This essay examines Latin America’s experience in the crisis and restructuring of world capitalism from the 1970s into the twenty first century, with particular emphasis on the neo-liberal model, social conflicts and institutional quagmires that have engulfed the region, and the rise of a new resistance politics. The empirical and analytical sections look at: Latin America’s changing profile in the global division of labour; the domination of speculative finance capital; the continued debt crisis, its social effects and political implications; capital–labour restructuring, the spread of informalisation and the new inequality; the passage from social explosions to institutional crises; the new popular electoral politics and the fragility of the neo-liberal state. These issues are approached through the lens of global capitalism theory. This theory sees the turn-of-century global system as a new epoch in the history of world capitalism, emphasising new patterns of power and social polarisation worldwide and such concepts as a transnational accumulation, transnational capitalists and a transnational state. Finally, the essay argues that global capitalism faces a twin crisis in the early twenty first century, of overaccumulation and of legitimacy, and explores the prospects for social change in Latin America and worldwide.