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Professor Kevin Middlebrook
Professor of Latin American Politics
Kevin J. Middlebrook is Professor of Latin American Politics at the Institute of the Americas, University College London. He was previously affiliated with the Institute of Latin American Studies (2002-04) and the Institute for the Study of the Americas (2004-12), both at the University of London. Between 1995 and 2001 he was Director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he also held an appointment as Adjunct Professor of Political Science.
Educated at Harvard University, he has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (1983-84, 1991) and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University (1993-94), as well as research grants from the Fulbright-Hays Commission, the Social Science Research Council, the Howard Heinz Endowment, the Fulbright Commission, and the Nuffield Foundation. Professor Middlebrook is the author of The Paradox of Revolution: Labor, the State, and Authoritarianism in Mexico (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), winner of the 1996 Hubert Herring Book Prize from the Pacific Coast Council of Latin American Studies, and co-author of Mexico Since 1980: A Second Revolution in Economics, Politics, and Society (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Organized Labour and Politics in Mexico: Changes, Continuities and Contradictions (Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2012). He is also editor or co-editor of nine books: The United States and Latin America in the 1980s: Contending Perspectives on a Decade of Crisis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986); Unions, Workers, and the State in Mexico (Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1991); The Politics of Economic Restructuring: State-Society Relations and Regime Change in Mexico (Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1994); Electoral Observation and Democratic Transitions in Latin America (Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1998); Conservative Parties, the Right, and Democracy in Latin America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); Party Politics and the Struggle for Democracy in Mexico: National and State-Level Analyses of the Partido Acción Nacional (Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 2001); Confronting Development: Assessing Mexico’s Economic and Social Policy Challenges (Stanford University Press and Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 2003); Dilemmas of Political Change in Mexico (Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London / Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 2004); and Producción de exportación, desarrollo económico y el futuro de la industria maquiladora en México (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 2005).
In addition, he has published articles in major English- and Spanish-language journals, including Bulletin of Latin American Research, Comparative Politics, Estudios Sociológicos, Foro Internacional, Journal of Common Market Studies, Journal of Latin American Studies, Labor Studies Journal, Latin American Research Review, Revista Mexicana de Sociología, and World Politics, as well as chapters in numerous edited books.
His professional activities include service as an editorial board member of the Latin American Research Review (1997-2000) and the Journal of Latin American Studies (2006-12), multiple interviews on Latin American politics and US foreign policy with newspapers and electronic news media throughout the world, and consultancies with government agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States. Within the international Latin American Studies Association, he has served as a member (1992-94) and co-chair (1994-97) of the Task Force on Human Rights and Academic Freedom, a member of the steering committee for the working group on labour studies (1994-95), chair of the “Democracy and Human Rights” section of the 1994-95 Congress programme committee, co-founder and co-chair of the organized section on Mexico (2009-12), and the Association’s first elected Treasurer (2006-10).
Professor Middlebrook’s recent publications include “Caciquismo and Democracy: Mexico and Beyond,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, 28 (3) (2009): 411-27. This article examines the durability and importance of “boss rule” in Mexican and Latin American politics, the difficult questions the phenomenon poses for the scope of democratization processes, and key challenges to the academic study of caciquismo.
In 2012 he published (with Graciela Bensusán) Organized Labour and Politics in Mexico: Changes, Continuities and Contradictions (Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2012). This book examines the changes, continuities and contradictions characterizing labour politics in Mexico since the 1980s. As a consequence of market-liberalizing reforms and historic shifts in government policy toward organized labour, the labour movement has declined substantially in size, bargaining strength and political influence. Electoral democratization has expanded individual workers’ choices at the ballot box and increased political pluralism in the labour movement. Some unions have also bolstered their power resources by forging transnational alliances with counterparts in Canada and the United States.
On the whole, however, democratization has had remarkably little impact on the state-labour relations regime institutionalized following the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20. This legal regime both underpins the position of unrepresentative union leaders and grants government officials highly discretionary control over the formation of unions, the election of union leaders and unions’ actions. The combination of weakened labour organizations, unaccountable union leaders and strong government controls fundamentally constrains workers’ capacity to defend their interests. This state of affairs — and especially the failure to enact progressive labour law reform since democratic regime change in 2000 — limits democracy and imposes heavy costs on both unionized workers and Mexican society as a whole.
By engaging debates concerning organized labour’s role in democratization, and by demonstrating the essential compatibility between market-focused economic policies and state-labour practices rooted in Mexico’s authoritarian past, this book contributes to a broader assessment of organized labour’s role in contemporary Latin America.
Professor Middlebrook’s current research examines institutional arrangements governing labour rights in the context of trade liberalization and economic globalization. It focuses empirically on the special labour institutions created in association with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), systematically evaluating their performance over their first fifteen years of operation and exploring the domestic and international factors that have shaped their capacity to address labour rights violations in Canada, Mexico and the United States. The project also compares the NAFTA experience with labour-rights regimes in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) and the European Union, and it assesses the effectiveness of trade agreement-linked institutional arrangements compared to such alternative rights-protection strategies as corporate social responsibility campaigns and internationally sanctioned labour norms like those promoted by the International Labour Organization. By engaging contemporary theoretical debates about regional economic integration, this research illuminates the conceptual significance of the founding political conditions giving rise to different trade-promotion and market-integration schemes, the tensions between national sovereignty and the cross-national or supranational protection of labour rights, and the conditions under which labour organizations and their political allies can strengthen safeguards of worker rights.
At the Institute of the Americas, Professor Middlebrook teaches the MA module on “Democratization in Latin America.” This course examines transitions from authoritarian rule and the challenges confronting democratic regimes in contemporary Latin America, focusing both on key analytic themes and the national experiences of individual countries. The cases of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela provide the principal empirical bases for a consideration of these issues.
The first part of the course analyses the historically significant processes of democratic regime change that swept much of Latin America after the late 1970s and early 1980s. Readings and lectures identify core concepts and terms of debate (including the question of how “democracy” should be defined, the indeterminance of transition processes, and so forth), distinguish among different models of regime change (especially “actor-centred” versus “structural” models of democratization) and consider the domestic and international forces that contributed to the breakdown of authoritarian regimes and subsequent transitions to political democracy in a number of countries. This material sets the stage for an analysis of both individual country experiences and the role of particular actors (political parties, the armed forces, the Roman Catholic Church, labour unions, human rights movements, and so forth) in democratic transitions. The second part of the course highlights the multiple dilemmas facing consolidating democratic regimes. Readings and lectures provide the basis for a thematic investigation of the role of political parties, social movements and the struggle for citizenship rights, the implications of Latin America’s far-reaching process of market-oriented economic reform for democratic consolidation, and international dimensions of democratization in the region.
One way of assessing the possible future course of democracy in Latin America is to examine the changing role of political forces on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The readings and lectures in the final section of the course do so by analysing recent developments in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela.
PhD Supervision and Examination
Professor Middlebrook supervises research (MPhil/PhD) students examining the comparative and international politics of Latin America. Past and current students have analysed such topics as the politics of media regulation in the Southern Cone, ethnicity and indigenous political participation in Peru and other Andean countries, political clientelism and democracy in Belize, constitutional reform and democratization in Colombia, the politics of electoral reform in Latin America, labour rights and corporate social responsibility in the Central American garment industry, the politics of state-led economic development in Mexico and South Korea, and Ecuadoran foreign policy and the “law of the sea.”
He has served as a Ph.D. examiner at Indiana University-Bloomington in the United States, La Trobe University in Australia, and, in the United Kingdom, King’s College London, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of Essex, the University of Oxford, the University of Sheffield, the University of Sussex, and the University of Warwick.
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