Dissertation Project

My dissertation, titled From Social Cleavages to Party Systems: The Impact of Social Networks on Party Building in the Andes investigates how salient social fractures–and, in particular, ethnic cleavages–become translated into political representation and drive the stabilization of political competition.

The study advances two main arguments. First, it argues that the extent to which salient social cleavages produce increased social conflict or stabilize party systems is a function of their political articulation. Second, it argues that while politicians will tap into social networks to build representation and mobilize populations, the structures of the social networks that they access will ultimately determine their capacity to effectively articulate collective identities. I provide empirical support for both arguments using census, electoral, survey, and interview data collected over more than two years of fieldwork in Bolivia and Peru. Using a mixed-methods approach, I demonstrate that while ethnic cleavages have been consistently salient in these societies–structuring voter behavior and programmatic preferences for over two decades–their political expression has varied over time, with important implications for patterns of political stability. I find that the party building success of Bolivia’s indigenous populations has been driven, not by the greater salience of these groups’ identities, but by the more robust structures of their social networks. In Peru, on the other hand, fragmented social networks have limited the articulation of ethnic identities to the local and regional levels, and presented important challenges to processes of party building in the national arena. The findings shed light on the challenges of representation building and the consequences of identity non-articulation for political stability. Furthermore, they advance our understanding of the role of social networks in shaping the expression of salient collective identities in the political arena.