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? Do formal institutions decant into informal institutions? Or do the latter make up for the shortcomings of the former? These are the kind of questions that interest me and that I approach by combining debates of political theory and comparative politics, along with qualitative analysis.

Book Manuscript (Dissertation work)

In my book manuscript, "A House is not a Home: Citizenship and Belonging in Modern Democracies," 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, 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, large 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, using 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

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. I show that 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) - revised and resubmitted

In this paper, we use a novel survey of imprisoned populations in Mexico to study the relationship between socioeconomic vulnerabilities and due process violations. We investigate whether the reform to the office of public defenders mandated in 2008 helped offset the impact of preexisting socioeconomic disparities on the likelihood of suffering a due process violation. We find that, although the 2008 constitutionally mandated reform has overall improved the experience of defendants –whether represented by private or public council–it has failed to create a public defenders’ office that successfully functions as an equalizing mechanism that offsets pre-existing socioeconomic inequalities. Instead, our analysis suggests that those who benefit most from these reforms are those who did not need them as much to begin with: those who rely on private lawyers for their legal representation.

  • The Meek and the Mighty: Two Models of Domination (draft, August 2019 version)

This article is an exercise in theory building about the stories that justify, feed upon, and reproduce systems of oppression. I present two narratives that have been mobilized by groups in power to support the systems of oppression they benefit from: a narrative articulated around pity and a narrative that draws on fear. I argue that the former prevails when those in power do not perceive the members of the oppressed group as posing a threat to their power structure, in turn inducing low-intensity charitable state action. Conversely, narratives that deploy fear prevail when the group in power believes that the oppressed group presents a threat to their power structure (regardless of how “true” that perception is), in turn eliciting high-intensity repressive state action. Moreover, while narratives of pity recur to the infantilization of the members of the disadvantaged group, narratives of fear animalize them.

  • Training for Democracy: Local Democratic Deliberation in Paris (please contact me for a draft)

In the past few decades, democratic theory has devoted much attention to democratic deliberation, emphasizing the importance of deliberative practices to achieve a common good, foster mutual responsibility, and cultivate equality. Where does this deliberation, however, happen? Where can it be observed in a consolidated democracy? National legislative bodies are prone to reproducing party lines and whatever deliberation happens there rarely seems a truly open debate in which participants are willing to change their minds. In this paper, I propose to pay attention to deliberation that takes place in local neighborhood meetings— sites that are seemingly unremarkable and that have been brushed off as overly localized and insignificant. I argue that the low-stakes of the topics discussed are not only not an obstacle for democratic deliberation, but they might in fact foster it. Combining political theory and ethnographic work, I show how neighborhood meetings in Paris (which I observed in the fall of 2015) function as sites for the reproduction of a set of national and democratic narratives and attachments.

  • Short-Circuiting Democratization: Bureaucratic Logics and Spurious Criminal Charges in Mexico (with Milena Ang) (please contact me for a draft)

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 were often members of the political opposition, it is mostly socioeconomically vulnerable people who are falsely incarcerated under democracy.  Why? We argue that democratization contributed to a faulty bureaucratic logic focused on efficiency which is 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.