Meet NEH Grantee Leslie Anderson

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States and supports research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. The organization funds projects across a range of disciplines, including political science, through a diverse array of opportunities. Dr. Anderson is the recipient of an NEH fellowship. NEH fellowships “support individuals pursuing advanced research that is of value to humanities scholars, general audiences, or both.”

Leslie E. Anderson is a University of Florida Research Foundation Professor of Political Science.  She has written extensively on democracy and democratization in Latin America, publishing most recently Democratization by Institutions: Argentina’s Transition Years in Comparative Perspective, (Michigan, 2016).  Her work looks at social movements, electoral politics, social capital and at the role of institutions in furthering the process of democratization.  Her books include The Political Ecology of the Modern Peasant:  Calculation and Community (Hopkins, 1994) and Social Capital in Developing Democracies:  Nicaragua and Argentina Compared (Cambridge, 2010). Other awards include grants from the National Science Foundation in 1996 and 2006, three Fulbright Fellowships and a fellowship from the Gardner Foundation of Brown University.

Tell us more about your research project.
My project is a sequel to Learning Democracy:  Citizen Engagement and Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990-2001 (Anderson and Dodd, Chicago, 2005).  Learning Democracy was about the capacity of the poor to use electoral politics to effect major political change in Nicaragua, including regime change, and to comprehend the candidate choices presented in a tumultuous electoral context.  At that time democracy in Nicaragua was on an upward trajectory.  Today it is in decline.  The current work is a collaborative effort with Larry Dodd (University of Florida) and Won-ho Park (Seoul National University).  We seek to understand how well Nicaragua’s citizens comprehend Ortega’s efforts to undermine democracy and how well they can resist those efforts.  The work draws on my extensive field research in Nicaragua as well as upon fascinating opinion polls that register citizen contestation and resistance even in the face of presidential autocracy.  The project partners with Learning Democracy in helping us understand how democracy can flourish and also how it can backslide.  We look at the capacities of average citizens to contribute to both processes and to resist authoritarianism where possible.

What are your next steps and plans for your research?
The research for this project is largely complete.  We plan to do another round of public opinion surveys in late 2017.  We are currently engaged in data analysis of the 2016 data and we are working to bring the statistical findings together with what we already know about politics on the ground in Nicaragua.  The comparison of qualitative and quantitative empirical data is fascinating.

How is the NEH Grant helping you accomplish those steps?
The NEH has given me the time away from teaching to concentrate my full attention on this project and push it forward to completion.

What advice do you have for young researchers/scholars?
My strongest suggestion to young scholars is to find a major question that engages your passion and your deep intellectual interests.  Finding such a question will keep your energy going both to complete fellowship applications and to get the project finished.  Try to find work that you love.