Katherine Olsson

SIS Olson Scholars

Research Portfolio Post #5: Research Topic Post

I am proposing to research historical levels of violence in independence movements in Latin America because I want to find out what explains postcolonial development trends in order to help my reader’s understand why there is a variation in modern day levels of development and stability in those countries.

According to the UNDP Human Development Reports for 2018, there is a significant variation in the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings for Latin American Countries.[1] For instance: Chile ranks 44 with an HDI value of 0.843.[2] They also have a life expectancy of 79.7 years and a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of $21,910.[3] The expected years of schooling is 16.4 and the mean years of schooling is 10.3. [4]  In contrast, Honduras ranks 133 for the 2018 HDI rankings. They have a score of 0.617, a life expectancy of 73.8 years, 10.2 expected years of learning but a mean years of learning of 6.5.[5] Additionally, the GNI per capita is $4,215.[6] Among Latin American countries there is a variation in their development rankings of 89, which is considerable variation in a group of 189 countries. I believe that there are consistent factors which influence this disparity.

There are a number of scholarly sources which have attempted to explain this both in Latin America and other regions. However, they disagree as to the causes of development and the disparity between different countries. For instance, in an article in the African Development Review, the authors concluded that international aid promotes economic growth in countries in Africa if it is in the correct proportions so that the aid to GDP ration is less than 70%.[7] In addition, they found that if countries lack political stability then it limits the effectiveness of aid in their economic development.[8] Other scholars have come to different conclusions as to the factors that impact countries’ stability and development. J.M. Colmer argues that there is a relationship between the institutional regulations that govern voting rights and the levels of political stability.[9] While Melo, Andreson and Matias focus on the application of social disorganization theory in relation to the levels and geography of crime in Brazil.

However, for my own research, I am interested in addressing the impact of violence in independence movements on future development and stability of countries. There is also other research that supports this idea. For instance, J. Mahoney addresses the impacts of colonialism on future development in his article: Colonialism and Postcolonial Development: Spanish America in Comparative Perspective, and P. Bourgois who discusses the impact of violence on future development.[10] [11]

After the colonial independence movements, there were a variety of ideologies towards the development of the new countries. These were articulated in a number of documents from the time. Simon Bolívar wrote “A Letter from Jamaica”, which articulated his desire for a democracy, but also explaining his belief that the general population lacked the education for a democracy to function, and suggesting that in the interim a more autocratic government would serve as more effective in educating the public and running the country until the population reached a collective place where they would be able to function as a democracy.[12] In contrast, Jose Martí argued in his writings “Our America” that in his vision for Cuba, that the democracy should be established and that that government would further educate the people.[13] These differences in ideology came out of different contexts and independence movements. However, it was factors within the independence movements themselves which created these contexts, most notably, the different levels of violence. Brazil, for instance, achieved independence with much less violence than the Spanish colonies. I aim to investigate the role that this difference may have played in their postcolonial development and stability.

This research is important because it works to explain the disparity in development and stability in various countries. One of the goals of the international community is to work towards development in all countries and to bridge the “development gap”. By understanding the conditions that led to this point, it can become possible to better understand the factors that need to be addressed when attempting to further develop or stabilize said countries. This research puzzle endeavors to better understand the connection between the past and the present.

As I move forward with my research, I have a number of potential ways to articulate my research project. One such way is: Why is there a disparity in the modern day stability and development in Latin American countries?. However, I could also articulate it more narrowly, such as: “What explains the differences in modern day levels of stability and development in Honduras as opposed to Brazil?”.

[1] UNDP. “Human Development Reports.” Human Development Data (2018). Human Development Reports. Accessed September 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2018-update.

 

[2] UNDP. “Human Development Reports.” Human Development Data (2018). Human Development Reports. Accessed September 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2018-update.

 

[3] UNDP. “Human Development Reports.” Human Development Data (2018). Human Development Reports. Accessed September 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2018-update.

 

[4] UNDP. “Human Development Reports.” Human Development Data (2018). Human Development Reports. Accessed September 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2018-update.

 

[5] UNDP. “Human Development Reports.” Human Development Data (2018). Human Development Reports. Accessed September 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2018-update.

 

[6] UNDP. “Human Development Reports.” Human Development Data (2018). Human Development Reports. Accessed September 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2018-update.

 

[7] “Has International Aid Promoted Economic Growth in Africa?” African development review = Revue africaine de developpement. 30, no. 3 (n.d.): 239–251.

 

[8] “Has International Aid Promoted Economic Growth in Africa?” African development review = Revue africaine de developpement. 30, no. 3 (n.d.): 239–251.

 

[9] Colomer, Josep M. “Taming the tiger: Voting rights and political instability in latin america.” Latin American Politics and Society 46, no. 2 (2004): 29-58.

[10] Mahoney, James. Colonialism and postcolonial development: Spanish America in comparative perspective. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

 

[11] Bourgois, Philippe. “The power of violence in war and peace: post-Cold War lessons from El Salvador.” Ethnography 2, no. 1 (2001): 5-34.

 

[12] Bolívar, Simón. The Jamaica Letter. Ministerio de Educatión, Departamento de Publicaciones, 1977.

 

[13] Martí, José. Nuestra América. Fundacion Biblioteca Ayacuch, 1973.

4 comments

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    Wow – great post! Both your general and specific forms of your research question are well-developed and your defense of their exigence is well-articulated. One thing I think might be helpful would be looking for data sets or various scales or measures that other scholars have created. The UN and the World Bank have great data about things like GDP, but I’ve noticed that many scholars will do some work for you by either taking those numbers and operationalizing them into a sort of scale or by starting from scratch and creating a database of sorts. A few examples from my project are this scale measuring similarity of alliance strutures[1] and this database of instances in which sanctions have been threatened or imposed[2]. Thus, I think it might be worth looking over some of your sources’ bibliographies and methodologies to see if anyone in your field has transformed some data like that. My other point would be that it seems like you have a lot of scholars who make very specific predictions (e.g. the 70% threshold) about development success. I’m in the same place, too. For both of us, I think it’d be wise to keep looking for those conceptual “buckets” so that we can frame our literature review in the best way possible. Love the work and great job!

    [1] Curtis S. Signorino and Jeffrey M. Ritter, “Tau-b or Not Tau-b: Measuring the Similarity of Foreign Policy Positions,” International Studies Quarterly 43, no. 1 (1999): 115–44.

    [2] T. Clifton Morgan, Navin Bapat, and Yoshiharu Kobayashi, “Threat and Imposition of Economic Sanctions 1945–2005: Updating the TIES Dataset,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 31, no. 5 (2014): 541–58, https://doi.org/10.1177/0738894213520379.

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    Katherine,

    Some of the variables you are trying to measure will probably parallel some of the ones I end up measuring. The challenge I have found is how to measure violence. Is it deaths per capita? Do we categorize the different types of conflict and measure it that way (External entity invading the country vs. civil war vs. gang violence)?

    “In addition, they found that if countries lack political stability then it limits the effectiveness of aid in their economic development.” This may end up taking your topic a totally different route. Finding variables to measure, and showing the correlation between different types of governments. This may or may not be a more effective way to display overall instability, and may even explain the violence.

    The last thing is in regard to your specific question. Honduras and Brazil are very economically differently, so it would be interesting to see what variables you find for that.

    I look forward to seeing which direction your question takes you, and collaborating on what we find for measuring violence.

    Josh

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      Josh,
      Your comments added an interesting addition to my thinking about my research puzzle. How to measure concepts such as violence, stability and development are things that I have been considering for a while now. Given my intention to rely on both quantitative and qualitative data, I need to determine a method to combine those aspects in order to have a systematic and consistent way of measuring my variables. One of the things that I had been thinking about is something that Dr. Boesenecker had talked about during class of the possibility that the researcher themselves can create a scale. This seemed like something that might be beneficial depending on the path my research takes and would be something that I would recommend you consider as well. In addition, something that I think is important to remember, and both Dr. Boesenecker and my mentor have mentioned this, is that we are able to use researcher’s existing methods of operationalizing data. If you find that there is a method that a researcher used that would be beneficial and you can justify using it in your own research then it is valid to use that in your methodology. This might make it easier when you are trying to determine the best ways to measure your variables. Finally, on your point about my specific research question, Honduras and Brazil are two of the case studies that I have been considering but I have not specifically chosen those ones. There are a considerable number of variables that I need to account for but Honduras and Brazil were the two that I chose to highlight in this question because of the fact that they are very different in terms of the levels of modern day stability and development as well as the colonial contexts/contexts of their independence movements. However, moving forward, I will continue to weigh the merits of choosing different case studies (when talking to my mentor, we were also considering choosing a number closer to 4 case studies as opposed to 2) for my research before making a final decision. In addition, I believe that our upcoming class on case studies will be very beneficial in choosing case studies.

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    Overall you have a good foundation for your research here Katherine. As you continue to think about your project I think that you can work on making the statement of the puzzle/outcome that you propose to explain a bit more precise. The middle part of your initial problem statement — “…because I want to find out what explains postcolonial development trends…” — is still a bit vague. What, exactly, about those trends is puzzling and thus demands explanation? What would the more specific dependent variable be for the proposed research? The theoretical debates that you discuss here are good, so keep building on those debates as you develop your literature review sketch. In considering your draft research questions, can you say more about how the criteria of control and variation would make Brazil/Honduras a good comparison?

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