I study why and how marginalized people engage the state. I work with street vendors and have two main research agendas around collective action, corruption, and informal work. Please contact me for replication files.

Articles and Working Papers

Do Poor Citizens Benefit from Mega-Events? São Paulo’s Street Vendors and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.” 2018. Latin American Politics and Society 60(4).

International mega-events inject millions of dollars into hosts’ economies, yet few studies assess which citizens benefit from events and which do not. Governments justify their bids on mega-events by arguing that infrastructure projects, event-related jobs, and tourist spending benefit many citizens. However, researchers find mixed impacts on host economies and the average citizen. Scholars and activists argue that a few businesses benefit while high prices and event-specific laws exclude poor citizens. Under what conditions do poor citizens benefit from mega-events? This article analyzes original interview, survey, and participant observation data on street vendors in São Paulo, Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The project finds that most street vendors lost money while a minority made record profits. Those that benefitted from the event used brokers, bribes, and pockets of forbearance to circumvent FIFA’s exclusionary rules.

Bribery Cartels: Collusive Corruption in Bolivian Street Markets.” 2018. Latin American Research Review 53(2).

Many Bolivians engage in corruption through intermediaries, like civil society representatives and lawyers, instead of paying officials directly. People vocally resent that intermediaries add an extra layer of costs and opaqueness to corruption, but still choose to pay bribes through intermediaries that knowingly take advantage of them. Why do intermediaries facilitate corruption? While other studies on corrupt intermediaries find that they reduce uncertainty and transaction costs, this study contributes to corruption research by finding that intermediaries engage in cartel-like behavior by disproportionally helping officials and intentionally increasing uncertainty and costs for the average citizen. Ethnographic evidence from street markets in La Paz demonstrates that civil society actors like street vendors’ union representatives advance their careers by collecting and delivering bribes to specific bureaucrats. Collusive relationships between bureaucrats and intermediaries hide and perpetuate corruption, while giving the appearance of a transparent government that is responsive to civil society.

Disobedient Markets: Street Vendors, Enforcement, and State Intervention in Collective Action.” Appendix. 2017. Comparative Political Studies 50(11):1524-1555.

At 50% of the global workforce, informal workers constitute a large, diffuse, and resource-poor group with high barriers to collective action. Contrary to scholars’ expectations, informal workers organize to varying degrees in most countries, and states often encourage them to do so. Why do some informal workers organize while others do not? I argue that states can intervene in informal workers’ collective action decisions: As enforcement costs increase, states may pay informal workers to organize, and then bargain with the resulting organization over self-regulation. I present a game theoretic model of state intervention in collective action and illustrate it with original ethnographic, survey, and interview evidence from street markets in La Paz, Bolivia. I suggest that informal workers interact strategically with states and conclude with implications for formalization policies.

“Street Vendors and the Politics of Gender Representation.” 2016. Revista Umbrales 29: 331-359. Available in English or Spanish.

In La Paz, Bolivia, 80% of street vendors are women and 75% belong to street vendor unions. However, most high-profile leadership positions belong to men. Why do men represent and lead majority female civil society organizations? I suggest that informal bureaucratic practices intervene in organizational gender dynamics and influence who attains positions of power in civil society groups. This influence is particularly strong in sectors where the survival of the organization depends on the leadership’s relationship with bureaucratic authorities, such as street vending. I develop the argument through an ethnographic case study of a street vendor federation in La Paz.

Working Papers

Do Political Finance Laws Reduce Corruption? With John Gerring and Thomas Burt. 

Most countries regulate political finance and many offer public subsidies to political parties or candidates. Proponents of political finance regulations claim that public money reduces corruption in politics, while opponents worry that public subsidies have no impact on corruption and in some cases may add to it. Despite national-level debates and billions of taxpayer dollars, few studies test this relationship. We argue that political finance subsidies reduce corruption by reducing the influence of private money in politics and increasing legal and media sanctions for corrupt behavior. We evaluate the argument with an original dataset measuring political subsidies from 154 countries from 1900-2012, as well as disaggregated corruption measures from the Varieties of Democracy project. We also conduct a case study of political finance regulations in Paraguay. Our findings suggest that political finance subsidies reduce corruption, and particularly embezzlement, even in countries where regulations are unevenly implemented.

Why the Working Poor Organize: An Ethnographic and Machine Learning Analysis of Civil Society Participation.” Appendix. Presented at the American Political Science Association 2016 conference.

Why do the working poor participate in civil society in some places but not others? Most working adults around the world lack the material resources and social capital associated with civil society participation. Yet people participate where existing theory predicts that they abstain: witches and fortunetellers working on the streets in Bolivia frequently unionize. When poor workers participate in civil society organizations, they often improve their working conditions and political representation. I argue that states with lower capacity offer incentives to people who can organize representative, self-regulating groups. Individuals with the resources to take advantage of these incentives then create civil society organizations and recruit colleagues to join. I develop the argument with comparative case studies of street vendors in La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia and São Paulo, Brazil and perform preliminary tests with logistic regression and machine learning analyses of self-employed people across the Americas.


Book Project

“Why Informal Workers Organize: State Intervention in Collective Action”

Why do informal workers organize, given the high barriers to collective action that they face? Contrary to many scholars’ expectations, informal workers organize in nearly every major city on every continent and they are often encouraged to do so by bureaucrats and politicians. I demonstrate that in some situations, governments offer private benefits to informal workers who organize self-regulating associations, which solves the workers’ collective action problem. This leads to another puzzle: why do governments pay people to organize, especially people who routinely violate the law? I argue that where people find it easier to violate a policy than to comply, many will break the law, which drives up enforcement costs for the state. Where the state cannot stop violators or curtail violations, the state may find it cheaper to pay violators to organize a self-regulating group than to enforce the law itself. The state can then bargain over legalization, regulation, and enforcement with a representative group. I conclude that informal workers interact strategically with the state, forming organizations in some contexts and remaining atomized actors in others.

I develop the theory through a formal model of collective action that endogenizes selective incentives and then illustrate the model with an ethnography of street markets in La Paz, Bolivia and present a preliminary machine learning analysis on out-of-sample data. The main contribution of this project is to demonstrate broad conditions under which informal workers and other low-resource actors can organize, as well as conditions under which states legalize grey markets. These conditions imply that informal workers’ organizations are not anomalies; we should expect interactions between informal workers and authorities to produce outcomes including organization and legalization wherever workers induce the state to offer private benefits. The second contribution of the project is a simple formalization of political context that demonstrates that these outcomes are interactive as opposed to top-down: informal workers and authorities create the environment in which they make decisions about collective action. Finally, this project demonstrates that there are conditions under which the state has an incentive to encourage civil society to organize, but that this process may also encourage corruption.