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

Disobedient Markets: Street Vendors, Enforcement, and State Intervention in Collective Action.” AppendixComparative 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.

Bribery Cartels: Collusive Corruption in Bolivian Street Markets.” 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.

“Street Vendors and the Politics of Gender Representation.” 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.

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.

Brutal Externalities: How Repression Increases International Conflict.” Appendix. Under review. Presented at the American Political Science Association 2016 conference.

Under what conditions does repression affect international conflict? Research suggests that if repression solidifies a leader’s hold on power, the leader may be more likely to initiate international conflict. However, if repression signals a regime’s weakness, existing theories predict that its opponents will take advantage and target the repressor. Instead, I argue that where repression contains dissent, it reduces the costs of mobilizing for and backing down from international conflict. I instrument for repression with self-employment rates and find that states that repress are more likely to initiate conflict—even after controlling for regime type, civil war, and military capabilities. Simultaneously, extreme repression virtually guarantees that no state will target the repressor.



“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.