Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Grads Present Work on Chile, Cities, and Public Health in Latin America

March 19, 2010

Graduate students Maria Bautista, James Doyle, and Andrea Maldonado recently presented their research in political violence, urban development, and public health in a graduate student forum titled "New Perspective on the State in Latin America," hosted by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Bautista’s work in political science is titled “Does Repression Increase Income Inequality? Evidence from Pinochet’s Dictatorship in Chile.” It explores the long term effects of Pinochet’s dictatorship on economic and political choices.

The dominant scholarship on income inequality in Chile centers on the instituted free market reforms, such as the deregulation of the trade regime, which globalized the economy but nonetheless left some behind. But what about the killing, job losses, and political persecutions that took place? Bautista asks. How did violence relate to the wider social project? 

Bautista is exploring such diverse factors as education levels, social capital, and political participation to draw the links she proposes. For example, she investigates political affiliation by finding out whether children whose parents were victims of the dictatorship are more likely to become conservative or liberal. 

Doyle’s anthropological work, titled “Cause or Consequence? Planned Monumentality and Population Growth in the Middle Preclassic Maya Lowlands” investigates the relationships among city planning, monuments, and population growth. He asks why humans – across time and culture – erect buildings bigger than they need. What are the meanings and motivations behind such endeavors? Do they represent the symbolic power of the state?  

Doyle has conducted research in Central Guatemala to explore the Middle Preclassic Maya Lowlands (extending from about 1000 to 300 BCE), where there was “excessive scale and architectural elaboration.” There, the cityscape resulted from both planned and unplanned processes – as a gradual development of non-monumental architecture, he said.

Such city features can illuminate the subtle power relations that exist among people over time. The state is recognized only through its effect and is never an empirical given, Doyle added.  

Maldonado’s anthropological research is titled “Culture: The New Drug of Choice in Mexico City.” It foregrounds new perspectives on the state in Latin America by investigating the state-sponsored promotion in Mexico City of “cultural medicine.”

Maldonado investigates the ways in which public officials constitute modern health care via the production and circulation of cultural techniques and knowledge. Why do these efforts prove successful among the urban poor as they accompany a decrease in medical care? Maldonado asks.  

There has been a mobilization of the concept of “culture” by the public health apparatus; for example, heart disease and diabetes are characterized as “cultural diseases” thus medicalizing culture, she said. By so doing, the state has succeeded in “obscuring the role of public institutions” in health provision, she says.      

All three of these projects have adopted both a micro- and macro-level perspective looking from above and from below to the state. They investigate how the responses projected by people affect state formation and vice versa.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Samura Atallah ‘11