Watson Institute at Brown University
Africa Initiative
Patrick Heller

Patrick Heller

+1 401 863 5357
111 Thayer Street, Room 263


Downloadable CV

Patrick Heller

Professor of Sociology and International and Public Affairs

Areas of Interest: Development, globalization, social theory, democratization, governance, urban transformation.


Patrick Heller is the Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences and professor of Sociology and International Affairs. His main area of research is the comparative study of social inequality and democratic deepening. He is the author of The Labor of Development: Workers in the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala, India (Cornell 1999) and co-author of Social Democracy and the Global Periphery (Cambridge 2006), Bootstrapping Democracy: Transforming Local Governance and Civil Society in Brazil (Stanford 2011) and Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies. He has published articles on urbanization, comparative democracy, social movements, development policy, civil society and state transformation. His work has included collaborations with the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi and the Bangalore-based NGO Janaagraha.

He teaches Theory and Research in Development (DEVL 2000), Contemporary Sociological Theory (SOC 2050), Comparative Political Sociology (SOC 2970), the Sociology of Power (2961D) and Globalization and Social Conflict (SOC 1620).


Urban governance and citizenship

Research in Brazil, South Africa, and India to explore the relationship between citizenship and the quality of urban governance, with a specific focus on the capacity of municipalities to promote inclusive development. Current research includes a 6,000 household survey in Bangalore (with Ashutosh Varshney) and fieldwork in 16 slums in New Delhi with a team of 5 graduate students.

Comparative democratic deepening

Under what conditions can democracy in the Global South be deepened? Based on extended research in India, Brazil, and South Africa, I am writing a book the explores the challenges and possibilities of deepening democracy in the three largest, but most unequal, democracies in the Global South.

Development and globalization

1) An edited volume with Vijayendra Rao (World Bank) on deliberation and development 2) an edited volume on comparative development with Richard Snyder that includes contributions from leading scholars and two former Presidents (Cardoso and Lagos) 3) a project on global governance and civil society with various Brown faculty



"The State and Development," (with Peter Evans), UNU-WIDER Working Paper 2018, no. 112/2018, Peer Reviewed, Published.

"The Democratic Deepening of Diverse and Unequal Societies: Brazil, India and South Africa Compared," Theory and Society, Peer Reviewed, In Revision. 

"The Developmental State, Race and Class in South Africa: A Spatial Approach," (with Marcelo Bohrt-Seeghers and Diana Graizbord), Sociology of Development, Peer Reviewed, In Revision.

"Engaging the State: Citizenship and Meditation in an Indian City," (wiith Siddarth Swaminathan and Ashutosh Varshney), American Journal of Sociology, Peer Reviewed, Under Review. 


"Civil Society and Social Movements in a Globalizing World," Background Paper for Human Development Report 2012: A Changing World and the Rise of the Global South, United National Development Program, April. Available as UNDP 2013 Human Development Report, Occasional Papers.


"Democracy, Participatory Politics and Development: Some Comparative Lessons from Brazil, India and South Africa," Polity, 44, 643-665.

"Human Development, State Transformation and the Politics of the Developmental State," (with Peter Evans) ed. Stephan Leibfried, Frank Nullmeier, Evelyne Huber, Matthew Lange, Jonah Levy & John Stephens, The Oxford Handbook of Transformations of the State, forthcoming.

"Movements, Politics and Democracy: Kerala in Comparative Perspective," in Routledge Handbook of Indian Politics edited by Atul Kohli and Prerna Singh. London, Routledge.


Bootstrapping Democracy: Transforming Local Governance and Civil Society in Brazil (co-authored with Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Marcelo Kunrath Silva). Stanford University Press.

"Making Citizens from Below and Above: The Prospects and Challenges of Decentralization in India," in Ruparelia, Sanjay and Sanjay Reddy, John Harriss and Stuart Corbridge (eds). Understanding India's New Political Economy, Oxfordshire: Routledge.


"The Spatial Dynamics of Middle Class Formation in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Enclavization and Fragmentation in Johannesburg," (with Amy Kraker-Selzer) Political Power and Social Theory, Volume 21.

"Legacies, Change and Transformation in the Post-Apartheid City: Towards an Urban Sociological Cartography," (with Daniel Schensul), International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.


Sociology 1620 – Globalization and Social Conflict

This course examines globalization as a multidimensional and open-ended process. A wide range of interpretations of globalization's impact and theories of its transformative dynamics are explored. The course takes for granted only four general propositions. First, to understand globalization it is necessary to understand the history and dynamics of capitalism as both an economic and social system. Second, though globalization is being driven primarily by economic forces, it is deeply and inextricably enmeshed with and mediated by social and political forces. Third, the intensity and effects of globalization are neither uniform nor linear. The impact of globalization varies dramatically across different nations, social classes and sectors, and produces a range of conflicts, reactions and recombinations. Fourth, by promoting interdependence globalization has created new opportunities and new challenges. Making the most of these opportunities (growth that is inclusive, democracies that are effective, and rights that are universal) and facing the various challenges (economic crises, climate change, terrorism, global diseases and new forms of inequality) requires new forms of coordination and cooperation between nation-states, and between states, capital and civil society. This in turn calls for a new regime of global politics.

The course is accordingly divided into six broad sections. The first explores the history of globalization through a close study of classical political economy and social theory. The second explores the historical and changing relationship of industrialized capitalist countries to the developing world. The third examines the nature of contemporary globalization and its impact on social structures and social compacts, national sovereignty and democracy. The fourth examines the current crisis of global capitalism, including the causes and effects of the September 2008 financial meltdown. The fifth examines countervailing forces to economic globalization, in particular reassertions of "traditional" identities, new social movements and the global democracy movement. The sixth explores the emergent and potential forms of global democracy, including new forms of extra-national authority and the power of global civil society. The course also develops all of these issues through selected case studies with a particular emphasis on the global south.

The course is designed not only to engage the debate on globalization, but also to develop a wide range of social sciences concepts and analytical tools. The course is informed by a sociological perspective, but readings and arguments draw extensively from political science, anthropology, geography and economics. Whenever possible, key themes are developed through comparisons and case studies.

Development Studies 2000: Theory and Research in Development

Understanding and promoting economic, social, and political development is one of the primary challenges for the world in the twenty-first century. Despite the tremendous efforts over the last fifty years, a large share of the world's population – in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and some of the Transition Economies – still lives in abject poverty. And while many countries have made the transition to democracy, pervasive inequalities, weak political institutions, and fragile civil societies pose significant challenges to the exercise of genuine democratic freedoms. Moreover, the "problem" of development has become an increasingly global challenge as issues of security, governance, economic stability, and environmental sustainability have become internationalized. Recent cases of economic collapse, political upheaval, and resurgent nationalism provide jarring reminders that we still have much to learn. Success stories that defy traditional trajectories of development – rapid and sustained growth in East Asia, cases of social development without growth, and waves of democratic transitions – call for new explanatory models. Coming to terms with these complexities requires modes of thinking, forms of knowledge, and tools of research that borrow from all the social sciences. DEVL 2000 is the first half of a two-semester course. Both courses are required for all students participating in the Graduate Program in Development. The course explores a range of substantive debates in development by drawing on empirical and theoretical work from the disciplines of anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology. The course has four objectives: 1) to provide students with a broad understanding of current debates and research on development; 2) to evaluate both the differences and complementarities among disciplinary perspectives; 3) to develop interdisciplinary analytic skills that can be applied to concrete research questions; and 4) to foster cross-disciplinary conversation and debate.

Sociology: Comparative Political Sociology – Soc 2960k

This course explores critical themes and debates in political sociology through a comparative lens. We focus on mostly contemporary debates. The central theme of the course is exploring the relationship between the state, civil society and politics in shaping democratization. We in turn examine recent debates in democratic theory, citizenship and social class, the relationship between capitalism and democracy, the specific problems of democracy in the global south, challenges for building democracy at the sub-national level and social movements.

This is a seminar. You are expected to come to class having carefully read the assigned readings and being fully prepared to discuss and debates materials.

Sociology: Contemporary Sociological Theory – Soc 2050

This course is not a survey course. It is not an overview of the state of contemporary sociology. Many theorists and traditions that deserve inclusion are absent. It is a course that instead focuses on developing theoretical skills by closely and intensely engaging a small number of texts by theorists who have been selected for their paradigmatic impact. Gramsci, Habermas, Foucault and Bourdieu all developed unique and comprehensive theories of modernity, and more specifically of bureaucratic and capitalist society. All engaged classical sociological theory. We will examine each of these theorists on their own terms, where they can be located with respect to the classical theorists (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) and where and how they compare to each other. Marx, Weber and Durkheim were concerned with the transition to capitalism and provided first-generation theories of the logic of modern society. In asking the question of how social order can be maintained in highly differentiated societies they respectively answered with theories of class domination, rationalization and integrative norms (organic solidarity). Gramsci updates Marxism by bringing in ideology and civil society, and in his theory of hegemony gives new life to class analysis. Habermas extends the concept of rationalization both to develop a theory of how the logic of the modern state (power) and the market (profit) have crowded out reason, but also to explore the emancipatory potential of civil society in his theories of the public sphere and communicative action. Bourdieu confronts the question of resilient class inequality in the context of formal legal equality to develop a theory of how everyday social practices reproduce social differences. And Foucault, the most central figure in the post-modern turn, provides a theory of the power-effects of knowledge. We then examine how a range of other recent theorists – most notably Nancy Fraser, Michael Burawoy, Adam Przeworski, Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Michele Lamont, Ranajit Guha and Jeffrey Alexander have used, critique and expanded on these theories. The last week will be dedicated to readings to be collectively determined.