I study inequality in the political community and the relationship between formal and informal frameworks (such as law and morality, institutionalized  and interpersonal trust, and citizenship and belonging, among others). Namely, I am interested in how ordinary citizens behave towards one another when the law and the institutions of the state change. Do weak institutional frameworks lead to sparse social interactions in the public arena? Or do the latter make up for the shortcomings of the former? Does institutional trust foster social trust? These are the kind of questions that interest me and that I approach by combining debates of political theory and comparative politics, and qualitative analysis.

Book Manuscript

In my dissertation, "A House is not a Home: Citizenship and Belonging in Modern Democracies," which I am now revising into a book, I analyze the tension between citizenship and belonging through the figure of the “citizen who does not belong,” to think about two overarching themes: the democratic promises of equality, and the persistence or stickiness of sociopolitical inequalities. Within political science and specifically within democratic theory, belonging is undertheorized. It is undertheorized partly because of an assumption that the question of who belongs was settled through the question of who is a citizen. Namely, those who belong are citizens and those who are citizens belong. To foster equality one ought to focus on rights and legal guarantees.

The assumption that questions of equal membership are best addressed via citizenship and legal rights implies that states that are good at guaranteeing those equal rights, that have working institutions, big modern bureaucracies that abide by the rule of law and so forth, should be particularly well-equipped at fostering equality, citizenship, and belonging. And yet, counterintuitively, the “citizen who does not belong” is a figure that appears, not in weak democracies that fail to protect basic freedoms and rights, but precisely in these comparatively successful democracies, such as France or the US.

So, why are citizenship and belonging disassociated precisely where they should be closely knit together? Why doesn’t this decoupling happen in a place like Mexico where the state is remarkably bad at guaranteeing legal rights and the rule of law? I answer that “the citizen who does not belong” is not a product of democratic weaknesses that necessitate better legal solutions, but a “side-effect” of the successes of those solutions. Therefore, legal solutions and formal institutions are both necessary yet counterproductive for belonging. The empirical core of the dissertation revolves around a discussion of Mexico and France, mobilizing political theory and ethnographic work.

I wrote my dissertation under the guidance of Bernard Harcourt and Dan Slater (co-chairs), John P. McCormick, Tianna Paschel, and Lisa Wedeen.

 

Publications

Peer-reviewed articles

This paper explores the case of informal car parkers in Mexico City, to whom drivers regularly entrust the keys to their vehicles. In contrast to literature on social trust that expects institutional trust and interpersonal trust to support one another, I show that the latter improbably arises in the context of corrupt and inefficient institutions. Coercive and market dynamics undergird the interactions between car parkers, police officers, and drivers, making possible the emergence of an informal market and non-contractual agreements. I argue that the exchange between car parkers and drivers depends on the performance of class—a performance that becomes legible and formulaic enough to appear safe, precisely because it coalesces classist tropes that are clearly distinct and recognizable. Hence, interpersonal trust becomes possible, not only despite class cleavages and institutional shortcomings, but, paradoxically, because of them.

Others

Papers in progress

  • Vulnerability and Due Process in Modern Mexico (with Milena Ang) - revise and resubmit

Growing violence and institutional inefficiency in Mexico have contributed to an increase in the carceral population and a national discussion on the failings of the punitive arm of the state. The institutional reform frenzy that followed has produced tensions and contradictions. And yet, those multiple reforms have done little to alleviate the widespread, but understudied, violations to the due process and human rights of suspects and prisoners. The lack of scholarly work on the topic has left crucial questions unaddressed: Are all potential suspects at risk of violation of due process? Are some more vulnerable than others? We use a novel survey of imprisoned populations to explore whether administrative reforms help alleviate the vulnerabilities of certain populations. Public defenders offices that invest resources in hiring criminal lawyers not only decrease violations to due process, but also reduce disparities produced by traditional vulnerabilities.

Please contact me for the most recent draft of this paper.

  • The Meek and the Mighty: Two Models of Domination

This paper is about narratives that support domination. I argue that there are two major narratives that typically support domination and oppression: a narrative articulated around fear and a narrative articulated around pity. Importantly, I distinguish pity from compassion, the latter of which has been celebrated by Aristotle, Rousseau, and Nussbaum. The paper is motivated by the patterns of domination of American Indians and African Americans, both of whom suffer from structural oppression in contemporary America. And yet, today, the former are often viewed as requiring help and assistance, while the latter are construed as being prone to violence and thus eliciting fear. And yet, this was not the case two centuries ago, when it was American Indians who were feared and African Americans often treated as deserving of pity. What can the inversion teach us about domination? I argue that these narratives of domination—fear and pity—are not only theoretically different, but they justify the mobilization of dissimilar resources. I suggest that the narrative of pity will prevail when the object group does not present a threat to the power of the dominant group, while the narrative of fear predominates when the dominated group is perceived as presenting such a challenge.

For the most recent draft (March 2019), click here.

  • Short-Circuiting Democratization: Bureaucratic Logics and Spurious Criminal Charges in Mexico (with Milena Ang)

Scholars have long paid attention to the persistence of judicial wrongdoing, understood as strategic manipulation of the courts. Yet the phenomena of manufacturing criminal charges that are blatantly false and even outright ludicrous remains understudied. We analyze the use of false criminal charges in Mexico, where absurd accusations remain common even after democratization. While those incarcerated under false charges under authoritarianism are often members of the political opposition, it is mostly socioeconomically vulnerable people who are falsely incarcerated under democracy.  We argue that democratization contributed to a faulty bureaucratic logic focused on efficiency made possible by the instrumentalization of a vulnerable population. Under democracy, politicians can leverage botched criminal cases for electoral gain by harnessing public outrage when convenient.

Please contact me for the most recent draft of this paper.