Political Institutions

A Section of the Latin American Studies Association

Section Awards

2021 Co-Winner, Donna Lee Van Cott Award for the Best Book on Latin American Politics and Institutions

Title: Authoritarian Police in Democracy: Contested Security in Latin America

Author: Yanilda María González

Twitter: @che_shani

Institution: Harvard Kennedy School

Citation: Why do we see the persistence of violent, unaccountable police forces? Under what conditions can political and societal actors reform police forces? In this pathbreaking book, González examines the persistence of authoritarian policing practices in democracies in Latin America to reveal that it persists not in spite of democracy but in part because of it. Developing the concept of the “structural power of police,” she draws from Charles Lindblom’s classic discussion of the structural power of business in Politics and Markets. González adapts this idea to explain the power of police to resist reform by withdrawing services and thus creating disorder when politicians and citizens seek to bring them to account. She offers an impressive comparison of three countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, where González conducted in-depth qualitative field research for over two years. This is process tracing at its best. But rather than simply note the structural difficulties of reform, González explains that reform has been possible when politicians perceive the convergence of societal preferences over reform and face robust political competition. This beautifully written, engaging book makes an enduring contribution to our understanding of Latin American political institutions and transforms how we think about the role of policing in democracy more broadly.

2021 Co-Winner, Donna Lee Van Cott Award for the Best Book on Latin American Politics and Institutions

Title: Patronage at Work: Public Jobs and Political Services in Argentina

Author: Virginia Oliveros

Twitter: @VirOliveros

Institution: Tulane University

Citation: What public employees do affects both electoral competition and the quality of democracy. In this outstanding book, Oliveros describes what public employees do and, importantly, why they do it. Challenging conventional wisdom, she argues that public workers’ jobs are in fact tied to incumbent politicians’ fates, so it is in their best interest to provide political services. In treating both patrons and clients as self-interested, strategic individuals, Oliveros offers a novel theory of self-sustaining patronage in Argentina and beyond. The author masterfully shows that the interests of both actors align, favoring politicians’ continuity in office. Oliveros’s methodological approach is particularly powerful. The author combines a subnational comparative research design focused on three Argentina cities with ethnographic evidence and surveys of public workers, while exploring the applicability of her argument to Chile and Bolivia. In studying patronage on the ground, she marshals a wealth of original quantitative data to reveal that, despite democratization reforms in the region, patronage is resilient in Latin American countries, affecting politicians’ access to power as well as exercise of power. Oliveros’s book makes a remarkable contribution to our understanding of patronage politics and will surely spark new lines of research. Patronage at Work offers an important reminder of the importance of the state and how the political use of public employment can undermine the quality of democratic politics in developing countries.

2020 Winner, Donna Lee Van Cott Award for the Best Book on Latin American Politics and Institutions

Title: Votes, Drugs, and Violence. The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico

Author #1: Guillermo Trejo (University of Notre Dame)

Author #2: Sandra Ley (CIDE)

Twitter: @Gtrejo29, @sjleyg

Citation: While the democratic regimes installed in Latin America since the 1980s have been resilient, many are plagued by violence associated with gangs and drug cartels that have taken the life of hundreds of thousands of citizens. In this extraordinary book, Trejo and Ley zoom in on Mexico and offer a theoretically sophisticated explanation of why and how violence escalated to unprecedented levels. There is a central paradox at the center of the book, having to do with the unexpected character of violence in the wake of the country’s transition to democracy. And, contrary to previous research, violence results from partisan conflict endogenous to competitive democracy. The authors masterfully leverage a subnational research design that combines statistical analysis with case studies. The newspaper-based Criminal Violence in Mexico (CVM) and Criminal Attacks against Public Authorities in Mexico (CAPAM) datasets created by the authors will become mandatory sources for anyone interested in studying violence in Mexico. These datasets are complemented by compelling evidence from more than 40 in-depth interviews with former governors and mayors, among other high-level government officials and NGO leaders. This book is an outstanding achievement–it will make a lasting and timely contribution to our understanding of the political foundations of criminal wars.

Prize name: Winner, Best Paper on Political Institutions from the 2021 LASA Congress

Title: Accountability in Time: Gradual Change in Access-to-Information Institutions

Co-authors: Brian Palmer-Rubin brian (Marquette University);  Daniel Berliner (London School of Economis); Aaron Erlich (McGill University) and Benjamin E. Bagozzi (University of Delaware)

Twitter: @aserlich

Citation:Desarrollando aportes del institucionalismo histórico, este trabajo propone una tipología teórica para explicar el cambio institucional de las instituciones de acceso a la información - a través del tiempo. Los autores encuentran que el cambio gradual endógeno de conversión (Thelen 2003), a través de dos mecanismos (evolución y aprendizaje) es más influyente para explicar los cambios en la implementación de la Ley de Transparencia en México que modos “externos” de cambio institucional, como drift (desvío) y reforma. Además de este aporte teórico a la literatura de instituciones de accountability social, el trabajo utiliza una aproximación metodológica mixta novedosa, al combinar herramientas de la ciencia de datos (analizando la totalidad de solicitudes de información pública del sistema mexicano del 2003 al 2020) con análisis de process tracing. Si bien los propios autores reconocen las limitaciones del análisis de datos emprendido, logran proporcionar indicios convincentes de los patrones empíricos que su teoría de cambio institucional endógeno supone.