Rachel Schwartz Receives the 2020 Gabriel A. Almond Award

The Gabriel A. Almond Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best doctoral dissertation in the field of comparative politics.

Rachel A. Schwartz is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Otterbein University.  Her research focuses on the legacies of armed conflict, state building, corruption, and human rights in Central America.  Rachel’s research has been supported by the Fulbright Program and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), and her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Journal of Peace Research, the Journal of Global Security Studies, Latin American Politics & Society, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Military in Politics, and Studies in Comparative International Development, among other outlets.

Rachel began conducting research in Central America as an undergraduate at Haverford College and continued her engagement with the region as a program associate at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C. based think tank, where she coordinated programs on security and migration in Central America and Mexico as well as Congressional outreach.  She received her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019.  Prior to beginning her current position at Otterbein University, Rachel was a 2019-2020 postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR) at Tulane University.

Citation from the Award Committee:

This theoretically innovative dissertation (“Civil War, Institutional Change, and the Criminalization of the State in Central America”) asks an important ‘how’ question: How does civil war shape state development in the long run?  Schwartz argues that civil war introduces predatory rules of the game that undermine core state functions.  Civil wars thus undermine state institutions not by destroying them but by introducing alternative institutional arrangements that undermine existing rules.  The mechanism that Schwartz carefully outlines with the cases of 3 different administrative domains in Guatemala and Nicaragua is that in the context of escalating insurgent threat, counterinsurgent elites gain discretionary power, creating new institutions which serve their narrow interest.  The committee was impressed with the substantive contribution the thesis made to the literature on civil wars by focusing on institutional building.  The thesis offers an original and substantive argument about the relationship between civil war and state weakness.

Schwartz conducted impressive research, collecting both fine-grained data from wartime state and private archives and conducting over 80 elite interviews.  Schwartz adopts a comparative institutional approach across sectors and countries and relies on extended fieldwork to provide readers with a thick description of the cases and use of interviews combined with process tracing, comparative case study, and historical research to advance a persuasive argument.  The thoughtful research design, the multi-method empirical strategy, and the careful analysis of evidence represent the highest quality work in our field.  The committee particularly noted the extensive fieldwork over 20 months in Guatemala and Nicaragua.  This research yielded an empirically rich dissertation theorizing wartime institutional change.  It was refreshing to see such a careful study centered on Central America, a region underrepresented in current studies in the field, with findings that extend beyond Latin America.

APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Dr. Dominika Koter (chair), Colgate University; Dr. Diana Fu, University of Toronto; and Dr. Mariela Szwarcberg Daby, Reed College.

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