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Research Interests

full CV here

 My work concerns itself with the creation of a more just and humane society, focusing upon the role of average citizens in that process.  My research is on democracy and democratization, with emphases upon popular politics and social movements, elections and electoral studies, social capital and citizen empowerment and upon institutions.  With respect to geographic area, I do fieldwork in Latin America while my research is informed by the study of Western Europe and the United States.    

I first became interested in the study of comparative politics while still an undergraduate student at Bowdoin College.  I had decided to write an Honors Thesis in my major field of Government.  I was spending my junior year at the University of Stockholm where I studied Swedish as well as my regular courses.  During that year I became interested in the fact that in the 1950s Sweden had become the third nation able to produce an atomic bomb, following the United States and Britain.  However, after considerable domestic debate that included extensive popular protests and newspaper editorials, as well as debate in the legislature, Sweden decided NOT to produce the bomb.  While proponents of “the bomb” had arguments familiar to me, those I had heard in the United States, opponents of Swedish nuclear weapons capacity argued that it would make Sweden more vulnerable rather than less and that the money was better spent on state welfare services.  This entire story, as well as the final decision, fascinated me.  By January of my junior year I was proficient enough in Swedish to conduct interviews and read primary sources.  I spent my second semester in Sweden researching the issue.  This included extensive interviews in Swedish with popular leaders, newspaper editors, and former legislators.  I loved this research and became passionate about the thesis itself.  I also became deeply interested in issues of social justice and popular involvement in politics.  I had become a comparativist before ever reaching graduate school.

My first book, The Political Ecology of the Modern Peasant, (Johns Hopkins, 1994) was on popular mobilization in the effort to create a more just and humane society, looking specifically at Costa Rica and Nicaragua and studying political mobilization among peasants. The forms of mobilized politics I studied included peasant involvement in revolution and non-violent reformist political action. Political Ecology challenged the dispute that had long predominated in the subfield of peasant studies.  It showed that there was no need to debate whether peasant political action was value-driven (Scott, Moral Economy, 1976) or explained by rational choice (Popkin, Rational Peasant, 1979) by arguing that popular political action is motivated by both.  The resulting political ecology theory of protest action combines moral and self-serving motives, placing both within a broader social and environmental context. The Political Ecology  theory argues that peasants blend individual self-interest with concerns about community in a manner that makes the two forms of motivation reinforce each other. Being a responsible member of a community is also in an individual's self-interest. The theory in this book has implications far beyond Central America and far beyond peasant politics. It provides broad outlines about how popular mobilization can help create a better and more fair human society. The book won the American Political Science Association Transformational Politics Section Best Book Award for a book that points toward ways that we can transform our society and also won an Outstanding Book Award from Choice magazine.

As Latin America democratized, I  began to study citizen involvement in politics through democratic procedures and institutions. Again, the focus has been upon popular politics and popular perceptions and upon how citizens can empower themselves through political action. My second book, co-authored with Lawrence C. Dodd, is Learning Democracy: Citizen Engagement and Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990-2001, (University of Chicago Press, 2005) speaks both to the field of comparative politics and to the field of American politics and shows how citizens can use reasoned vote choice to end war, change their government, and begin a transition toward capitalism and liberal democracy. 

Learning Democracy offers to American politics an application of two theories of citizen vote choice, Morris Fiorina's theory of retrospective voting and Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock's theory of prospective voting. Learning Democracy combines these theories to show how the citizens of Nicaragua engaged in thoughtful, reflective vote choice across three elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001. Citizens used retrospective and prospective thinking to accomplish an electoral revolution and a regime change from socialism and a command economy to liberal democracy and a capitalist economy. Learning Democracy stands traditional American voting theories upside down.  We show that, in Nicaragua’s 1990 election, the poor and less educated used a more-complex prospective reasoning process more than did educated voters. Educated voters relied primarily upon retrospective reasoning, which is intellectually simpler.  American voting theories argue precisely the opposite and even suggest that the less educated cannot use prospective reasoning.  

To the field of comparative politics Learning Democracy illustrates the limitations of previous theories of democratization and shows how these theories have created expectations that are too confined to include or even imagine the democratization process in Nicaragua. Learning Democracy proposes a new theory of democratization that centralizes the role of citizen choice and the capacities of average citizens to engage in reflective thinking processes that resemble the processes of vote choice made by citizens in older and more established democracies.  Learning Democracy also challenged comparative theories about democratization by showing that social capital can develop quickly in a post-revolutionary setting, that elite pacting is unnecessary for democratization, that a socialist revolution can be conducive to democratization under certain conditions and that affluence is not necessarily a precondition for democracy.  

Learning Democracy went into a second printing in its first year and has now sold over 1700 copies.  It was a semi-finalist for the Grawmeyer Award in 2006.  It is used today in doctoral seminars in comparative politics and American politics in universities nationwide and we continue to get feedback from professors who are assigning it in their classes.  The University of Florida recognized Learning Democracy and my other scholarly achievements by choosing me to be a University of Florida Research Foundation Professor in 2006.

My third book, Social Capital in Developing Democracies:  Nicaragua and Argentina Compared,  (Cambridge University Press, 2010).   continued my focus upon popular politics and upon the relationship between popular politics and democratization.   Social Capital contrasted a revolutionary with a semi-fascist appeal to the poor and illustrated how those alternative appeals produced different value systems among the population and different kinds of social capital.  The contrast allows us to examine two different kinds of mass movements, each of which has become an electoral party today.  Sandinismo created horizontal ties and bridging social capital which enhances democratization in Nicaragua while Peronism created vertical ties and bonding social capital, undermining Argentina's democratic development.  Social Capital illustrated first, that bridging and democratic social capital (in Nicaragua) could develop in an accelerated manner and need not await generations of time and, second, that social capital could be quite anti-democratic and problematic for democracy (in Argentina) and therefore not necessarily a component of democracy.  These conclusions challenge the predominant arguments in political science about the development and role of social capital in democracy. 

Social Capital ends by raising the question of how a nation lacking in democratic social capital can even democratize at all if social capital is so essential to democratization.  The fact of Argentina’s democratization required explanation.  In response I initiated the argument that nations low in social capital could democratize upon the basis of their formal institutions of state and that institutions could comprise an alternative resource for democratization.  In support of that argument, in one chapter of Social Capital I demonstrated that Argentina’s institutions are indeed stronger than Nicaragua’s institutions. There was a symposium on Social Capital about the impact of the work five years after its publication.  That symposium was organized for the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico in January, 2016.  Scholars came from Argentina and the United States to discuss the book and its impact so far.

My newest book, Democratization by Institutions:  Argentina's Transition Years in Comparative Perspective elaborates upon the argument introduced in Social Capital that nations can democratize upon the basis of institutions. Democratization by Institutions shows that Argentina’s democratization process has been led by its formal institutions of state, specifically the presidency and the legislature.  The judiciary has also played a crucial role in some moments of democratic transition.  The study shows that this type of democratization is highly effective in the face of military hostility and destructive citizen protest.  But institutionally-driven democratization also poses the danger of an overly powerful presidency and raises questions about the capacity of the other institutions of state to check presidential power in a new democracy, especially in times of crisis.  Democratization by Institutions explores this issue through the lens of American political development.  I ask whether and how the American constitutional system, used to democratize the United States, can travel abroad and become an equally effective blueprint for democratization in a new, formerly-authoritarian setting such as Argentina.  I suggest that the American constitutional system can travel but I also raise several caveats for making that possible.  There was a symposium on Democratization by Institutions at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in New York City in May, 2016.  Scholars came from Europe, Latin America and the United States to consider the argument of this  book.

 Democratization by Institutions defines a new field of study.  By showing that institutions can democratize a nation where social capital is low, it points toward the need to study institutions not only as functional parts within democracy but as the driving force toward democracy.  Scholars of democracy can use this book as a model of how to study institutionally-driven democratization in settings where social capital is not the basis, or not the only basis, for democratization. 
Taken together, Social Capital and Democratization by Institutions redefine the field of democratization studies, suggesting two alternative routes toward democracy, through social capital or through institutions.  The conversation generated across these two books could recalibrate our thinking about social capital by addressing the limits of that approach and suggesting that institutions can be another route out of authoritarianism.

Current Research

I am currently working on a new co-authored project.  Tentatively entitled Democratic Deepening and Decline, this work constitutes the second phase of my work with Lawrence Dodd and now includes a new co-author, Won-ho Park from Seoul National University in South Korea. This new project has benefitted from a new grant from the National Science Foundation to study the 2006 election in Nicaragua and from University of Florida funds used to conduct the first-ever experimental research in Nicaragua. This project looks at local level politics, capturing political and electoral dynamics at the level of municipalities, in the context of declining democracy at the national level.  Part of the national democratic decline is owing to the behavior of current president, Daniel Ortega but part of the decline owes as well to a lack of electoral competitiveness on the part of the right.  Our experimental research aims at uncovering a potentially viable electoral platform for the right in Nicaragua.  We presented a first paper on this new research at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in San Francisco in early September, 2015.

My newest project is in its infancy.  It is a study of federalism, comparing different regions in Argentina with the United States South and West.  This new book focuses on the study of human rights, including the coming of the rule of law in far-flung territories of federal systems.  In Argentina and the United States South it focuses upon situations where human rights were violated at the provincial or state level while the national government stepped in to enforce the law.  In the United States West, by contrast, violence was also a problem but regional authorities sought and encouraged federal involvement in bringing about law and order.   



1. The Political Ecology of the Modern Peasant:  Calculation and Community,
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994 (selected for Best Book Award, Transformational Politics Section, American Political Science Association and for Outstanding Book Award, Choice academic magazine)

2. Learning Democracy: Citizen Engagement and Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990-2001, with Lawrence C. Dodd, The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

3. Social Capital in Developing Democracies:  Nicaragua and Argentina Compared, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

4. Democratization by Institutions:  Argentina's Transition Years in Comparative Perspective, University of Michigan Press, 2016.

 refereed articles

1.“Electoral Competition and Democratic Decline in Nicaragua:  Uncovering an Electorally Viable Platform for the Right,” with Larry C. Dodd and Won-ho Park, Democratization, online, October, 2016.  Forthcoming in hard copy 2017.

2."International Contributions To Nicaraguan Democracy:  The Role of Foreign Municipal Donations for Social Development," with Won-ho Park, Foreign Policy Analysis, online, April, 2016.  Forthcoming in hard copy 2017

2. "Democratization and Oppositional Consciousness in Argentina," lead article, Polity, April, 2014.

3. “Poverty and Political Empowerment:  Local Citizen Political Participation as a Path toward Social Justice in Nicaragua,” Public Policy Forum, lead article, December, 2010, Vol 1, # 2010

4. "Single-Party Predominance in an Unconsolidated Democracy:  The Example of Argentina," Perspectives on Politics, December, 2009

5. "Nicaragua:  Progress Amid Regress?" with Lawrence Dodd, Journal of Democracy, July, 2009

6. "The Authoritarian Executive? Horizontal and Vertical Accountability in A New Democracy: A Nicaraguan Perspective," Latin American Politics and Society, Summer, 2006

7. "Fascism or Revolution?" The Politics of the Rural Poor in New Democracies, International Political Science Review, April, 2006 (A longer version of this essay was published in Spain, in Politica y Sociedad, Madrid, 2001)

8. "Democratie Envers et Contre Tout:  Comportement Electoral au Nicaragua, 1990-2001," with Lawrence C. Dodd, Revue Le Banquet, (Paris), # 21 October, 2004, pp 293-323

9. "Post-socialist Democratization: A Comparative Political Economy Model of the Vote for Hungary and Nicaragua," with Michael Lewis-Beck and Mary Stegmaier, Electoral Studies, September, 2003

10. "Of Wild and Cultivated Politics: Conflict and Democracy in Argentina," International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Fall, 2002

11. "Nicaragua Votes: The Elections of 2001," with Lawrence C. Dodd, Journal of Democracy, July, 2002.

12. "Comportamiento Electoral y Democracia en Nicaragua: 1990-2001," with Lawrence C. Dodd, America Latina Hoy, (Salamanca), April, 2002.

13. "Fascistas o Revolucionarios?  Politica Izwuierdista y Derechista de la Poblacion Pobre Rural, Politica y Sociedad, # 38, (Madrid), September-December, 2001.  (This paper was originally presented at the International Conference of Sociiology, Salamanca, Spain, September, 2001.  A shorter version of this essay was published in the United States in 2006. 

14. "Between Quiescence and Rebellion Among the Peasantry," Journal of Theoretical Politics, October, 1997

15. "Radicalism and Reformism in a Democratic Context," with Mitchell Seligson, American Journal of Political Science, November, 1994

16. "Neutrality and Bias in the 1990 Nicaraguan Pre-Electoral Polls," American Journal of Political Science, May, 1994.

17."Agrarian Politics and Revolution: Micro and State Perspectives on Structural Determinism," Journal of Theoretical Politics, October, 1993.

18. "Surprises and Secrets:  Lessons from the 1990 Nicaraguan Election," Studies in Comparative International Development, Fall, 1992

19. "Mixed Blessings: Disruption and Organization Among Costa Rican Peasant Unions," Latin American Research Review, March, 1991  published in Spanish, Revista de Historia, San Jose, Costa Rica, September, 1992

20. "Post-Materialism from a Peasant Perspective:  Political Motivation in Costa Rica and Nicaragua," Comparative Political Studies, March, 1990

21. "Alternative Action:  Peasants as Positive Participants," Journal of Latin American Studies, February, 1990

refereed book chapters and invited articles

1. "Graduate Education in a Pluralist Context: The Metaphor of a Tool Box," in Kristen Renwick Monroe, Perestroika! The Raucus Revolution in Political Science," Yale University Press, 2005

2. "Idealism, Impatience and Pessimism:  Studies of Democratization in Latin America," Latin American Research Review, 2005

3. "The Legislature as a Reflection of Democracy," Extension of Remarks, Legislative Studies Section Newsletter, American Political Science Association, July, 1995, published in Spanish, in Pais, Managua, Nicaragua, May, 1996.

4. "Public Opinion and Electoral Politics in Nicaragua," in Mitchell Seligson and John Booth, eds., Democracy and Elections in Central America, Revisited, 2nd ed, The University of North Carolina Press 1995.

5. "La Contribucion de partidos pre-democraticos a una democracia en transicion: el caso de Nicaragua," Selected Procedings of the First Central American Congress of Political Science, EDUCA, San Jose, Costa Rica, 2004

Fellowships and Grants

  1. National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, A/Y 2017-18
  2. Humanities Award, University of Florida, to begin research in Argentina on subnational democratization, 2017
  3. Humanities Award, University of Florida, to do research in Nicaragua, 2013
  4. Fulbright Fellowship, Argentina, 2008
  5. National Science Foundation Grant, 2006, awarded to Leslie Anderson and Lawrence Dodd to study the 2006 Nicaraguan election
  6. Brown University, Howard Foundation Fellowship, 1997-98
  7. National Science Foundation Grant, 1996, individual award to study 1996 Nicaragua election
  8. Fulbright Fellowship, Argentina, 1993
  9. Council of Creative Writing Research Grant, University of Colorado, for conference on   "Dimensions of Peasant Power," University of Colorado, 1992
  10. Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame, Faculty Fellowship, Spring, 1990
  11. Cornell University, Visiting Fellowship, Fall, 1990.
  12. Fulbright Fellowship, Costa Rica, 1985
  1. University of Florida Doctoral Dissertation Advisor/Mentoring Award, 2014 (University-wide competition)
  2. University of  Florida Research Foundation Professorship, 2006
  3. Teaching Award, Best Professor Selection, International Affairs Club, University of  Colorado, 1995
  4. Best Book Award, American Political Science Association, Transformational Politics Section, 1995
  5. Outstanding Book Award, Choice academic magazine, 1995
  6. Social Science Writing Award (awarded twice) 1991, 1992
Invited Lectures
  1. University of Florida, Graduate Student Council, on Social Capital in Developing Democracies, February, 2013
  2. University of Texas, Austin, Department of Political Science, on Social Capital in Developing Democracies, January, 2013
  3. Bowdoin College, "A Tempest in a Teapot:  The 2008 Nicaraguan Municipal Elections," May, 2009
  4. University of La Matanza, Argentina, "Nicaragua's International Profile," March, 2008
  5. University of Notre Dame, Kellogg Institute, on Learning Democracy, February, 2002 
  6. University of Michigan, Department of Political Science, on Learning Democracy, February, 2002
  7. Yale University, Center for Agrarian Studies, on Learning Democracy, October, 2000
  8. University of Washington, Department of Political Science, on Learning Democracy, October, 2001
  9. University of Minnesota, on The Political Ecology of the Modern Peasant, March, 1990
  10. Cornell University, Center for International Studies, on The Political Ecology of the Modern Peasant, February, 1990
  11. Cornell University, Department of Rural Sociology, on Methods and Methodology in   Rural Fieldwork, September, 1990