MSc International Relations of the Americas

Research Students

Current research students

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.

Catalina de la Cruz Pincetti

Determinants of subjective well-being in private life: new indicators, old inequalities? Evidence from Chile

Catalina de la Cruz

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. Firstly, I will quantify the magnitude of socioeconomic inequalities. Secondly, I aim to characterize institutional features that impact upon the sexual division of labour. Thirdly, in order to gather a subjective perspective, I will gather information from people who are economically active but live in poverty nonetheless. The outcomes of this research project 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


Enforced disappearances in Mexico are, nowadays, a public problem that needs to be studied. According to official sources, there are more than 26,000 people disappeared in the country. This research aims to analyse the discourses and the struggles of the relatives of the disappeared during the last presidential period (2006-2012) linking it with those of the disappeared in the 1970s. Through an analysis of public policies launched by the State, I will also try to understand why enforced disappearances have not been solved but rather have increased in a worrying proportion in Mexico. For this, I will use three theoretical frameworks: i) theories of memory and of dealing with the past, ii) discourse analysis and iii) Transitional Justice literature.

Michael J Espinoza

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.

Sarah Fearn

Finding Voice? Indigenous Political Participation and Institutional Continuity and Change in Peru


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

Daniela Giambruno Leal

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

Mario Hidalgo

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.

James Hillyer

Promoting Keynesian Liberalism: Walter W. Heller and U.S. Economic Policy, 1940 - 1987

James Hillyer

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.

Maximilian Hoell

What role for Washington? US hegemony and the diversification of Latin American international relations

Maximilian Hoell

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).

Sam Kelly

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.

Neil Kinghan

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.

Robbie Macrory

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.

Thomas Maier

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.

Lakkana Nanayakkara


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

Carolina Paez Vacas

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.

Juan Smart

A comparative study of indigenous and rural communities’ responses to human rights abuses by extractive industries in Latin-America

Juan Smart

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.

Bethany Tasker

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.

Anthony Teitler

US Foreign Policy Towards Afghanistan: Identity and Geostrategy


This study addresses the question how America’s perception of its interests and identity have shaped its involvement in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979 and especially in the post 9/11 milieu. A standard approach to understanding the current conflict is that the US is following its interests in order to reduce the terrorist threat and attempting to gain a long-term foothold in an important geo-political area. Elements that also need to be examined fully are the importance that identity and ideals contribute to how and why Washington constructs and implements its foreign policy. The US perceives itself as an exceptional nation and this identity has been a regular feature in the political rhetoric and discourse of American foreign policy from the origins of the republic to the present time. The study therefore will attempt to give a cohesive understanding of US strategy towards Afghanistan by emphasising the dialectical relationship between material and ideational factors in how and why the United States operates. In order to fully substantiate the work, I will be addressing US foreign policy through the two key prisms of the Cold War and 9/11.

Lupita Valdez

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.

Daniel Willis

The Testimony of Space: Exploring Sites of Violence and Memory in Peru's Internal Armed Conflict

Daniel Willis

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

Verena Brähler

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.

Richard Dotor

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.

Geoff Goodwin

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.

Alejandra Serpente

Diasporic Argentinean and Chilean identities in Britain: The traces of dictatorship in second-generation postmemory


My PhD 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.

Juan Venegas

Chilean 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.

Dylan Vernon

The Making of a Patronage Democracy: The Nature and Implications of Rampant Political Clientelism in Post-Independence Belize


Using 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.