, J. S. (1996b). Building Aspects of Democracy Before Democracy: Electoral Practices in Nineteenth Century Chile. University of Notre Dame.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valenzuela, J. S. (2012). From Town Assemblies to Representative Democracy: The Building of Electoral Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Chile. University of Notre Dame.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Gunten, T. S. (2015). Cohesion, consensus, and conflict: Technocratic elites and financial crisis in Mexico and Argentina. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 56(5), 366–390.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vicuña Mackenna, B. (1878). Historia de La Jornada Del 20 de Abril de 1851: Una Batalla En Las Calles de Santiago. Santiago: Rafael Jover, Editor.

  • Vicuña Mackenna, B. (1882). “Los Millonarios de Chile Viejo.” El Mercurio de Valparaíso, abril 1882.

  • Villalobos, S. (2006). Origen y ascenso de la burguesía chilena. Editorial Universitaria.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wang, Y. (2018). “Sons and Lovers: Political Stability in China and Europe Before the Great Divergence.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3058065. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.

  • Wang, L., & Adams, J. (2011). Interlocking patrimonialisms and state formation in Qing China and early modern Europe. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 636(1), 164–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Winters, J. A. (2011). Oligarchy. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Yeager, G. M. (1979). ‘The Club de La Unión and Kinship: Social Aspects of Political Obstructionism in the Chilean Senate, 1920–1924’. The Americas 35, (4), 539–72.

  • Zeitlin, M. (1984). The Civil Wars in Chile, (or, The Bourgeois Revolutions That Never Were). Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ziblatt, D. (2017). Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Zuñiga, J.-P. (1999). Historia de Una Permanencia. Las Élites de Santiago de Chile En El Siglo XVIII: Familia y Poder Local. Fronteras de La Historia, 4(20 December 1999), 91–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This article benefited from feedback from Manali Desai, Teije Donker, Andrés Estefane, Tod van Gunten, Hazem Kandil, Alejandro Lerch, Elvira López, Juan Pablo Luna, Paul McLean, Liran Morav, Daniel Tanis, and Belén Unzueta, as well as from the audiences at the 2019 SSHA panel on political elites, the Oxford Latin American Centre Seminar, and the course Comparative Democratization at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. I also thank two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. All remaining errors are mine.


This work was funded by ANID—Millennium Science Initiative Program—Code ICN17_002.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Naim Bro.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest/competing interests

The author declares no potential conflicts of interest concerning research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

Additional information

Publisher's note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bro, N. The structure of political conflict. The oligarchs and the bourgeoisie in the Chilean Congress, 1834–1894. Theor Soc 52, 353–386 (2023).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: