Jan. 26, 2023
Congratulations to Ricardo Vernet!
Best Political Science Doctoral Dissertation Prize is for the best Doctoral dissertation defended in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, open to any area of Political Science
Ricardo Vernet’s thesis was written under the supervision of Dr. Pablo Policzer
Dr. Policzer, tell us a bit about what made Ricardo’s thesis stand out?
Ricardo aimed to understand the conditions under which the peasantry can lead the path toward democracy. His dissertation challenges the common view that only the bourgeoisie or the working classes can do this, by comparing a case of successful peasant-led democratization (Nicaragua under the Sandinistas between 1979–90) against one where this effort failed (Haiti under Aristide). By contrast to other classes, the peasantry must overcome a unique challenge: the force of numbers. Often the largest sector in the population, they can more easily fall into the anti-democratic trap of imposing a tyranny of the majority. The key to democratic success is the peasantry’s ability to compromise with the opposition, however difficult this might be. This is an original and counterintuitive contribution, based on a wonderful combination of theoretical sophistication and rich empirical detail on each of the cases.
Ricardo, what was your thesis’ title and main findings or arguments?
The thesis is entitled “Peasants, Movements, and Survival of Democracy in Haiti and Nicaragua”. It examines the divergence in the trajectory of regime change in two large agricultural societies. In Haiti, a mass movement propelled Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, but Aristide was overthrown shortly after winning the presidential elections. Nicaragua experienced a similar political transition when the Sandinista revolutionary movement overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979. In this case, democracy survived a decade after the 1990 presidential elections. I wanted to understand why democracy only survived in Nicaragua. I argue that democracy survives when two conditions are met: the degree to which the movement was institutionalized after the fall of authoritarian rule and the degree to which the international context exerted pressures on movement actors during the transition.
Any advice to other students for getting through the thesis?
I would say create a thesis plan before you start the process. I was fortunate to work with Professor Policzer who encouraged me to create one after I returned from my field research. The thesis plan contains details about the thesis itself, and strategies to complete it. I dealt with most of the “big questions” and issues early, so this saved me a lot of time.
It took me some time to work out most of the details, but it provided me with direction. I strongly encourage students to involve the supervisory committee in this process. I used valuable insights from my committee members to update my plan.
What did you find the most rewarding about working on your thesis?
There were a few things. One was the fieldwork. I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview several key political figures in Haiti and Nicaragua. It was rewarding to learn how their experiences shaped political developments in the two countries. It was a unique experience, one I will never forget. Another one was the completion of the final draft of the thesis. The beginning of the writing process was “messy”. There were a number of moving parts. It was nice to see how all of them came together at the end. It reminded me the sacrifice was worth it.
So, what’s next for you after the thesis?
I am working on two projects related to my thesis. I also work as a Sessional Instructor in the Department of Political Science. I am still exploring some options.
Congratulations to Ricardo Vernet on your 2021–22 UCalgary Political Science Best Doctoral Dissertation Prize!
To find out more about our paper prizes and past prize winners please visit the Political Science website.