Violence and Informal Institutions

This area of my research works to understand how states' co-production of administration with different non-state actors shapes violence and stability in the long run.

Security and Non-State Governance: Evidence from Rural Mexico. Dissertation Chapter.

Weak states employ various strategies to reach into their periphery, including using corporatist organizations to govern the rural poor and administer rural land. While corporatist organizations were generally designed to ensure state capture, these structures present additional legacies in the countryside, including for security. I advance a theory which argues that -- under certain conditions -- local organizational capacity preserved by corporatist organizations can improve security through substituting organizational capacity for state capacity to co-produce security. I test this theory drawing on data from México's agrarian reform. I find that corporatist organizations endowed with two key traits -- participatory practice and social control -- better resisted increases in violence and cartel presence associated with México's drug war. These findings have implications for a vast literature which studies the relationships between violence, property rights, and state capacity, as well as for contemporary security-building.

Complicit states and the governing strategy of privilege violence: When weakness is not the problem

With Rachel Kleinfeld. Annual Review of Political Science 21 (2018): 215-238.

This article seeks to explain why some high-capacity democracies have high levels of internal violence. These regimes present a puzzle: Why are bureaucratically capable states that ostensibly answer to voters failing to provide security? Challenging the “weak states” paradigm, we argue that states with high capacity and significant violence within marginalized populations exhibit a governance pattern in which governing factions deliberately weaken security services and collude with non-state violent actors to maintain power and ensure extreme levels of privilege and impunity. Although these states do not feature ideal-type institutions, they are not weak. Instead, economic and political elites are complicit in enforcing a system of material inequality and uneven democratic incorporation maintained by violence. As politicized security agencies become incapacitated and repressive, citizens turn to non-state security providers for protection, from private firms to criminals and insurgents, increasing social violence and obscuring the state origins of what we term privilege violence.