Research Interests

My research interests include three broad themes: the political economy of social policy in Latin America; sexuality, attitudes, and policy; and diversity, methodology, and the profession of political science. Papers on these and other topics can be found on the papers page.

The political economy of social policy in Latin America

Social policy, including public education, health, and welfare policy, both reflects and shapes the distribution of economic and political power in a country and therefore has important consequences for both individual and collective well-being. My research addresses the ways in which economic and political processes produce different social policy outcomes in the developing world, particularly in Latin America. Through the development of theoretical explanations and hypothesis testing combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies, my work addresses key policy questions, including: Why do national social policies vary? What effect does globalization have on policies in developing countries, particularly in Latin America? And, what shapes public preferences for policy? My work demonstrates that the answers to these questions lie at the intersection of political power and institutions. Economic change and domestic political institutions influence the political capacity of groups to shape welfare policy outcomes.

My book, Workers and Welfare in Latin America: Mexico in Comparative and Historical Perspective (University of Pittsburgh Press, Latin America Series), examines the role of organized labor and institutional change in the development of welfare policy in Latin America. Drawing insights from the development welfare policies in the advanced industrialized democracies and the literature in economics and political science on institutional stability and change, I develop a theoretical framework that explains how the interaction of working class power, political institutions, and policy legacies shape welfare policy outcomes. This framework is used to examine the politics and development of welfare policy in Mexico since the 1920s. Qualitative evidence from historical archives, other primary documents, and over 80 interviews with Mexican elites combined with statistical analysis of original data on worker mobilization and welfare provision demonstrate the ways in which organized workers, institutions, and policy legacies shape welfare outcomes. Contrary to common characterizations, labor unions played a central role in the development of Mexican welfare policy throughout the 20th century. However, economic and political reforms of the 1980s and 1990s changed the relationship between unions and the government in ways that led to fundamental changes in social policy. This project was supported by two nationally competitive graduate fellowships (1998-99, 2000-01) and one Faculty Fulbright Award (2004-05). Visit the book page for more information.

I am also working on another related project, funded by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant, that examines the comparative historical development of welfare in Latin America since the late 19th century. Other published and working papers examine the effects of pension privatization on women’s welfare, model the effects of globalization and political institutions on social spending commitments, and explore the inter-relationship between macro-level income inequality and economic development and micro-level preferences regarding social policies and redistribution.

Sexuality, Attitudes, and Policy

In a series of papers with Jordi Diéz (Political Science, University of Guelph), we examine the individual and contextual factors that shape support for same-sex marriage in Latin America. In a paper in Latin American Politics & Society, we demonstrate that attending religious services can overwhelm democratic values that would otherwise coincide with a greater likelihood of supporting same-sex marriage, particularly among younger, female, and rural Latin Americans. In a follow up paper in Latin American Research Review, we find that internet access is associated with a significantly higher probability that a Latin American will support same-sex marriage, and that this relationship varies as access to the internet expands in a particular country. Jordi and I also included experiments related to support for same-sex marriage in the 2015 Argentine Panel Election Study, and papers based on this study are in preparation.

Tina Fetner (Sociology, McMaster University), Melanie Health (Sociology, McMaster University), and I are also working on a multi-year study that will examine sexual behaviors in Canada as well as the relationships among gender identities, sexual orientations, family formation, social and political attitudes, and the public regulation of gender, sex, family and welfare.

Diversity, Methodology & the Political Science Profession

I am also interested in the sociology of political science as a profession and discipline, with a particular focus on issues of diversity and methodology. This work includes a short piece on the gender biases in student evaluations of teaching, in which students view female instructors as less authoritative than male instructors. Students’ gendered expectations of their instructors creates an environment in which women who deviate from expected gender roles are punished, while men who deviate from expectations are often rewarded. With Sara McLaughlin Mitchell (Political Science, University of Iowa) and Jane Lawrence Sumner (Political Science, University of Minnesota), I am working on a series of papers that examine gender and citation practices in political science journals.

Since 2010, I have also been an active member of the Visions in Methodology network, including several years as the webmaster and listserv administrator and moderator. VIM is designed to address the broad goal of supporting women who study political methodology. A discussion of these issues can be found in a 2014 issue of The Political Methodologist, the newsletter of the Society for Political Methodology/Political Methodology Section of the American Political Science Association.

Laura Stephenson (Political Science, University of Western Ontario) and I have also published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Political Science calling for a greater commitment to methodological training in Canadian political science, including attention to diversity and inclusivity. We are currently working to develop a Canadian network of social scientists interested in deepening methodological expertise, and a May 2017 workshop at McMaster University brought together academics and employers in the public, non-profit, and private sectors to discuss training needs and opportunities.

Chelsea Gabel (Health, Aging, and Society, McMaster University) and I have also completed a SSHRC-funded Knowledge Synthesis report that involved a systematic search and coding of about 400 social science articles on Indigenous issues in Canada to identify the relationship between research methodologies and Indigenous community and scholar participation in research. The full report and key messages for policy makers are available on the project website. We find that that there is significant room for improvement in the ways in which Indigenous peoples participate in social science research about their communities.