In the pipeline*

Blending In: Citizenship and Belonging in France and Mexico in the 21st century

"Oh, I know that this person is an American, but they are not really American." The sentence is painfully familiar to any passerby in the United States, but the demonym can easily be replaced by "French," "Dane," and so on, covering most of the democracies of the Western Hemisphere. There is a mismatch between formal (juridical) and informal (substantive) inclusion. In Mexico, however, the sentence is simply nonsensical. Passersby who are asked to provide a context in which  a similar statement would make sense, respond with blank stares and a few "why wouldn't they want to be Mexican?" This paper seeks to explain the discrepancy in the ways in which individuals belong to democratic societies. Which conditions increase the likelihood that a substantive sense of belonging and inclusion will follow from formal inclusion and citizenship? Is the difference solely explained by the countries' experience with immigration? Based on original ethnographic work in Paris in 2015 and Mexico City in 2016, and eighty-six informal semi-structured interviews with inhabitants of both cities, the paper argues that most democracies have failed to create the conditions in which substantive inclusion follows from formal inclusion, because the latter is construed as a sufficient substitute for the former. Paradoxically, the weakness of formal equality comes from its strength: it is hence caught in a tragic dilemma, both opening the door and standing in the way of substantive inclusion and a lived experience of equality.


At the Margins of Law: A Case-Study of Improbable Trust in Mexico City

Hobbes argued that one of the principal roles of the modern state is to mediate the relationships of citizens, guaranteeing the reliability of their exchanges, backing up with law and the threat of punishment the fragile promises of mere words, in order to reduce the extent to which citizens must rely on blind trust. This paper analyzes a counter-example by focusing on the case of “viene-viene” in Mexico City: a person –often, but not always a man— who stands on a street corner, cleaning cloth in hand, who offers to take care and park the cars of drivers stuck in traffic. Viene-vienes provide what seems like an individualized system of valet-parking –yet, they lack any institutional affiliation and they do not provide anything to the client except for their first name. Moreover, their work is informal and not quite legal. Upper- and middle-class drivers leave their cars with viene-vienes with no clear guarantee that they will indeed recuperate their car. The paper seeks to illuminate how can trust arise in a context of little reputational information between strangers and high urban impunity. I argue that the interactions between viene-vienes and their clients form an equilibrium, both sustained by the tangible interests they each have on the exchange and by an illusion of power on both sides, that is only very rarely put to the test. It is also an equilibrium that depends on and reproduces deep social cleavages. The case of viene-vienes in Mexico mimics similar practices in other developing countries such as Egypt and Thailand. Hence, the paper hopes to shed light into the importance and foundations of trust in developing countries and their societies, and the ways in which trust operates differently in developing and industrialized countries in today’s world. 


I See Right Through You: The Logic and Consequences of Spurious Criminal Charges (with Milena Ang)

In this paper, we analyze the logic and consequences of raising blatantly spurious judicial charges. We argue that incredible false charges are a specific type of strategic manipulation of the judiciary, distinct from dictating priorities of investigation or bringing up charges that are false yet credible. We argue that spurious charges provide political benefits that go well beyond the direct elimination of political competition and popularity boosts. Under authoritarianism, false charges provide incumbents with two moments of potential manipulation: the moment of incarceration of the accused and the moment of release, thus better controlling the political spectrum. We explain that frequently relying on false charges under authoritarianism hinders the development of a professional judiciary. Because of that, even after a democratic transition, false charges continue to be raised, although they are now often a product of a faulty bureaucratic logic. Politicians under democracy, however, can still take electoral advantage of botched criminal cases by harnessing public outrage and mobilizing for the release of the wrongly incarcerated. The instrumental potential of false charges hinders political incentives to prevent their use. In a theory-building exercise, we present two case studies of persons jailed under charges that were patently false in Mexico under authoritarianism and democracy. We close the paper with a discussion of the generalizable implications of our theory.


The Meek and the Mighty: Two Models of Domination

The literature on structural inequality and domination is rich. Some scholars have stressed the vicious ways in which privilege and inequality are embedded in institutions that reproduce oppressive systems (Gramsci 1948; Omi and Winant 1986, Golberg 2002, Alexander 2010, among others), while others have approached the study of domination by emphasizing agency, providing another lens to approach these questions (Lovett 2010, Pettit 2012). In this paper, I approach the topic tangentially by emphasizing social norms and narratives to argue that structures of domination come, mainly, in two forms: domination of another group constructed around a narrative of fear, and domination constructed around a narrative of pity. I suggest that these two forms of discrimination are analytically different. To illustrate this argument, I draw examples from the history of American Indians and African Americans, both of whom suffer from structural racism in contemporary American society. And yet, today, the former are mostly constructed as necessitating help and assistance, while the latter have been recently constructed as being prone to violence and thus eliciting fear (notice, for instance, the rhetoric of the backlash against Black Lives Matter or Thompson’s recent work (2016) on the Attica prison uprising). These two models of domination and discrimination —fear and pity— are not only theoretically different, but they elicit the mobilization of dissimilar resources and produce different consequences. The paper makes two arguments. First, I argue that domination through pity tends to mobilize private structures, while the bias of the state is manifest in it doing too little for those discriminated against. Contrarily, domination through fear re-centers and heightens governmental intervention: the state over-polices the members of the group discriminated against. Second, in the case of domination through pity, those discriminated against are constructed as the most vulnerable/innocent party in society, while fear flips the model upside down and understands those in power as being at the mercy of the behavior of the other group. Building on that distinction, the second section of the paper explores why and when does a group move from being feared to being pitied, or vice-versa, in order to better understand the stickiness of structural racism and inequalities. In conversation with Nussbaum (2010), I close with a reflection on the ways in which disgust fits this discussion.


*Please contact me for working versions of any of the papers above.