Course objectives

Latin America is in crisis. Instructor
Juan Tellez
343 Gambrell Hall
Office hours: Sign up here.

Tuesdays, Thursdays
January 13–April 27, 2020
10:05-11:20 AM

More than a few countries have experienced significant challenges to democratic order in recent years. Citizens demonstrate little faith in their polilitical systems: polls show less than half of all Latin Americans today believe in democracy, and over three-quarters believe the government “works only for the powerful”. Some have described the current moment as a “mid-life crisis of democracy” in the region.

This class will do two things. First, it will help you situate the current crisis in a broader context of poverty, stark inequalities, and failure of governance, which many Latin Americans are forced to navigate on a daily basis. Second, it will teach you how to do this from a decidedly social science perspective. This means you will get your hands dirty with data, think hard about how to measure the concepts we read and discuss in class, and worry about how we can really know what we “think we know” about what’s happening in the region.

This course assumes little to no prior knowledge with Latin America or working with data.You should also note that this is not a history class, nor an anthropology class. For the most part, you will not do “thick”, detailed dives into problems in particular countries (or regions within those countries, though there will undoubtedly be some of this). We will instead focus on understanding political phenomena in the region through general theories of institutions and human behavior.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

Course materials

All of the readings in this class are free.

Articles, book chapters, and other materials

Most of our readings will come from journal articles, book chapters, and videos. I’ve provided links to most articles. In some cases, you will need to be on school wi-fi to access them. In others, you might need to look up the article on your own if the link breaks.Either through Google Scholar or the library.

Google Sheets

All homeworks requiring data will be done in Google Sheets or Excel. Google Sheets is free to use with a Google account, and I will do all data analysis tutorials in Google Sheets. However, you can easily follow along in Excel if that’s what you prefer.

Warning on Disturbing Content

This course will require spending a significant amount of time covering disturbing material (e.g., violence, extreme poverty, racism), which can be difficult to read about or watch. I will do my best to flag especially graphic content but ask that you please consider this in deciding whether to take the course.


You should listen to podcasts, although I won’t grade you on it. Here are some of my favorite podcasts that frequently discuss politics and history in Latin America:

Course policies

Communicating With Me

You should come to office hours. Confusion or questions are more easily cleared up in person than over email. You will get better help from me in person than over email. You can sign up for office hours here.

I also understand that some people may commute or have other difficulties coming to office hours. If you must email, please:

Honor Code

Be nice. Don’t cheat. The Carolinian Creed is in effect in this class and all others at the University. I will treat violations seriously and urge all students to become familiar with its terms set out here. If you have doubts, it is your responsibility to ask about the Creed’s application.

Cell Phones and Laptops

Counseling & Psychiatry Services

Life at USC can be complicated and challenging. You might feel overwhelmed, experience anxiety or depression, or struggle with relationships or family responsibilities. Counseling and Psychiatry Services provides confidential support for students who are struggling with mental health and emotional challenges. Please do not hesitate to contact CPS for assistance—getting help is a smart and good thing to do.

Assignments and grades

You can find descriptions for all the assignments on the assignments page.

Assignment Points Percent
Problem sets (10 × 7.5) 75 30%
Pop Quizzes 50 20%
Participation (3 x 8) 25 10%
Final 100 40%
Total 250

Grade Range Grade Range
A 90–100% C 70–76%
B+ 87–89% D+ 67–69%
B 80–86% D 60–66%
C+ 77–79% F < 60%

If you think you received the wrong grade, you will need to submit a memo (hard-copy, in-person) giving specific detail about why the grade should be changed. I will then re-grade the entire assignment.

Your grade might go up, go down, or stay the same, so try to be honest with yourself about whether a grade appeal is reasonable. Please note that I will only accept grade appeals one week after the posting of a grade.

Historical Figures

Toussaint Louverture

Once you have read this entire syllabus and the assignments page, please email me a picture of an interesting historical figure from Latin America along with a one-sentence explanation of why they matter (2 extra credit points; you’ve got until January 16th).