Research Overview

Overview of Research

My research is in comparative politics, with a topical focus on development and democracy and a regional focus on Latin America and East Asia. In graduate school and for some years thereafter, my work dealt mainly with Argentine politics. I was interested in how labor unions have shaped Peronism, the Argentine political movement created in the 1940s by Juan Perón; and in how Peronism has shaped Argentine politics. I summarized my work on these topics in Peronism without Perón: Unions, Parties, and Democracy in Argentina (Stanford, 1997). Argentina captured my interest because I wanted to understand how a country that had become more and more prosperous and democratic from 1880 to 1930 could subsequently have been caught up in a downward spiral of weak or overbearing civilian governments alternating with periods of increasingly harsh military rule. I focused my research on labor unions partly because of their centrality in Peronism and in Argentine politics, and partly because I worked for a time as an organizer with the New York City local of the International Typographical Union.

My teaching at Wesleyan in the early 1990s introduced me to the work of the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, as well as to a rich literature on East Asian and Latin American development. Inspired by this work, I have refocused my more recent work to formulating an inclusive set of criteria that define human development, and to identifying reasons why diverse aspects of development have advanced at different rates in different places and periods. In particular, I have explored why some East Asian and Latin American countries have done better than others at promoting economic growth, reducing income inequality, alleviating poverty, and lowering the risk of early death. A product of this research is Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America (Cambridge, 2010). This research will, I hope, contribute to the understanding of the nature and causes of human development, and shed light on policies and circumstances that promote such development. In contrast to most current and past research, it conceptualizes national development in terms of the expansion of human potential, rather than in terms of economic achievements alone. The theory and analysis show that in previously unrecognized ways, some Latin American countries have developed more successfully than some East Asian societies that are often cited as models for other countries to emulate.