Weak Institutions in Latin America: New Theoretical and Empirical Approaches

May 9–10, 2016

This conference is closed to the public.

Over the last three decades, scholars of comparative political institutions have taken advantage of the variation generated by the spread of democratic institutions in the developing world to deepen our understanding of the incentives underlying political behavior. Recently, however, scholars of Latin America and other developing regions have expressed new skepticism concerning the role of institutions in structuring political behavior, pointing to the frequent failure of formal institutions to produce the expected results. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that weak institutions have important consequences for political and economic outcomes in areas as diverse as constitutional design, judicial politics, party politics, executive-legislative relations, macroeconomic policy making, social policy, labor and environmental regulation, tax policy, central bank autonomy, bureaucracies, and civil-military relations.

Although it is now widely accepted that institutions vary in strength, and that this variation matters, empirical research on institutional weakness has lagged behind. As a result, the causes and consequences of theory-building remain underdeveloped. This conference seeks to advance empirical research on weak institutions by bringing together scholars who are developing new strategies to measure variation in institutional strength and empirically test its causes or consequences. By fostering an ongoing conversation among scholars working on a range of institutions in diverse national contexts, the conference hopes to develop measurement tools and empirical strategies in order to create and rigorously test emerging hypotheses about variation in institutional strength across Latin America.


Steven Levitsky

Executive Committee; Steering Committee; Faculty Associate. Professor of Government, Department of Government; Harvard College Professor, Harvard University.

Daniel Brinks

Associate Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin.

M. Victoria Murillo

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Columbia University.

See also: Conferences, 2016