Institutions in the developing world often reflect the interests of the powerful and privileged and, as such, fundamentally distort political and economic incentives (American Political Science Association, 2008). This is a particular challenge to democratic governance in the developing world. Even in the more consolidated democracies, minorities, women, and lower classes can not make full use of their civil and political rights because of limited or highly compromised access to basic democratic institutions, such as the rule of law, government offices, or representative structures. These forms of political marginalization not only erode the legitimacy of democratic institutions but also fuel social conflict.

Project faculty members have done extensive research on how political institutions and practices are shaped by social and economic inequalities, paying particular attention to sub-national contexts. GPD co-director Patrick Heller and Richard Snyder (Political Science) have played a leading role in this research area. Heller’s work focuses on understanding the role of the local state in development and has involved survey and fieldwork in South Africa, Brazil, and India. His research examines how varying institutional forms of local governance affect the depth and quality of participation by the poor. He has ongoing collaborations in all three of these countries. Snyder’s research has focused on subnational configurations of political participation in Mexico drawing on extensive fieldwork to examine why and how local institutions are more or less inclusionary. He has written extensively on comparative methods and is currently working on a project that draws on political ethnography to explore how traditionally marginalized groups in Andean countries have taken advantage of new democratic opportunities.

This research area cuts across all the social science disciplines at Brown and draws on the full range of methodologies. Research on the transformation of local institutions of governance includes econometric analysis on China (Qian) and India (Foster, Munshi) as well as ethnographies in Mexico (Gutmann, Snyder) and Brazil (Baiocchi). Kay Warren has written extensively on indigenous movements in Latin America and specifically on the intersection of politics, violence, nationalism, and ethnic identities. Baiocchi has used ethnographic data and survey data to examine political participation in Brazilian municipalities, and he has an ongoing research project on the politics of race in San Salvador, Brazil.

Current research includes comparative work on forms of urban participation in Mexico, Brazil, and Spain (Gianpaolo Baiocchi); the relationship between mobilization strategies and political identities in the Middle East focusing in particular on when and how extremist ideologies resonate with the poor (Melani Cammett); a cross-national study of the relationship between regime type and the formation of national and transnational Islamist movements (Pauline Jones Luong); and a large, collaborative study of political engagement and ethnic strife in four countries led by Ashutosh Varshney. Research on local government in India by Foster, Munshi, and Heller directly overlaps with the CSDS’s long-term project to evaluate the impact of local government reform on political participation of traditionally marginalized groups. CSDS in New Delhi is interested in working with Brown to develop a collaborative research project on political inequalities with our partners in South Africa and Brazil.