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


Description of research project

During the 20th century, the Latin American region urbanized quicker and more extensively than anywhere else in the world up to that time. Rural people migrated to major cities and, in many cases, settled in informal squatter neighborhoods. This project examines the sociopolitical relationships that were established between the new urban poor and political elites who sought to build coalitions that would support them in power. Political officials allowed the urban poor to requisition urban land and allocated state resources for neighborhood improvements, expecting the urban poor’s political support in exchange. The urban poor had their own interests, like eking out a new urban life. Relationships between political elites and the urban poor were mediated by neighborhood associations in a system of clientelist political intermediation. This project focuses on the role of these associations in the city cases of Lima, Peru, Caracas, Venezuela, and Mexico City, Mexico.

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

The main provisional conclusion is that, because it arose from the process of urban growth, clientelist political intermediation is distinct from other familiar models of political intermediation. Like theories based on the U.S. and inspired by Tocqueville, clientelist political intermediation is based on associations. But unlike this school of thought, they are not related to political officials horizontally, but rather vertically. Verticality makes clientelist political intermediation similar to models based on European state building and citizenship. But unlike these models, such relationships were not formal and codified, but rather informal and ad hoc. Clientelist political intermediation, then, is a mode of informal and hierarchical political intermediation between political elites and the urban masses, at the center of which are associations.

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

The 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 (to be discussed at the beginning of the semester). 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 RAs can gain valuable knowledge through working on this project.

Research tasks will give RAs first-hand knowledge of the kinds of lives the Latin American urban poor lived and often continue to live, exposure to the workings of these countries’ legal systems, and Spanish language and qualitative research skills.

Supervising Faculty Member (for graduate student proposals)

Robert Jansen

Graduate Student (if applicable)

Simeon J. Newman

Contact information

Average hours of work per week


Range of credit hours students can earn 


Number of positions available