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 rigorously combining debates of political theory and comparative politics, and qualitative empirical analysis.

 

Dissertation

 My dissertation, "A House is not a Home: Citizenship and Belonging in Modern Democracies," explores the sociopolitical effects of the preeminence of citizenship and formal inclusion in the definition of what a democracy is, bringing together debates of political theory and comparative politics. Why doesn't formal inclusion (citizenship) amount to belonging? I argue that the strengthening of formal inclusion is neither sufficient for belonging nor a substitute for it.  Treating it as such has hindered political belonging in the most advanced democracies where the rule of law prevails, guarded by large modern bureaucratic apparatuses. Thus, the strengthening of formal inclusion, although necessary, has been counterproductive to belonging. The dissertation is motivated by the disparate patterns of belonging in two countries that espouse civic republicanism, Mexico and France: in France saying that someone is "French but not really French" is a common trope, while in Mexico, despite the shortcomings of the state, it is simply nonsensical and carries no logical meaning. The dissertation is in conversation with political theory debates that pertain to democratic theory and critical theory, as well as literatures on nationalism, immigration, and social cleavages in comparative politics. The empirical discussion is crafted around a comparison between civic republicanism and belonging in Mexico and France, and the liberal and multicultural models of the US and Canada.

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

 

Working Papers

 

  • Leaving you Car with Strangers: Informal Car Parkers and Improbable Trust in Mexico City - submitted for review.

This paper explores the case of informal car parkers in Mexico City, to whom drivers regularly entrust their unlocked vehicles, to advance an argument about trust. In contrast to literature on social trust that expects institutional trust and interpersonal trust to support one another, I show that interpersonal trust improbably arises in the context of corrupt and inefficient institutions. Existing accounts seem inadequate to explain this kind of interaction—which abounds in developing democracies—because their understanding of rational actors tends to disregard social norms crucial to calculations of risk. I show that deep class cleavages provide the framework for familiar forms of interaction that coalesce with classist tropes, becoming formulaic enough to appear safe. In deciding to leave their vehicles with strangers, middle- and upper-class drivers implicitly consider the social status conveyed by being able to leave their cars in the middle of busy streets without looking for public parking. Formulaic exchanges and status symbols thus modify what would otherwise appear to be a risky decision. Hence, I argue, interpersonal trust becomes possible, not only despite class cleavages and the failures of institutional trust, but, paradoxically, because of them.

For the most recent draft, click here.

 

  • The Meek and the Mighty: Two Models of Domination - under review.

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, click here.

 

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

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.

 

  • Vulnerability and Due Process in Modern Mexico (with Milena Ang) - under review.

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.