Alumni Profiles Series: Beatriz Magaloni

 October 18, 2023

Beatriz Magaloni is the Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. She is the recipient of the prestigious Stockholm Prize in Criminology and director of the Poverty, Violence and Governance Lab. She is the author of two books, Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and Its Demise in Mexico (2006, Cambridge University Press) and The Political Logic of Poverty Relief: Electoral Strategies and Social Policy in Mexico (2016, Cambridge University Press, co-authored with Alberto Diaz-Cayeros and Federico Estévez). Her research has appeared in the pages of the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Comparative Political Studies, and Latin American Research Review, among many others. She received her bachelor’s degree from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and her A.M. and Ph.D. from Duke University.

What motivated you to do a Ph.D. in Political Science?

I did my bachelor’s in law in Mexico. There, I felt very constrained by studying law produced by an authoritarian system and I felt that I was missing something much more creative that would allow me to understand human behavior better. I wanted to learn and study other types of methodologies to transform institutions and not operate under the parameters of the authoritarian regime.

We arrived at Duke with great luck because then Alberto, who is my husband, and I were applying together to grad school, and we needed a university to accept us both. Duke was the only one who did. But what I call luck is more that at the time we studied here, I was able to take classes with Robert Bates, who was my adviser, but also with John Aldrich and Herbert Kitschelt who ended up being part of my committee. Working with the three of them was something incredible and they were always very generous to me.

How do you think Duke shaped the way you think and do research?

I think the main thing is the concern, transmitted by Bob Bates, for the problems of development, poverty, and violence, which are topics I still research about. Also, at Duke I was encouraged to use multidisciplinary approaches in my work. I have always been kind of a rebel with regards to disciplinary boundaries, since I tend to focus on a problem I want to understand and solve it using multiple methodologies and the tools from various disciplines. So Duke was a great place for me to safely practice this rebelliousness.

You have published a lot of articles and books on vote-buying, authoritarianism, violence, and security. How do you decide what to study?

A colleague of mine told me one day that there were two types of people in academia: some who always stay with the same subject and others who change subjects every so often. So, you and I are some of the latter, and I completely agree. Since I got tenure, I had a very strong desire to have an impact on the real world, and to make my research useful to improve the situation of poverty and violence that we observe so much in Latin America. Consequently, my research agenda has always been moved by that passion of trying to solve problems that are very important and have a sense of social justice.

Recently, some faculty in the social sciences have been adopting a lab approach in the way they mentor students. You are the director of one of these labs at Stanford. How has your experience been under this modality?

After getting tenure, I told myself that I wanted to generate social impact through my work. Following a colleague's recommendation, I went on a trip with Scott Russell, an economist renowned for his extraordinary projects in China and his team. I became profoundly inspired by the way they worked. It was then that I resolved to establish my own laboratory, modeled after his successful approach.

Gradually, I began collaborating with students and colleagues on various projects, inviting them to join the lab. This collaborative environment has proven to be immensely fulfilling as I remain deeply engaged in each project while fostering a shared passion for problem-solving. This approach not only allows for a more integrated and supportive work dynamic but also provides an avenue for continuous skill development and a tangible sense of how our collective efforts can drive meaningful change in the world.

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What can you tell us about doing research that impacts public policy in different places of the world? What tips would you give future social scientists who wants to do have one foot in academia and one foot in the public policy process?

I began trying since I got tenure. That is, I've been doing this for a long time and it's not that easy, there are always multiple things changing. At the end, politics are always in constant movement. The best way to build good partnerships is not being extractive but being useful. The main goal here is to understand how you could be helping your partners, because then they will be more willing to work together with you in including new methodologies that could improve their decision making or have a more scientific evaluation of what works and what doesn't on their programming.

You also need to be interested and be empathetic. If you really want to influence public policy, my recommendation is that you nurture your curiosity, and really ask yourself what the dynamics and challenges of the situation are. Go talk to people, interact, and open yourself to them. Once you open up, that is when you are really moved by what is happening. Then that passion grabs you and it won’t let you go until the lives of the people you are working with are better.

What are you currently working on?

The current projects I have in Mexico and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) on forms of police violence, criminal governance, and human rights still have a lot of angles that I want to explore before moving on. I’m also involved in a large project on violence against women and I am now looking into issues surrounding migration and temporary workers. In fact, we currently are conducting a randomized control trial with temporary workers who come from Mexico to the United States exploring if this could create safer ways of migration.

In the future, one topic that I’m very eager to research is related to indigenous governance. I would like to research the relationships between indigenous governance and the environment, both in terms of worldview and spirituality. I would love to use my sabbatical to visit and learn from different indigenous communities around Latin America.

What are some of the best memories from your time at Duke?

I have several good memories. The first was the day I met Robert Bates: I went into his office and saw that he had books piled everywhere on the bookshelves, on the floor, in his desk. It was seeing a professor who was a combination of an anthropologist, a political scientist and someone who pushed you to study economics and go do fieldwork. He had a very interdisciplinary approach that struck me from the very beginning,

A second memory I have is when I went with Herbert Kitschelt and my husband to Germany shortly after the Berlin Wall fell to teach classes to several East German students at Humboldt. The possibility of being there right after the Wall fell and having time to talk and go hiking around lakes with Herbert was incredible.


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Mateo Villamizar Chaparro

Ph.D. candidate, Political Science

Mateo Villamizar Chaparro is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University. He received a master's degree in international affairs from UC-San Diego and another master's degree in political science from Universidad de los Andes. His research interests revolve around the politics of migration, public goods distribution, and violence in developing countries, with a particular focus on economic development, race, state capacity, and political institutions. He is currently a research associate at DevLab@Penn in the Machine Learning for Peace Project and one of the organizers of the Duke/UNC Latin American Working Group. His research has been published or is forthcoming in at the British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, and Editorial Uniandes. His research has has been funded by Innovations for Poverty Action, USAID, the World Bank, the Social Science Research Council, and Duke University.