Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course is designed for graduate students in political science. Although doctoral students specializing in Latin America will presumably do outside reading, the class itself should be sufficient to prepare students for field exams. In case of unusually high enrollment, preference will be given to doctoral students over other students, and to students at MIT over those at other universities.


The course assumes some familiarity with the history and geography of Latin America, as well as with comparative political science. For the uninitiated, useful sources on the region include The Cambridge History of Latin America, edited by Leslie Bethell, 11 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1984-1995), Thomas Skidmore and Peter Smith’s Modern Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2001), Gary Wynia’s The Politics of Latin American Development (Cambridge University Press, 1990), or John Sheahan’s Patterns of Development in Latin America (Princeton University Press, 1987). There are also a number of widely available readers for those who feel the irrepressible urge to brush up on comparative politics.

Knowledge of Spanish or Portugese is not required for this course. All course readings are in English, class discussions will be conducted in English, and papers should be written in English. However, non-native speakers who wish to read some of the course materials in their native language should see me during office hours, as many of the core readings are available in translation or were originally written in other languages.

Course Readings

Weekly required readings average 175 pages. These readings are designed to acquaint you with the core paradigms in Latin American politics, as well as some of the most well known or well done empirical studies. They obviously leave out a lot. For this reason, there is an extensive list of recommended readings each week, listed in order of relevance for the course. Keep in mind, though, that these recommended readings are intended for two categories of people: (1) those who plan to write a review essay that week, an option discussed below, and (2) the type of crazy overachievers who think it is “fun” to run marathons. If you don’t fit into one of these categories, don’t fret about the recommended readings.

Most weeks are accompanied by a “literary overlay” of novels, essays, or films that treat themes raised by the required readings. These additional materials will not be discussed in class explicitly and you should not worry about them in your papers. They are on the syllabus because they are classics, and those of you who plan to concentrate on the region will find them worth the investment. Others may just want to rent a movie or two in the course of the semester. Regardless, please remember that the purpose of these materials is to lighten your mood by offering you a different perspective on the course themes, not to oppress you further.

Your course reader will have most of the required articles and book chapters. Required readings also include selections from books (listed below) which are not in the course reader. Those of you who plan to focus on the region will eventually want these books for you own library, so you should probably just grit your teeth and buy them. Those who are not planning to focus on Latin America may prefer to but the first two and read the rest on reserve. In any case, they are listed in descending order of priority for the class, so you can decide for yourselves which you want to purchase.

  • Naim, Moises. Paper Tigers and Minotaurs: The Politics of Venezuela’s Economic Reforms. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, 1993.
  • Stepan, Alfred. Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Diamond, Larry, Juan Linz, and Seymour Martin Lipset, eds. Democracy in Developing Countries: Latin America. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989.
  • Dominguez, Jorge I., and Abraham F. Lowenthal, eds. Constructing Democratic Governance: The New South American Democracies Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
  • Haggard, Stephan, and Robert R. Kaufman, eds. The Politics of Economic Adjustment: International Constraints, Distributive Conflicts, and the State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.
  • Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, Evelyne Huber Stephens, and John D. Stephens. Capitalist Development and Democracy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
  • Linz, Juan, and Alfred Stepan. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Finally, as you will see, this syllabus contains several more weeks of reading than we actually have. Weeks will be rotated in different semesters, depending on student interest.

Class Presentations and Summaries

Each class will begin with a presentation discussing and critiquing the readings. You should choose a week (or, in the case of enrollment under ten people, two weeks) for your presentation. Bear in mind that the goal of your presentation is to refresh people’s memories about the readings, to highlight the key areas of disagreement in the readings, and to stimulate class discussion; you should not feel compelled to mechanically summarize every article.

Written Requirements

You have the option of writing one of the following: (1) five short papers OR (2) three short papers plus one review essay OR (3) one long research paper.

Total Workload

Counting reading, preparation for class, presentations, and writing, students should expect to spend approximately 12 hours per week on the course.


Half of your grade (50%) will be based on class participation, including your presentation(s). For grading purposes, each presentation will count as three class sessions–that is, about 10% of your overall grade. My somewhat odd habit is to record letter grades for each student after each class, so regular class participation is taken seriously. However, each student is entitled to one unexcused absense or “unprepared” over the course of the semester (i.e., your grade for that will not be counted).

The other half of your grade will be based on your written work. Short papers will all count equally (10% each), and the review essay–if you select this option–will count as two papers. If you are feeling wildly ambitious and want to write more than the requisite number of papers, the highest of your grades will be counted.