Research

My research agenda is driven by a fascination with how civil society and the state work together to tackle complex public problems related to social exclusion.

The Politics behind New Institutions for Citizen Participation

In this research project, I examine the origins, construction, and impact of new state institutions that incorporate citizen participation into policymaking at the local level.

Building Participatory Institutions in Latin America: Reform Coalitions and Institutional Change. 2019.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

The Origins of Strong Institutional Design: Policy Reform and Participatory Institutions in Brazil’s Health Sector.” 2019. Comparative Politics 51(2): 275-294.

“Society-Driven Participatory Institutions: Lessons from Colombia’s Planning Councils.” 2019. Latin American Politics and Society 61(2): 93-114.

“The Politics of Participation in Latin America: New Actors and Institutions.” 2019. Introductory essay for special issue of Latin American Politics and Society 61(2): 1-20. (With Jessica Rich and Alfred Montero)

“How Do Legal Strategies Advance Accountability? Evaluating Mechanisms in Colombia.”  Forthcoming, Journal of Development Studies. (With Veronica Herrera.)

“Delegative Democracy Revisited: Colombia’s Surprising Resilience.” 2016. Journal of Democracy 27(3): 139-147.

“Brazil’s Participatory Infrastructure: Opportunities and Limitations for Inclusion.”   Forthcoming in The Inclusionary Turn in Contemporary Latin America, eds. Diana Kapiszewski, Steven Levitsky, and Deborah Yashar. New York: Cambridge University Press. (With Jessica Rich)

Urban Security and Social-Citizenship Rights of Marginalized Groups

In an ongoing research project, I examine the politics behind state raids to advance security in Latin American city centers, and their impacts on the rights of street-connected youth and people experiencing homelessness.  

“The Power of Human Rights Frames in Urban Security: Lessons from Bogotá.” Under review. 

  • Abstract: In May 2016, the government of Bogotá, Colombia led a large-scale security operation of a small zone called “The Bronx” in the center of Bogotá, which had been the epicenter of criminal networks, homelessness, and illicit activity in the city.  This intervention was led by security forces, yet was framed by state actors as an effort to advance the human rights of marginalized children and homeless citizens who had been trapped into sexual slavery and drug addiction by powerful criminal organizations.  I analyze the case of the Bronx as a lens into the impacts of rights frames on accountability for militarized security projects.  I argue that rights frames can create unique discursive resources and institutional openings that can both legitimate human rights abuses but also strengthen the potential for accountability. On the one hand, rights frames can provide legitimacy for militarized interventions that abuse human rights of marginalized citizens.  On the other hand, government adoption of rights frames can also create discursive resources and new institutional opportunities for rights advocates in the state and civil society to push for greater accountability in the face of rights violations. While the literature on policing and urban security has largely overlooked the role of ideas and discourse, this paper reveals that rights frames can serve as an important political tool in advancing security policy.

“Urban Securitization in the Name of Human Rights.” Available by request.

  • Abstract: Why do states harness human rights frames to advance urban security interventions? In May 2016, the government of Bogotá, Colombia led a large-scale security operation of a small zone called “The Bronx” in the center of Bogotá, which had been the epicenter of criminal networks, homelessness, and illicit activity in the city.  This intervention was framed by security forces as an effort to advance the human rights of marginalized children and homeless citizens who had been trapped into sexual slavery and drug addiction by powerful criminal organizations.  While the literature on policing and urban security has largely overlooked the role of ideas and discourse, this paper reveals that rights frames can serve as an important political tool in advancing policy.  This paper develops a typology of different frames used to justify urban security interventions, comparing rights frames with the more common frames of fighting crime and revitalizing public space. 

“Mobilizing the Grassroots against Human Rights: The Dark Side of Participatory Security in São Paulo.” (With Yanilda González.) 

  • Abstract: Can participatory institutions amplify societal demands to constrict social citizenship? The conventional wisdom highlights the potential of participatory institutions to promote accountability and expand social rights.  However, few studies have analyzed the record of participatory institutions across different kinds of policy areas. Through an analysis of São Paulo’s Community Security Councils, this paper shows that expanding institutional access for citizen voice in policing can articulate, aggregate, and channel grassroots demands for repressive security initiatives targeting marginalized groups, including street-connected youth, homeless people, sex workers, and street vendors.  We develop this argument through a combination of participant observation, more than 70 semi-structured interviews, and analysis of over 900 meeting minutes from security councils. 

Mobilizing Communities to Combat the Sexual Exploitation of Children 

Whereas my first book project examined how social-rights reforms enable the construction of participatory institutions, my next book explores how and why new social rights emerge in the first place. Mobilizing Coalitions against Child Sexual Exploitation in Latin America asks: How and why do cities institute effective, rights-based policies to protect vulnerable children from exploitation in the sex trade?  I compare the construction of national frameworks in Colombia and Mexico, and their implementation across different cities in each country to analyze the emergence of surprising alliances between state and societal actors, which include NGOs, the private sector, religious organizations, and sex worker movements to combat the sexual exploitation of children. I highlight the ways that these broad coalitions can work together to disrupt the societal norms that condone sexual exploitation, prevent exploitation before it happens, and bring currently exploited children to safety.  

Mobilizing Coalitions against Child Sexual Exploitation in Latin America will make major theoretical and empirical contributions as the first study of sexual exploitation within comparative politics. While scholars from international relations examined transnational sex trafficking networks, we know very little about the domestic political dynamics involved in reducing sexual exploitation.  Moreover, this study offers important lessons for scholars and policy practitioners focused on a range of complex public problems, such as disaster management, homelessness, and violence against women.  Like sexual exploitation of children, these public problems extend beyond the boundaries of traditional policy sectors and require collaboration between a wide array of state and societal actors.  This book will explore the institutional factors that enable cooperation among such diverse actors, the role of leadership in building coalitions, and strategies to advance complex processes of social change.

The Grassroots Right in Latin America

Along with Amy Erica Smith, I am co-editing a special edition of Latin American Politics and Society that will be dedicated to understanding the “grassroots right” in Latin America: the diverse citizens, civil society associations, and religious groups supporting right-wing issues, politicians, and identities. Their causes range from restricting abortion, affirmative action, and LGBT rights, to expanding gun rights and violently repressing crime. This special issue turns the lens to the grassroots right in both public opinion and civil society. It will analyze the public-opinion foundations, ideological schema, and diverse mobilizational strategies undergirding Latin America’s right turn. For more information on the special issue, see www.amyericasmith.org/grassrootsright.

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