Institute of the Americas
Current research students
Political Wives to Political Lives: The Evolution of Women in American Politics on Screen
My research looks at gender representation of women on
screen in political movies from 1930’s to present day and examines the
development of character in line with development of women in real-life
My work focuses on the tropes that movies and media follow when
representing women on screen and how these have developed and changed in line
with the on-set of feminism and women’s rights. I focus on the use of film with
politics as a medium in which a handful of people, from writers to Hollywood studios,
can reach and influence the general populace with their own political thoughts
and agendas, which in turn affects the socio-cultural understanding of gender
My thematic interests include: media, women’s history, women’s rights, gender portrayals of political spouses and film and politics.
Sacnicté Bonilla Hernández
New Peasantries in 21st century Mexico: the defence and adaptation of rural life by campesino youth
During my life I have been related to rural life in different ways. Now, I have committed myself to do a research which aims to provide a wider understanding about rural life of young campesinos in Mexico. My main goal is to engage rural young people into a reflective process to analyze their decisions. They will then reflect on why have they decided to remain living in the countryside, which is their role in preserving traditional knowledge of food production and in Mexicans’ food sovereignty. The ambition of this study is to highlight the key features of the modern campesina life of those young women and men who have chosen small food production as their way of life. I will also address the interaction between rural youth decisions and grassroots groups, civil organizations, peasant movements and social policies that are focused on rural youth.
Agrarian Reform in Colombia: Failures and Horizons of Hope
Historically Colombia, like many developing nations around the world, has had a turbulent relationship with land and agrarian reform.
The peace accords between the government and
FARC-EP depend on mapping out the future of agriculture but more importantly
than this, the lives of many rural and marginalised Colombian communities
depend on a favourable outcome. At this pivotal moment, my thesis will look
to argue for the nationwide extension of Zonas de Reserva Campesina. This
model looks to empower
grass-roots rural organisation, encourage environmentally friendly farming
methods, as well as control and use land according to localised practice.
Catalina de la Cruz Pincetti
Determinants of subjective well-being in private life: new indicators, old inequalities? Evidence from Chile
This thesis explores the contradictions between the progress experienced in Chile – one of Latin-Americas “success-stories”– and the barriers women face accessing the benefits of that growth. Chile exhibits both, one of the lower rates in female workforce participation and one of the highest gender pay gaps on the continent. Those barriers are in a substantial part a result of how the sexual division of labour is institutionally organised. Little effort has been made to include a gender perspective in the primary development index measures, thereby preventing possible institutional changes in this regard. I argue that recent indexes –such as those aimed at measuring the subjective perception of well-being– replicate this deficiency, perpetuating deleterious conditions for women.
The research will be conducted in different stages and its outcomes could be used as dimensions in Subjective Well-being indexes.
María De Vecchi Gerli
Enforced disappearances in Mexico: State and relatives discourse and its relation to impunity
Indigenous Political Participation and Institutional Continuity and Change in
My PhD thesis is a comparative study of indigenous political participation in Peru. It aims to demonstrate the pattern of indigenous political participation at the sub-national level, taking the Andean departments of Huancavelica and Puno and the Amazonian department of Loreto as case studies. It then attempts to explain this pattern using a tri-dimensional analysis that looks at state-indigenous relationships, intermediary-indigenous relationships and local community relationships in the three regions. Peru is chosen as a ‘deviant case’ due to its less evident ethnically based political participation compared to the recent political history in neighbouring countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia.
Daniela Giambruno Leal
Democratization and everyday social interactions in Chile today
One of the most salient features of Chilean society is its level of inequality. It is a well known phenomena documented by many Chilean social scientists as well as international institutions. Nevertheless, the research focus about this issue has been concentrated on economic inequality, in terms of income distribution and social stratification. Nevertheless, there are a number of new Chilean scholars that have identified a growing concern among individuals in Chile about unequal treatment in everyday social interactions. Although economic inequality is something realized and criticized by Chileans today, there is an important degree of social unrest linked to experiences of abuse and disrespect which are now judged as unfair and unjust. What is an issue here for many people is how an unequal treatment constitutes an underestimation of their personal value, in other words, of their dignities. In this context, there are a series of questions that emerge about cultural change and democratization that will guide the research project to be addressed at UCL.
Mario Hidalgo Jara
Impact of citizen participation in the control of corruption in Ecuador and Uruguay
Corruption is an endemic problem that attacks the foundations of democracy and avoids full development of societies, depriving them of better access to education, basic services, infrastructure, among other issues.
Multiple efforts have been made to combat corruption and multiple surveillance mechanisms have been implemented for the same effect. Citizen participation and its various mechanisms of social control is one of them. Its existence's aim is, among others, to have people monitoring and controlling public institutions. However, there are specific problems that undermine the effectiveness of these mechanisms and dilute their essence, thus allowing corruption to perpetuate with impunity.
The objective of my research is to determine, based on the experience of Ecuador and Uruguay, the impact of citizen participation in controlling corruption and to establish what obstacles make this participation less efficient.
Promoting Keynesian Liberalism: Walter W. Heller and U.S. Economic Policy, 1940 - 1987
My research project examines the career of the American economist Walter W. Heller and uses this as a lens onto the rise, ascendancy and eclipse of Keynesian liberalism in the United States. Throughout his career, Heller championed the use of Keynesian economic policies to achieve liberal ends. He rose to prominence as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations, and successfully convinced both presidents to use Keynesian policies to underwrite the liberal agenda of the 1960s. Because of this, Heller is widely regarded as one of the most influential and effective economic advisers in US history, however he has been curiously understudied by historians. My research project seeks to foster a greater academic appreciation for Heller. By doing so, it will examine the way in which Keynesian economists helped shape the political success of liberalism from the 1940s through to the 1960s, before exploring how they responded to the rise of conservative economic doctrines as American politics turned rightward in the 1970s and 1980s.
In Defense of Democracy: The Political Role of US Special Operations in Vietnam 1961-75
research focuses on the role of US special operations in Vietnam,
1961-75. It is a historical case study informed by contemporary American
policy. The dissertation explores recently released documentation on
Vietnam to examine Washington’s conduct of special operations both then and
today. Commentators in the field of Vietnam studies have characterized
special operations as the most successful element in addition to the most
misinformed aspect of the war. Yet no fully comprehensive study explores
American special operations in Vietnam as a matter of policy and political
This provides a unique angle for my thesis, which investigates a period
recently cited by the Pentagon as a priority area for special operations
research. It aims to understand what American policy makers were trying
to do by employing and extending the effort they devoted to spec ops during the
role for Washington? US hegemony and the diversification of Latin American
Drawing on international relations theories of hegemonic behaviour and power transition, my PhD thesis examines the notion that the United States is undergoing at least relative decline in Latin America. I employ a comparative case study to analyse the impact on the role and influence of the United States resulting from general efforts of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela to diversify their foreign ties, for instance by intensifying relations with the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran. A long perspective (1823-today) will help identify shifts in Washington’s role and interests in the Western hemisphere, although the main focus of this study is on the post-Cold War period. My research is supported by the Klaus Murmann Doctoral Fellowship Programme of the Foundation of German Business (sdw).
Out at Work: Gay Liberation and 1970s Workplace Organisation
My research explores the historic interaction between gay liberation movements and organised labour during the 1970s in the United States. I seek to uncover how the emergence of a movement for gay liberation effected the ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* people organised in their workplaces. Little attention has been paid to the experience of LGBT workers in states where 'right-to-work' laws have weakened union organisation and militancy. Where studies have focused upon LGBT working lives, they have focused on the industrial north where trade unionism in the 1970s was relatively strong. My research proposes to contrast these experiences by exploring LGBT union activism in the 'sunbelt.'
My research is supported by a Wolfson Scholarship in Humanities.
Losing the backyard: Foreign policy, diplomacy, and the decline of US hegemony in Latin America
research analyses US foreign policy towards Latin America since the
end of the Cold War to explain the decline of US hegemony in Latin
America. I look particularly at the interaction between US foreign
policy and the policy of selected Latin American states in order to
explore where this policy was successful and where it failed.
rise of leftist and often anti-American politicians in several Latin
American countries, and initiatives for regional cooperation which exclude
the US play an important role. Through process tracing of the
evolution of relations between the US and these Latin American states, the
research will explain how the changing political and
economic landscape in the region led Latin American states to be less
dependent on the US, causing a shift in the balance of power which made
the US lose much of its traditional influence in the region.
The research will look in particular at the level of (in)effectiveness of US foreign policy and explain why the US failed to reverse this trend.
Ethnic voting in the Andes
My research focuses on the role of ethnicity, race and racism in contemporary Andean politics. Specifically, I am interested in how ethnic identity and racial attitudes may influence voters’ electoral decision-making – the ways in which voters construct, and evaluate, socio-political profiles of electoral candidates, their parties and political projects during electoral campaigns – and how such (stereotypic) profiles, or images, impact on voters’ electoral preferences. It is hoped that the combination of ‘macro-level’ cross-country comparative analysis (largely based on existing survey data) with a more ‘micro-level’ investigation of how voters gather and process political information (drawing on data from a computer-based ‘election simulation’ and a series of focus groups and interviews), will provide important insights into how (and perhaps why) race and ethnicity are drawn into, and may shape, electoral politics in the region today.
A brief moment in the sun: Francis Cardozo and Reconstruction in South Carolina
My research will focus on the life and career of Francis Cardozo, the first African American to be elected to state-wide office in the US, an honest man and an effective political leader during the Reconstruction, who was imprisoned following a show trial after the white supremacists returned to power, and whose story has been largely neglected since then. His life is fascinating for itself; it is also a symbol of the history of Reconstruction, its background before the Civil War, its failures and successes and its aftermath.
Ivan Lobo Romero
Agency in Collective Action: The Role of Community Leadership on Environmental Entrepreneruship in the Colombian Pacific Region
From a theoretical standpoint, my current research is focused on understanding the role of agency in collective action and social movements.
I specifically analyse the nature and dynamics of collective enterprises for sustainable development in rural Afro-Colombian communities in the Colombian Pacific Region (one of the most biodiverse regions in the world). I am particularly interested in the role played by community leaders as both ´brokers´and ´catalysers´of those enterprises. The Political Ecology and Political Economy of social and environmental conflicts within these communities are thus relevant frameworks for my inquiry.
Beyond much-needed and mostly elusive macro-institutional changes, communities in the so-called 'developing world' -particularly those often regarded as ´peripheral´ to mainstream political, economic and social structures- will likely play a critical role in the unfolding of more sustainable forms of development. Hence the relevance of understanding these communities' micro-dynamics as well as their relation to broader structures.
A Debt to Democracy? Media Regulation
and Reform in Argentina and the Southern Cone
My research investigates recent controversial changes to media regulation in Argentina, and I am interested in what such reforms may tell us about the current relationship between the state, media and the consolidation of democracy in the region. I will be undertaking fieldwork in the 2012-2013 academic year, basing myself in Buenos Aires, where I plan to interview government officials, academics, and those working in the media to better understand the political environment in which regulatory reform is taking place, and the potential implications of this reform for democracy in Argentina.
The Shape of the State to Come: Transnationality and the Social Imaginary of the Welfare State in Argentina, 1930-1952
My research focuses on the social imagery of the welfare-state in Argentina between 1930 and 1952. I am particularly interested in the productive space between the knowledge production in the social sciences of the time, and the political realm across the whole political spectrum in issues of welfare and the regulation of the social. Additionally, I will focus on the transnationality of the discourse about the formation of a modern welfare state in Argentina. Both the diffusion of ideas about modern social policy from different, nationally organized societies, the translations of concepts and debates about the relevance for the Argentine reality, as well as the mobility of social actors in the Atlantic world are of interest.
The Workers’ Party in Brazil: Implications for the Nationalization of the Latin American Left
My thesis seeks to explain why the Workers’ Party (Partido dos
Trabalhadores, PT) has become a dominant party in contemporary Brazil.
Given the executive-centered decision-making and/or the plebiscitary
electoral systems that developed under dictatorships, by and large Latin
America’s political parties had functioned as dependent and
instrumental vehicles of traditional political elites. Especially in
Brazil, the political traditionalism represented by latifundismo and a
weakly institutionalized electoral system had been strongly associated
with party-system fragmentation.
The unprecedented ascendance of the PT, and potentially other leftist parties in the region, makes Brazil a highly relevant basis on which to revisit the classic but still-debatable explanations of party formation and development set out by Lipset and Rokkan and also by Duverger.
The failure to sell the U.S: Public diplomacy from 2000-2013
My research will analyse the effectiveness of the U.S. public diplomacy strategy in the 21st century. It will focus on whether the goals of U.S. public diplomacy are coherent, consistent and clear. It will subsequently identify, whether these goals are being attained and the major failings of U.S. public diplomacy.
Carolina Paez Vacas
The Children of Chuzalongo: the Politics of Motherhood in Ecuador
In the 1990’s, for the first time, the Ecuadorian state addressed adolescent pregnancy as a public health problem. Despite two decades of public efforts to deal with this issue teenage pregnancies had climbed at alarming rates, therefore the implementation of laws, programs and strategies was considered an appropriate mechanism; unfortunately not even average results could be met as the more extensive the program the less positive the outcome. Current researches either investigate the causes of adolescent pregnancy or show how young women are disciplined into motherhood. My research situates daily actions that adolescent mothers display in order to provide care within a state project.
A comparative study of indigenous and rural communities’ responses to human rights abuses by extractive industries in Latin-America
My PhD aims to explore the links between private entities’ human rights abuses, community responses to those abuses, and the effects which may create human rights responsibilities/liabilities of non-state actors. To do so, this research will explore the struggle of communities against extractive industries in the Andean region of Latin America (specifically in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru), trying to identify the common/different strategies based on a human rights language and their outcomes.
South-South Cooperation in Latin America: The changing face of aid
My research looks at the role of emerging donors in Latin America and the impact they're having on aid delivery in the region. For decades, the donor countries making up the Development Assistance Committee have dominated the provision of aid to the Global South and been able to exert certain amounts of control on individual countries as a result. However, the South is now being offered an alternative system of aid, loans and assistance from countries that not long ago were aid recipients but due to their rapidly expanding economies have now undertaken the role of donors. These new donors are known for providing unconditional aid, promoting a sense of partnership rather than superiority, and respecting national sovereignty. In regards to Latin America, three major players have emerged - China, Brazil and Venezuela. Each of these nations has different motives and goals behind their aid agenda but together they are providing a significant challenge to traditional donors trying to retain influence in the region.
US Foreign Policy
Towards Afghanistan, 1979-2014: A Case Study of Constructivism in International Relations
A case study of US foreign policy towards Afghanistan from the Soviet intervention of 1979 to the exit of US/ISAF combat troops in 2014, my thesis examines how the interpretation of America’s interests and identity have shaped its long-term involvement with that country. This sets it apart from the existing literature, which predominantly emphasises how the US has been motivated by its own self-interest in its dealings with Afghanistan. Whilst it does not entirely reject the importance of both realist and neo-realist assumptions, this thesis mainly deploys a constructivist theoretical approach to achieve its objectives.
A relatively new framework in the field of international relations, constructivism provides a more nuanced and well-rounded background around which a nation’s foreign policy can be understood. It contends that collectively shared beliefs about a nation’s character and identity, rooted in its history, institutions, and people explain both how it interprets and why it engages in the foreign policies that it does. In the case of Afghanistan, Washington has believed it is the only nation capable of positively effecting change. This sense of US exceptionalism has continuously informed America’s policies towards that country, whether that was during the Cold War when it backed the ‘freedom fighters’ against the Soviet Union's occupation, or in the post-9/11 context when it has fought the influence of transnational terrorists.
Thus, although the thesis acknowledges how America's self-interest has played an important role in shaping its policies towards Afghanistan, it seeks to explain Washington's long-term involvement with that country by focusing primarily upon America’s values, assumptions and beliefs. This will enrich our understanding of US policy towards Afghanistan by providing a new perspective through which both those nations continuous, evolving, and complex relationship can be historically and contemporarily understood. The work also aims to contribute more broadly to international relations and US foreign policy scholarship through its interdisciplinary approach.
Effects of Higher Education on Gender Equality for Indigenous Women in Mexico
My research work draws upon the effects that Higher Education has upon Mexican indigenous women's roles within society. Higher education for indigenous women constitutes in itself a shift in the social arrangements within their communities, but as the process of education takes place, this shift might extend further and even reshape indigenous gender dynamics. It is important to understand how the acquisition of specific knowledge and the development of agency, critical consciousness and freedoms, encourage indigenous women to challenge existing structures of power and non-egalitarian social arrangements that surround them. My fieldwork will be with universities in the south of Mexico, like the ISIA in Oaxaca and the UNICH in Chiapas. I also expect that my research will explain the limitation of human capital theory to deal satisfactorily with issues of culture, gender and identity while making a case for the importance of embracing frameworks that take an account of various non-economic and social benefits of education, particularly when it comes to social minorities.
Socialism and Pan-Africanism in Britain, c.1928-1945
My research explores how the international movements of socialism and pan-Africanism intersected in Britain. It seeks to understand the reasons for both conflict and cooperation between black activists and socialist organisations, and to examine how the politics of class interacted with the politics of race and anti-colonialism. This serves as a corrective to histories of socialism which have overlooked the range of left-wing ideas about imperialism and the influence that black activists such as George Padmore and C.L.R. James had on the white Left, as well as to histories of pan-Africanism which have obscured or downplayed the Marxist or radical class politics of leading pan-Africanist figures. My thesis will also examine how transnational circuits of people and ideas impacted the arenas of politics and activism in Britain as a case study of internationalism from below in the era of the League of Nations and the Comintern.
The Testimony of Space: Exploring Sites of Violence and Memory in Peru's Internal Armed Conflict
Almost twenty-three years on from the capture and imprisonment of Abimael Guzmán, and twelve years since the publication of the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación’s Informe Final, the Shining Path insurrection which engulfed Peru in the last two decades of the twentieth century remains a highly political issue that raises questions of racism, justice and memory. However, whilst the current body of literature on the conflict has developed significantly during this time with contributions from many different academic fields, little attention has been paid to the spatiality of the conflict. Since the nineteenth century, Peru has been characterised as a nation divided into three spaces, each of which has its own spatial practice; la costa (the coast), la sierra (the highlands), la selva (the jungle). Spatial practices and processes not only produce violence, they shape ideas about, and the manifestation of, concepts including race, justice and memory. For this reason, my research project will attempt to fill the gap in the current body of literature from which a spatial approach to Peru’s internal armed conflict is missing.
Research students who have completed their studies at UCL-Institute of the Americas
The Inequality of Security in Rio de Janeiro
This research elaborates a new concept called the 'Inequality of Security' which shows how security is a societal good and human right that is inequitably distributed among Rio de Janeiro’s different social classes and geographic areas. The most important variable to consider for the Inequality of Security concept are the security providers – namely armed forces, police, UPPs, private security companies, drug trafficking factions and militias. Organised in a complex security network, these state and non-state actors deploy violence in multiple forms for their economic and political ends, forcing us to reconsider notions of citizenship and the rule of law.
The Southern Policy of Uysses Grant
My thesis is a revisionist history of the Southern policy of Ulysses S. Grant. Focussing almost entirely on the Grant Papers, my intention it to account for policy choices, and define Grant's Southern policy, primarily through an interpretation and analysis of his own words. My thesis analyses issues along racial and political lines so as to account for key policy choices made by Grant. Each chapter focuses on a specific stage in his public career linking personal beliefs or political aims to specific actions. By following a chronological order my thesis identifies a certain evolution within the policy but also emphasises a continuation of Civil War era ideals.
The Red Tandem: Conservative Republicans and Socialism in Contemporary America
My PhD thesis focuses on conservative Republican criticism of Democrats in post-Cold War America. From the conservative perspective, Democrats support policies that favour government over the free-market. Conservative rhetoric uses key words to further bolster their assertions. This rhetoric accuses Democrats of supporting core ideals which are liberal, socialist and un-American in their tendencies. The intent of conservatives is to portray their party as the party that will defend true and authentic American values against the liberal values of big government Democrats. In each chapter I analyse how Republican conservatism now embodies a movement that is much more flexible and extremist in its language, and as a result makes modern day Democrats (and even Republicans of previous eras) out to be supporters of socialism.
The 'double movement' in the Andes: land reform, land markets and indigenous mobilisation in Highland Ecuador (1964-1994)
My thesis explores land reform, land markets and indigenous mobilisation in Highland Ecuador through a Polanyian lens. Fresh insight is provided into the design and implementation of land reform, the construction and reconstruction of land markets, and indigenous struggles over land. I emphasize the crucial role indigenous organisation and mobilisation performed in implementing land reform and cast new light on the nature of the 1990 and 1994 indigenous levantamientos. The thesis also offers a fresh perspective on the use of Karl Polanyi’s concepts to explore social, political and economic change in Latin America. The contemporary relevance of the research is demonstrated through the analysis of natural resource conflicts under Rafael Correa, concentrating on indigenous and peasant attempts to bring the use and distribution of land under social control.
Carmen G. Sepulveda Zelaya
The Legal and
Political Battles Behind the Distribution of Emergency Contraception in Chile
under Ricardo Lagos (2000-2005) and Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010)
My research focuses on the legal
and political battles behind the distribution of emergency contraception in
Chile -- under
the Concertación governments of Ricardo Lagos (2000-2005) and Michelle
Bachelet (2006-2010). I am interested in the role of institutions and actors in
the policy process, particularly feminists, lawyers, and doctors, as well as
judges and courts within a context of increasing judicialisation of women’s
reproductive rights. I believe my research contributes to current debates on
feminist political science and sociology of law. My thematic interests include:
feminism, women’s movements, sexual and reproductive rights, gender and health,
abortion, public health, democratisation, judicialisation processes.
Diasporic Argentinean and Chilean identities in
Britain: The traces of dictatorship in second-generation postmemory
looks at second-generation Chileans and Argentineans living in the UK,
and their postmemories contained within their personal life
narratives in relation to the last military dictatorships in those
countries. It argues that within these individual memories formed in a
familial terrain, we can also trace the contours of a much more collective
memory that reflects a different and alternative memory landscape to that found
in the Southern Cone. My research interests are in intergenerational memory,
diasporic identities, exile, gender, oral history, and migration.
Youth Political Disaffection: Analyzing its historical trends
and its associated factors
This research aims to explain current high levels of political disaffection among Chilean youth. Since the return to democracy in 1990 Chile has experienced good levels of both economic development and political stability. However, with the pass of years the youth have increased their levels of hostility towards formal political institutions. Moreover, in recent times these feelings of disaffection have begun to be expressed through strong social movements. This dissertation intends to understand this problematic situation through both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the relationship between youth and the Chilean political system taking into account current popular mobilizations.
The Making of a Patronage Democracy: The Nature and Implications of Rampant Political Clientelism in Post-Independence Belize
Belize as an illustrative and critical national case study, the
thesis revisits the modern politics and democratisation experiences of the
Commonwealth Caribbean through the analytic lens of entrenched political
clientelism. It explores the origins of political clientelism in Belize since
adult suffrage and the emergence of political parties in the 1950s, tracks and
explains its rapid expansion and persistence in the post-independence (1981)
period, and critically assesses the implications presented for democratic
governance in Belize and other small states of the Commonwealth Caribbean. The research project is
being conducted with the support of a United Kingdom Commonwealth Scholarship.