Maxwell Cameron


Research Classification

Research Interests

Political Regimes (Democracy, Monarchy, Federalism, Parliamentarism, etc.)
Social Organization and Political Systems
Comparative Politics
Latin America
Practical wisdom

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

Comparative analysis
content analysis


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round

Democracy and democratization in Latin America; Global challenges of democracy; political ethics

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I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Under(mining) state authority: the politics of informal gold mining in Bolivia and Peru (2000-2017) (2021)

Scholarship on the 2000s commodity boom and its effects on state development in Latin America seldom accounts for the role of the extractivism of the poor, whose capacity to avoid regulation and shape policy outcomes poses a major challenge to state authority. This dissertation is a study of the conditions and mechanisms through which informal gold miners undermine state authority and its monopoly over key commodities. It builds on ten months of fieldwork in the largest gold mining regions in the Andes – rural La Paz in Bolivia and Madre de Dios in Peru – and in a case of more recent expansion – Tambogrande, Peru – and includes ethnographic work, 156 interviews and a survey of 100 people.This dissertation is composed of four papers. The first introduces the concept of organizational challengers – a state competitor whose power lies in the development of informal governance systems with stronger inclusionary capacity than the state – and compares state responses to informal mining in Bolivia and Peru. The second paper puts forward a comparative study of perceptions of mining at different scales in Tambogrande, where informal mining has recently proliferated unopposed while large-scale mining was resisted. The study reveals that the compatibility of informal mining with the local social order explains the difference in attitudes of communities towards different scales of mining. The third paper explains the functioning of informal gold mining governance systems in Santa Rosa, Bolivia and Huepetuhe, Peru. It shows how key practices from the Andean peasant tradition have crystallized into resource governance institutions whose unintended effects – such as the provision of basic infrastructure and labor opportunities – give these local systems a competitive advantage over the state.The fourth paper explains why despite the implementation of two different state strategies – an accommodating one in Bolivia and a coercive one in Peru – informal miners have nonetheless gained political influence. I find that miners take advantage of the fracture between the central state and its peripheral branches to form pressure groups in coalition with local authorities. These alliances function first as shields against regulation and then as springboards to push for policy change.

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Between Democratic Security and Democratic Legality: Discursive Institutionalism and Colombia's Constitutional Court (2016)

This dissertation seeks to explain why the Colombian Constitutional Court disallowed a referendum to extend presidential terms in 2010, when it allowed a similar reform in 2005. There are three elements to this decision that make it remarkable for institutional theory and comparative politics: 1) The sitting president, Álvaro Uribe, was an extremely popular and powerful president, who used his transformative capacities to initiate a far-reaching reform agenda; 2) the Court’s authority appreciably increased between 2005 and 2010; 3) the jurisprudence of the Court involved a doctrine that is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, but a re-interpretation of the norms outlining judicial review of constitutional reforms.This dissertation inserts the 2010 decision in the historical and political context and asks three questions that guide each chapter: 1) Does the 1991 Constitution amount to a critical juncture in Colombia’s political history? 2) Does the post-genesis evolution of Colombia’s constitutional jurisprudence follow a path-dependent logic? 3) Did judges follow strategic incentives when they developed and applied the substitution doctrine, which struck down Uribe’s reform to extent the number of terms in the presidential office?Building on the Colliers’ critical juncture framework, I show that the 1991 constituent process was a contingent event marked by genuine communicative action that incorporated sections from society previously marginalized, negotiated with important public input, and entirely restructured the meaning of the organizational imperatives of the polity. Contrary to expectations from the discontinuous change model, post-genesis development cannot be fully captured by path dependence, but involves incremental changes of institutional learning inside the judiciary. The investigation into the re-election decisions will show that institutional learning depends on carefully administered spaces of deliberation inside the Court that buttress the cohesion of legal reasoning. Altogether, this leads me to view institutions not as structured expectations in a game between rational actors or regularized patterns of conducts, but discursive structures, in which actors negotiate the meaning and significance of norms with reference to a constitutional text and the intention of the constituents that drafted the charter in the first place. The constitutional judge is a deliberative judge.

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The Social Origins of State Capacity: Civil Society, Political Order and Public Goods in France (1789-1970) and Mexico (1810-1970) (2015)

States are expected to raise revenue through taxation, provide security, enforce rights, deliver public services, and build infrastructure. However, contemporary states vary in their ability to perform these tasks. In order to explain variation, I conceptualize state capacity as the ability of the state to coordinate large-scale collective action. I then argue that variation in state capacity is the result of alternative, multi-level and path-dependent solutions that societies adopt to establish political order. At the micro-level, the strategies that individuals use to collectively make demands on political authorities define the ways in which rulers try to remain in power and maintain stability. This in turn determines, at the macro-level, the ability of those authorities to perform other complex coordination tasks associated with collecting taxes, providing security, and delivering public goods and services. The dissertation tests this theory of political development through a comparative historical analysis of France (1789-1970) and Mexico (1810-1970). During the 1920s and 1930s, the political incorporation of the popular classes—workers, peasants, and lower middle classes—meant that the state had to obtain the support of a greater percentage of the people to maintain order. As a result, these states had to expand the size and scope of their activities and thus to coordinate collective action at a much larger scale than before. Their success or failure in facing those challenges can be traced back to the types of organizations that the popular classes adopted to interact with the state before and during the period of incorporation. In France, these groups mobilized through autonomous, impersonal and internally democratic organizations that demanded public goods, monitored authorities, and resisted the capture of the state by private interests. In Mexico, the popular classes were incorporated through personalistic and hierarchical organizations that interacted with the state as subordinate clients demanding rents and privileges. Even though both patterns of incorporation were effective in maintaining order during the 20th century, they had opposite effects on the long-term ability of these states to coordinate other forms of large-scale collective action, such as those posed by the requirements of taxation and public goods provision.

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Instituting Power: Power Relations, Institutional Hybridity, and Indigenous Self-governance in Bolivia (2014)

Scholars have long observed that institutions and power relations are cyclically constitutive, as institutions shape a given polity’s power relations, and the latter influence the design of institutions. This dissertation unveils how indigenous agents interact with each other, and with the state’s bureaucrats and consultants to create divergent institutional trajectories in a new institutional environment: the construction of 11 pilot institutions of indigenous self-governance in Bolivia, as provided by the 2009 Constitution. The combinations of institutional forms have most significantly been shaped by local relations of power among differently identifying indigenous agents, and by the state-determined socio-territorial boundaries that are the site of institutional construction. Each new “indigenous autonomy” combines liberal and indigenous norms, constituting a hybrid model of indigenous autonomy. Within that model we can discern a bifurcation in which some institutions are more liberal and others are more communitarian.These observations contribute to our understanding of democracy and citizenship in contemporary Latin America as states respond to popular pressures for more rights and inclusion, in what many have called “left turns.” In terms of democracy, this study illustrates how electoral representation is complemented by communitarian democratic forms in ways that enhance Bolivia’s historically exclusionary democracy, yet how elaboration of communitarian democracy is also constrained by the party-based system of representation. Meanwhile, the Constitution’s expansion of rights has contributed to what some observers have called “post- liberal” citizenship. This investigation indicates that state-society relations in Bolivia are not well-characterized as populist, liberal or corporatist; rather, they are concomitantly plural, cyclical and reactive – which I conceive of as interest intermediation by “contentious bargaining.”The contradictions in the construction of these “indigenous autonomies” are a consequence the changing character of the ruling party. As the Movement toward Socialism and its leader, Evo Morales, have shifted from an oppositional force to elected government, they have contended with a complex correlation of social forces and pursued a development program of resource nationalism that responds to widespread calls for economic growth and poverty reduction. In Bolivia’s contentious context, the state’s disposition with regard to indigenous self- governance has been contradictory, simultaneously enabling and constraining indigenous rights.

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Access to Power: Hegemonic Party Rule in Singapore and Taiwan (2011)

My dissertation investigates the sources of hegemonic party resilience. I ask why do some hegemonic party regimes persist, while others concede to multipartism? Building on party politics and electoral authoritarianism literature, I develop a mid-range theory based on the concepts of strategic coordination and institutionalization to explain why elites unite and oppositions fail to pose a credible threat. To demonstrate the utility of my explanation, I compare two similar hegemonic parties of different outcomes: the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore and the Kuomintang Party (KMT) in Taiwan.I posit three factors to account for hegemonic party resilience. First, I contend that a hegemonic party that is adept in strategic coordination – by providing public goods and withdrawing political, civil liberties and media freedom – is more likely to win mass support and deter opposition coordination. Both the PAP and early KMT were high performing, strategic regimes that enjoyed growth and forestalled democratization. While the PAP remained the ruling party in Singapore, the KMT controlled the pace of liberalization during its long decade of transition, losing power after a party split. Second, I argue that the PAP is better than the KMT in keeping the ruling elites united because of its institutionalized leadership succession system. I develop a model to explain how a centralized, oligarchic and exclusionary leadership selection method fosters elite unity. My findings based on elite interviews, party publications and survey data support the counter-intuitive theory that the more intra-party democracy, the less party cohesion. Finally, in hegemonic party regimes, survival means increasing the certainty of winning. Through electoral engineering, the incumbent is able to institutionalize an uneven playing field that systematically disadvantages the opposition. By analyzing the mechanical and psychological effects of electoral reforms, I offer new empirical evidence to show how the PAP “manufactured” its legislative supermajority to rescue its declining popular votes. The contrasting study of the KMT highlights how a former hegemonic party transforms and adapts as a dominant party to survive the uncertainty of elections.

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The influence of sociotropic judgment on public perceptions of trade liberalization: distributional judgment and institutional factors (2011)

This dissertation sheds new light on the question of why some individuals and some countries are more protectionist than others, by applying findings from public opinion studies to the topic. More specifically, by addressing the gap between the predictions of economic trade theories and the findings of public opinion studies, I examine non-economic determinants of individual attitudes toward trade policies, and institutional factors as an intervening variable that could mediate or exacerbate protectionist sentiment. This dissertation consists of five separate papers each of which tackles a different theoretical or empirical puzzle: why is there a discrepancy in views on trade liberalization between economists and the public; why are females more protectionist than males; does more spending on welfare bring about more public support for openness; what explains the recent protectionist backlash in Korea, an export-oriented economy where there is a public consensus on the positive impact of trade on the national economy; and does democratization lead to more economic openness as predicted by factor endowment models? Each chapter provides answers to each puzzle by utilizing three different methods that include survey experiments, survey analyses, and content analyses. The findings of the five papers converge on the following two: (1) positive effects of income growth on support for trade are significantly offset by concerns with the effect of trade liberalization on domestic social and economic arrangements, e.g., increasing inequality and poverty; (2) the negative effects of such communitarian concerns on support for trade are magnified by a lack of public confidence in their government’s effectiveness and responsiveness.The importance of the communitarian critiques of trade liberalization in shaping trade attitudes not only suggests that trade-induced economic growth does not necessarily lead to public support for greater trade openness; but it also suggests that the prediction of the factor endowment models that the electorates (the median voter) in capital scarce countries prefer more openness is flawed. The findings also suggest that new democracies often characterized by weak political institutions and rule of law are not necessarily in a better position than their authoritarian counterparts to garner public support for trade liberalization.

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Bringing the judiciary back in : an analysis of the impact of executive-judicial relations on democratic institutional stability in Venezuela (2009)

Using a method of process tracing based on in-depth elite interviews, this dissertation examines the relationship between presidentialism and the rule of law in Venezuela. It finds that the perils of presidentialism—minority government, coalitions, deadlock, term limits and fixed terms—lead to institutional instability when they interact with low rule of law. Institutional instability occurs when one branch of government threatens or attacks another. Instead of exploring regime level stability this dissertation argues that state level factors more accurately capture problems associated with democracy. Rather than focusing on executive-legislative relationships, as much of the literature does, I argue that the judiciary is an important determinant of democratic governance. This dissertation shows how an examination of executive-judicial relationships helps explain dynamics leading to institutional instability in presidential systems. Interviews revealed that institutional instability was associated with judicial non-independence in three periods of Venezuela’s democratic history. During the Punto Fijo era political parties supplanted state institutions that are necessary foundations for democracy; in the transition period the gravity of the problems of a non-independent judiciary became evident; and during the Bolivarian period, the interaction between a low rule of law and presidentialism led to institutional instability. An examination of the precarious executive-judicial relationship in Venezuela builds on previous studies of instability to provide a more complete account for the decline of a seemingly stable democracy. Specifically, it provides a case study of an unstable presidential democracy to show how presidentialism contributes to institutional instability when the rule of law is weak. Finally, the dissertation contributes to shifting the analytical focus of the democratization literature from regime to state. This shift in analysis shows that satisfying the minimal regime criteria for democracy, such as elections, is insufficient to ensure institutional stability, and perhaps continued democracy. For free and fair elections to be meaningful state institutions must be capable of restraining executive power.

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Undertow in the third wave : understanding the reversion from democracy (2009)

In 2007, the world suffered a net decline in freedom for the second successive year for the first time in fifteen years. There are indications of global democratic stagnation. Coups and democratic reversions continue to occur. Why do regimes sometimes experience reversions away from democracy? An analysis of data from 1972-2003 indicates that for every $1 increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, the odds of a democratic reversion decrease 0.2%; for each 1% increase in GDP growth, the odds of a democratic reversal decrease 9.2%; and, for each 1 unit increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI), there is a 4.1% increase in the likelihood of democratic reversion. When the analysis is limited strictly to a comparison of democratic reversion cases and ongoing democratic regimes, variables addressing political institutional configurations, vulnerabilities to international pressures and civilian control over the military are either insignificant or provide very little purchase for explaining variance on the dependent variable. The dissertation includes thirty case studies of reversions from democracy, representing one universe of such cases from 1975-2003. Based on an analysis of these cases, several conclusions may be drawn. On economic issues, the case studies indicate we should be cautious in overstating the importance of economic performance and they draw attention to the problematic nature of analyses based on one year lags. The importance of legislative gridlock, particularly during an economic crisis is highlighted. High levels of legislative fractionalization are found to increase reversion risks. Younger democracies are also found to be more vulnerable, as each additional year a democratic regime is in existence decreases reversion risks by 3.8%. The consideration of international influences on costs associated with reversion decisions is found to be relevant. The case analysis indicates attempts to assert civilian control over the military are likely to increase reversion risks. Based on a rational choice analysis and a case study of the Philippines, higher levels of democratic uncertainty are found to reduce reversion risks by allowing actors to tolerate lower levels of goods in light of the potential for future democratic change.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Interdependent solidarity : a comparative case study of participatory communities in southwest Mexico (2023)

In a collective, the unconstrained will of the rational individual may seek to maximize self-interested ventures at the group's expense, making collective governance an unsustainable option. This dilemma refers to the free rider problem, which may be solved in some ways, including by the state or through a market-based control system of monitoring and sanctioning. Two significant issues arise from this vision: 1) both the state and agents controlling private property-based institutions, unchecked by higher constraints, will also seek to maximize self-interest at the cost of the collective, and 2) individuals are constitutive of collectives and collectives are constitutive of individuals, dynamically informing interests, preferences and decisions. I argue that interdependent solidarity, an underappreciated relational factor, can act as a social "control" mechanism in a participatory community, ensuring sustainability. Using descriptive cases of participatory communities of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Michoacán/Guerrero, all subnational units within Southwest Mexico, this essay aims to demonstrate the existence of mechanisms fostering perceived and acknowledged interdependence supervening over individualistic market logics.

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Explaining contentious collective action over the environmental impacts of oil: the state and indigenous organizations in the Peruvian Amazon (2006-2019) (2021)

What determines the dynamics of contention and actors' engagement in collective action? Social movement research focuses on civil society's power to organize and react to challenges and emphasizes the importance of social movement autonomy. I argue that although social movements may have the autonomous capacity to respond to and to produce changes, the state's capacity and political will to implement policy critically shapes the political environment and cycle of contention within which social movements operate. The state is at once the source of citizens' grievances and deprivations and potentially the source of solutions--whether in terms of allocating goods and services or opening and closing the policy arena for political participation. I evaluate this argument by analyzing Amazonian Indigenous organizations and their struggle regarding oil extraction in Block 192 in Loreto, Peru. The Peruvian state is often reactive but not responsive to its population's needs and demands due to its lack of capacity and political will to implement change. This thesis examines state capacity and will in terms of the exercise of authority and policy implementation. It concludes that the broader political environment creates incentives for the emergence, development and strengthening of social movements and the persistence of the social conflict between movements and the state.

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Neoliberalism and the erosion of the American criminal (in)justice system: a COVID perspective (2021)

This paper examines the corrosive effects of neoliberalism on the U.S. criminal-justice system in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. I argue that neoliberalism, specifically a neoliberal governing rationality, has intensified the harms caused by the criminal-justice system-- harms that are rooted in the histories and legacies of slavery and racial injustice in the United Sates. The pandemic has exacerbated these harms in two ways. First, it has exposed the contradictions inherent in the classifications of labor, specifically in the realm of penal labor, and the impact that these categorizations have on the material conditions of workers and the value of labor. Next, I show how a neoliberal governing rationality has also strengthened the power and reach of the carceral state by reinforcing the myth of public safety that is predicated on tough-on-crime policies. Finally, I argue that the only strategy to confront the harmful effects of neoliberalism is through adopting radical frameworks for change, such as abolition.

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The drug war is a flat circle: drug prohibition as a neoliberal project (2021)

Despite mounting evidence of neoliberalism’s failures in domains of society, economy, and ecology, neoliberal governance has grown more dominant and pervasive. Neoliberalism’s failures are matched by its capacity, both material and ideological, to inhibit or eliminate alternatives. Instead of Schumpeterian creative destruction, neoliberalism offers governance through the destructive foreclosure of alternatives. The persistence of drug prohibition shares in the broader neoliberal pattern of governance through alternative-foreclosing policy disasters, and has been instrumental in the pattern’s development. This connection is expressed in two especially prominent ways: (1) the creation and empowerment of organizations which bear material interest in continuing both the illicit drug trade and the policy of drug prohibition, and (2) the simultaneous obfuscation and reproduction of historical forms of oppression, including racial capitalism and Eurocoloniality. Consequently, attempts to challenge drug prohibition on the grounds of its failure to meet its declared objectives – improving public health and safety – fail in-part because they miss the ways drug prohibition serves broader neoliberal governance. Considering different proposals for drug policy reform, I demonstrate that effective drug policy reform necessitates contesting or uprooting the neoliberal foundations of drug prohibition.

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Mining Power: subnational participation in social conflicts in Peru (2018)

Rising levels of social mobilization occurred throughout the period of the recent commodity boom in the Andes (2000-2013), adding leverage to the resource curse literature. Surprisingly, the mobilizations have incorporated a new active participant: mayors and governors. They have been participating in the mobilizations, both peacefully and violently, often attracting the attention of the mass media and national authorities. The participation of subnational authorities in these mobilizations is a new phenomenon, one that has not yet been systematically studied. This research deepens our understanding of the resource curse and its impact in Latin American democracies by showing how the participation of subnational authorities in social conflicts is motivated by mining-extraction dependency and political weakness.

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Political participation on the prairies: historical institutionalism and the economic determinants of voter turnout in Alberta and Saskatchewan (2018)

Turnout at Canadian elections has been declining considerably since the 1980s yet much of the literature on turnout is dominated by behaviouralism which offers value in predicting the voting behaviour of individuals but struggles to account for long-term trends at the aggregate level. This is particularly pressing in Canada where turnout differs substantially between provinces, nowhere more so than between Alberta and Saskatchewan whose political differences, despite their similarities elsewhere, illustrates the regionalized nature of politics in Canada. This paper will seek to apply the two most prevalent theoretical understandings of regionalism, formal institutional approaches and political culture approaches, to demonstrate that neither offers entirely adequate explanations when tested against such challenging cases. Instead it will be argued that to resolve the undetermined causal logic of these approaches to understand turnout in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the historical agricultural development of the provinces must be examined to understand the formation of cleavages along class and ownership of land that continue to determine political behaviour. Such a re-conceptualization will be presented through the lens of historical institutionalism, which argues that historical economic processes create informal institutions, as norms and rules of behaviour, that are relatively static and durable in the face of subsequent change but continue to frame perceptions and guide decision making, thereby determining the political behaviour of individuals. By considering the historical sources of political differences in Canada and how these attitudes emerged through relationships of power and economic exploitation with other parts of the country, it is hoped that more productive steps can be taken to begin rebuilding trust in state institutions and creating the conditions for the evolution of new norms which may foster greater participation.

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Democracy for Sale: The Marketization of Canadian Political Discourse and its Implications for Democratic Citizenship (2015)

An increasingly popular subject of focus within political science literature is the marketization of political discourse (Fairclough, 1995; Prince 2001; Simpson & Cheney, 2007). This article complements this body of literature by analysing how market-based discourse reinforces a passive frame of citizenship within Canadian politics. Market discourse utilizes concepts, values, and vocabularies commonly found in the marketplace – the language of branding, consumer satisfaction, efficiency and productivity – and applies it to the political realm. This paper argues that the marketization of political discourse frames politics as an area of social life predominantly concerned with the maximization of individual self-interest. In order to support this examination, political discourse analysis is combined with framing theory to analyse taxation discourse in party platforms from the 2011 Canadian federal election. Applying the frames to the party platforms reveals how market-based discourse reinforces a passive frame of citizens as self-interested, financially-motivated, and antisocial individuals. Marketization represents a worrisome trend in Canadian politics as it threatens to hollow out the public sphere by developing a consumption-oriented, self-interested civic culture.

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Keeping Corporations Accountable: The Role of Empathy (2015)

This paper is concerned with the potential role of empathy within the corporate entity. Consciously building empathy through an interactive and reciprocal communicative process could carry substantive importance for improving corporate capacity and morality. I argue that empathetic relationships are those in which each party attempts to understand and respect the other’s point of view, creating a platform of reciprocity from which further cooperation can be undertaken (despite dissenting viewpoints). Achieving this is only possible through corporate accountability at multiple levels of operation, to ensure the moral functioning of all the parts within the whole. In nations like Peru, which is particularly vulnerable to conflict between corporate and stakeholder interests, empathy has enormous potential to improve the quality of the engagement throughout the exploration, extraction, and exploitation of its natural resources. This requires interactive two-way dialogue between company and community to help define the needs of the community and inform the values of the company.

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Populism and the Second Crisis of Incorporation in Latin America (2010)

Beginning with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, populist leaders have come to power in many Latin American countries. I argue that this recent wave of populism results from demands for incorporation made by marginalized, unorganized groups. Their demands are a reflection of acute inequality and, when aggregated, lead to crisis. Populist movements, parties, and leaders tend to emerge during such crises because they are able to take advantage of the presence of groups that become de-incorporated or that were never incorporated and mobilize them within existing state structures. This is a distinctive pattern in highly unequal societies where a full set of rights and freedoms has not been universalized. I illustrate the usefulness of my approach by applying it to the rise of Chávez in Venezuela. I conclude that, where populism enables meaningful incorporation of marginalized groups, it may ultimately provide an improved basis for long-term democracy in Latin America.

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