Political Economy of Latin America

Al Montero
Carleton College


This seminar trains students to engage in the most recent and significant debates among scholars of Latin American development. The seminar includes focused study of patterns of development, poverty and inequality, political institutions, regional integration and globalization.

Course URL: http://people.carleton.edu/~amontero/POSC%20322%20Political%20Economy%20of%20Latin%20America%20Syllabus_Fall%202009.pdf
Course Size:

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution

Course Context:

This seminar is an advanced seminar in comparative and international political economy. It serves primarily POSC/IR majors seeking to complete a paper that can be revised for comps. It also serves as the capstone to the political economy concentration, thus it is open to other social science majors.

Course Content:

This course begins with a thorough review of the developmentalist period, its crisis during the 1970s and 1980s, and the politics of economic reform implementation and consolidation during the 1990s and 2000s. Using secondary sources, students discuss the major arguments in the state-of-the-art on Latin American political economy.

The seminar then moves to more hand's on research as students engage in their own individual projects based on hypotheses tested in the extant literature and a collaborative data analysis project involving the collection and assembly in a dataset of up to 45 economic, political, demographic, and social variables. Up to 15 Latin American countries are included in the common dataset project. At the end of the course, students present in oral and written form their findings on patterns of development across the 15 cases as well as the findings of their individual seminar papers.

Course Goals:

  1. The ability to conduct research using a common rubric ("development models") with qualitative and quantitative data taken from 15 different Latin American country cases.
  2. The ability to write for different intellectual purposes: (a) reporting of initial as well as final results in writing assignments of different lengths; (b) an individual research paper intended to compare empirical data and either test or prove a hypothesis (hence, an argumentative assignment); (c) conceive and write-up cases to animate discussion in the classroom rather than to prove a hypothesis or to show one's own data findings; (d) collaborative writing of research reports in a team-of-three context.
  3. The ability to move beyond country specialties to adopt a comparative frame of reference for all thinking about development models. The capacity to move from one level of analysis to another (e.g., the international to the national, the national to the subnational, and vice versa). To be able to take empirical experiences in one case and apply lessons to another case for the purposes of gleaning patterns of similarity and difference.

Course Features:

Students test hypotheses from the state-of-the-art by probing empirical assumption, extending the range of empirical cases, or pursuing outliers in the data. Students learn to use patterns of similarity and difference in both quantitative data and qualitative case studies to reach conclusions concerning the insights produced by existing scholarship.

Course Philosophy:

My teaching is guided most strongly by project- and problem-based learning. Active learning components animate and support student interest throughout the term, both in individual and group task-oriented segments.


Research teams produce periodic reports on their progress and post their results on Moodle for ongoing feedback from the professor. Individual students submit rough drafts on their projects during specified periods, and comments are returned with a score. At term's end, the effort, empirical analysis, and writing are assessed based on cumulative effects of the work over the trimester.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 121kB Sep29 09)

Teaching Materials:

Group Assignment Overview Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 56kB Sep29 09) Sample Team Assignment Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 13kB Sep29 09) Dataset Template - 15 Latin American Economies (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 116kB Sep29 09)

References and Notes:

The concept of development pathways in Latin America is inspired by John Sheahan's PATTERNS OF DEVELOPMENT IN LATIN AMERICA: POVERTY, REPRESSION, AND ECONOMIC STRATEGY (Princeton, 1987), though there are other works listed on the syllabus as "classic texts" for this type of inquiry.
None in particular, though many articles on active learning and quantitative literacy have no doubt pervaded my thinking over time to explain at least partially my chosen approach to this seminar.