GV336      Half Unit
Latin America: Democracy and Development

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Mathias Poertner CBG 3.34


This course is available on the BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Data Science, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

Latin America has long been the center of dynamic political, social, and economic change. The region has suffered some of the most repressive political regimes, highest degrees of economic inequality, and worst organized crime. Yet Latin America has also been the focus of the some of the most innovative experiments in democratic participation and social mobilization.

This course examines the course of political and economic change in twentieth and twenty-first century Latin America. The bulk of the course will focus on the rise of industrialization and populism in the 1930s and 1940s to the collapse of democracy and establishment of military regimes in the 1960s and 1970s, the return to democracy in the 1980s, and more recent processes of democratic consolidation and economic liberalization. In addition to learning about the politics and contemporary history of Latin American countries, we will also explore the theoretical terrain underlying the causes and consequences of phenomena such as populism, industrialization, authoritarianism, democratization, neoliberalism, and popular representation. The course will provide a combination of empirical exploration of the region and a variety of explanations for the general processes of change across the region and the variation across countries.

Students will gain empirical knowledge on the region’s politics, a deeper theoretical understanding of issues of democratic representation and economic development, as well as crucial analytical skills.

Tentative outline of weekly topics:

  1. Overview & Introduction
  2. Populism & the Growth of the Working Class
  3. Democratic Breakdown & Authoritarian Regimes
  4. Democratic Transitions
  5. The Politics of Economic Reform
  6. Civil Society and Social Movements
  7. Political Parties
  8. Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Electoral Politics
  9. Clientelism
  10. The Inclusionary Turn and Participatory Institutions


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

This course is delivered through seminars totalling a minimum of 20 hours during Lent Term. Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

A detailed outline (500 words) on the policy issue to be explored in detail through the group project (including key readings to be used).

Indicative reading

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. 2014. The Economic History of Latin America since Independence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Ch. 9-11.

Collier, Ruth Berins and David Collier. 1991. Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, excerpts.

Kapiszewski, Diana, Steven Levitsky, and Deborah J. Yashar, eds., 2021. The Inclusionary Turn in Latin American Democracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, excerpts.

Madrid, Raúl. 2008. “The Rise of Ethnopopulism in Latin America” World Politics 60(3): 475-508.

Magaloni, Beatriz. 2006. Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and its Demise in Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-43.

Poertner, Mathias. 2020. “The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies.” American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming.

Williamson, John. 1990. “What Washington Means by Policy Reform.” In Williamson, ed., Latin American Adjustment: How Much Has Happened?  Washington D.C.: Peterson Institute for International Economics.


Presentation (20%) and group project (80%) in the LT.

  • Classroom participation & country reporting (20%): Students should actively participate in class discussions, ask questions, listen to their fellow students, complete all required readings, and be attentive. Those who consistently demonstrate a sharp understanding of the readings and who use that understanding to move the discussion forward will earn an excellent participation grade. Participation does not only mean talking a lot; it means making comments and asking questions that reflect thought, e.g., about the readings. In addition to active participation in class, students are responsible for ongoing reporting about politics in one Latin American country, assigned in Week 1, throughout the course of the semester. Students will be responsible for following the news on “their” country every week. Once during the semester, each student will give a current event report on “their” country. This brief (5 minutes) presentation should describe one of the major political events that have affected “their” country within the last six months.
  • Group project (50% for written policy brief; 30% for oral presentation): The group project is meant to challenge students to work effectively in teams while relating theory and evidence to policy. For the group project, students will be split up into small groups. Each group will select a policy issue to analyze using the theoretical tools covered in class.  Each group will then 1) write a policy brief (1,500 words); and 2) prepare a detailed presentation on the topic.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills