My research lies at the intersection of political theory, legal studies, and Latin American studies.
My dissertation, From Campesinos to Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, the Rise of Self-Determination in the Era of Democracy and Human Rights, studies Mexico’s implementation of Indigenous self-determination as a constitutional right since the 1990s. Contrary to prevailing theorizations that understand Indigenous self-determination as detachment, autonomy, or independence from the state, I show that sub-constitutional laws and policies in Mexico actually regulate the terms on which Indigenous communities interact with the state and the broader national society. The local laws, court rulings, and administrative agencies’ policies that have implemented this constitutional right have gradually shifted its meaning. The Constitution initially pointed to self-government and legal pluralism when it enshrined Indigenous people’s right to self-determination. But most of the policies ultimately arising out of this Constitutional provision actually establish special mechanisms for Indigenous communities to participate in state legislative bodies. The project argues that the language of “self-determination” has become the legal and political basis for efforts to render Mexico’s democracy more plural. It’s not that Indigenous peoples autonomously decide their own legal norms but that they have gained specific protected spaces and democratic mechanisms to participate in the discussion and definition of general laws.
I also have an interest in early modern Spanish-language political thought. In particular, I am interested in the theories that jurists, philosophers, and theologians used to justify Spanish colonial projects in the Americas. Part of what drives this part of my research is understanding how Spanish American colonialism was guided by a series of ideals markedly different from those that would animate later colonial projects in North America, Africa, and the Middle East. I think that in order to truly understand the ideological impetus of Spanish colonial ideologies, it is necessary to inscribe it in the Counter-Reformation. There is a sense in which Spanish Imperialism was an anti-Enlightenment and anti-modern project. My impression is that most histories of Spanish colonial thought subsume it under the category of “the West” and “the Modern” and thereby overlook the extent to which early modern Spanish political thought sought to rival the project of modernity.
I like teaching political theory from a historical and rhetorical perspective. The historical part is simple enough. Most of my classes touch on central questions in contemporary political theory: citizenship, self-determination, race and ethnicity, etc. But I tend to usher students to those questions by way of canonical (and not so canonical) texts in the history of political thought. My classes also feature a significant rhetorical component. True to my training as a modern rhetorician, I invite students to pay special attention not just to the pure content of theoretical texts but to how the text makes its points. How does articulating an idea in this specific language and not another formulation change what it writes?