In the pipeline*

Entrepreneurs of Trust under the Shadow of the State: A Case Study of Improbable Trust in Mexico City - under review.

This paper explores the case of informal car parkers in Mexico City, to whom drivers regularly entrust their cars without guarantees of getting them back, to advance two arguments about trust. First, the literature on social trust expects that strengthening formal institutions that foster social trust will facilitate exchanges between strangers. I show that the weakness of those institutions can also foster trust between strangers, proposing a distinction between institutionalized and informal social trust: the latter emerges when the former flails. Second, disrupting the assumption that group similarity aids trusting exchanges, I show that trust can flourish because of deep class cleavages.


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

Scholars have long paid attention to the persistence of judicial wrongdoing, understood as strategic manipulation of the courts, for example in authoritarian regimes or as a byproduct of state weakness. Yet the phenomena of manufacturing criminal charges that are blatantly false and even outright ludicrous remains understudied. In this paper, 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 seek to explain why. First, we propose that democratization contributed to a faulty bureaucratic logic focused on improving statistical measures of perceived efficiency, made possible by the instrumentalization of a vulnerable population. Second, we find that politicians under democracy can take political advantage of botched criminal cases by harnessing public outrage when convenient, thus hindering political incentives to professionalize the judiciary. In a theory-building exercise, we analyze a case of incarceration in democratic Mexico as an extreme example of cooked up charges, showing how this strategy is enabled by democratization and not continuing in spite of it.


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.


Vulnerability and Due Process in Modern Mexico (with Milena Ang)

In the last decade, growing violence and institutional inefficiency in Mexico have contributed to the 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? How are the problems of law and order and rule of law related in Mexico? In this paper, we explore vulnerability to violations of due process in Mexico and the ways in which recent reforms have influences this vulnerability. We use a novel survey of imprisoned populations to explore the relationship between traditional notions of vulnerability (such as education, indigenous groups, gender, and age) and due process. We find that people with low educational levels, as well as those who are indigenous are more likely to be subject to a faulty due process, and that this effect is robust to the type of crime they are accused of. We then study the effect of current institutions on the vulnerability of individuals. 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 working versions of any of the papers above.