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Inequality and Violence in Latin America

Summer 2023

Project Background

This project aims to make sense of two inter-related puzzles in contemporary Latin American politics. First, just as the region has witnessed historic declines in income inequality in the past two decades, the region has also seen an alarming increase in crime and violence. These empirical trends run counter to the predictions of political economy literature, which expect declining inequality to increase the opportunity costs of joining illicit organizations or deploying violence. Second, at the individual level, survey data consistently reveal an inverse relationship between exposure to crime or violence and subjective perceptions of insecurity. In other words, those least likely to experience crime and violence are those most likely to fear them. This project takes these paradoxical observations as its point of departure, and aims to better understand 1) the relationship between societal levels of economic inequality and the prevalence of violence, and 2) how class (and other) subjectivities impact perceptions of crime and violence, as well as preferences for policy responses to violent crime. More broadly, this project aims to better understand the relationship between economic inequality and violent crime, and interrogate the challenges or dilemmas that democracies face when aiming to address the most pressing issues facing their citizens.

Student Role

Students working on this project will be tasked with four main research tasks:

  1. Compiling annotated bibliographies related to political violence, class politics and identity, and inequality/redistribution;
  2. Assist in compiling national and subnational datasets on crime and violence across Latin America;
  3. Identifying, compiling and cleaning microlevel survey data (national and subnational) on crime and violence across Latin America; and
  4. Assisting in the design and implementation of an original survey instrument.

Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits

This project will give students hands-on experience with beginning a new research project, including:

  • conducting exploratory reading and literature review;
  • specifying research questions;
  • collecting preliminary data;
  • deriving existing and developing new hypotheses; and
  • designing survey instruments for original data collection.

Overall, this would be an excellent opportunity for students interested in conducting their own independent research or pursuing doctoral studies or policy-focused research in the future.

David De Micheli

Assistant Professor
Social & Behavioral Science
Political Science

My mentoring philosophy is guided by the goal of providing students with the guidance and support they need to conduct research independently and with direction. Mentoring will entail routine meetings and check-ins for students to report progress, bring up any unforeseen challenges, and to discuss next steps. Generally, I view the collaborative research experience as an opportunity for students to experience the "sausage-making" of research firsthand. But by asking them to serve in an "assistant" role, I hope that these lower stakes also allow students to make mistakes or encounter the roadblocks that one must overcome when conducting social science research. I consider this one of the most important aspects of gaining research experience. My personal mentoring objective is to leave students with not only technical skills they need to conduct independent research, but also the confidence that is needed to execute tasks and see research projects to the end.