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Domination, Resistance, and Clientelism in the Urban Politics of 20th Century Latin America

 

Description of research project

Theoretically, the project breaks new ground. Ever since its earliest thinkers, like Tönnies and Durkheim, sociologists and other social scientists have tended to consider urbanization (the growth of cities) central to societal modernization. Meanwhile, a broad swathe of social scientists have tended to consider clientelism (a system of informal quid-pro-quo relations between elites and non-elites mediated by brokers) to be a premodern form of political authority. And numerous case studies focusing on 20th century urbanizing contexts around the world have uncovered clientelist political relations. So this research asks, is there a relationship between urbanization and clientelism?

Motivated by an interest in the social origins of power that has long animated political sociology and related fields, this project addresses this question through an analysis of the social and political changes that occurred in 20th century Latin America as that region transitioned from majority-rural to majority-urban between the 1940s and 1980s. It examines the cases of Peru, Venezuela, and Mexico, focusing specifically on their respective capital cities, Lima, Caracas, and Mexico City, where most urbanization occurred.

The evidentiary base is original textual data collected from archives in those countries. These sources include letters, petitions, and complaints (from residents) and official reports (from the state). The study also draws from the press in each case, as well as from the secondary literature.

The main provisional conclusion is that in 20th century Latin America, urbanization contributed directly to the rise of a system of clientelism with far-reaching effects on how politics worked. This finding will force political sociologists and other social scientists to revise long-held views about the relationship between clientelism and modern society.

Description of work that will be assigned to research assistants (i.e. transcription, coding, preliminary analysis of data, etc.)

This project is based on documentary sources. Duties and responsibilities may include, but are not limited to, grouping photographs of source material based on identifying information using FileMaker or similar, qualitative coding, and searching for evidence that is consistent and inconsistent with the provisional findings. The research assistant (RA) will be oriented and briefed on the project, and will be expected to be available for a weekly or bi-weekly meeting at a time that does not conflict with her or his coursework (included in hours worked).

Spanish language skills are required.

The project’s theoretical orientation and methodological approach aligns it to “comparative-historical sociology,” an exciting area in the social sciences about which the RA can gain valuable knowledge through working on this project.

Supervising Faculty Member (for graduate student proposals)

Robert Jansen

Graduate Student (if applicable)

Simeon J. Newman

Contact information

simnew@umich.edu

Average hours of work per week

6-12

Range of credit hours students can earn 

2-4

Number of positions available   

1-2