Graduating CDDRL Honors Students Recognized for Outstanding Theses

Tara Hein ('23) is a recipient of the 2023 Firestone Medal and Sean Michael ('23) has won CDDRL's Outstanding Thesis Award.
2023 Honors Thesis Award Winners, Tara Hein and Sean Michael

The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law proudly congratulates its 2023 graduating class of honors students for their outstanding original research conducted under CDDRL's Fisher Family Honors Program. Among those graduating are Political Science major Tara Hein, who has won a Firestone Medal for her thesis on fragmented citizenship in Chile, and Economics major Sean Michael, winner of the CDDRL Outstanding Thesis Award for his study of Indigenous and Afro-Latin communities in Colombia and Bolivia.

Tara Hein '23 presents her honors thesis Firestone Medal winner Tara Hein, '23, presents her honors thesis. Nora Sulots

The Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research recognizes Stanford's top ten percent of honors theses in social science, science, and engineering among the graduating senior class. Tara’s thesis is entitled Seeing Like a Citizen: Fragmented Citizenship in Santiago de Chile. In it, she investigates how socioeconomically vulnerable individuals in Santiago de Chile conceptualize and exercise their citizenship in the wake of the 2019 estallido social. Using qualitative analysis of 31 in-depth, semi-structured interviews, her study develops a grounded theory of “fragmented citizenship.” Fragmentation refers to the asymmetrical and often contradictory experiences of citizenship at the individual level in contexts where the state is highly visible but uneven in its provision of services, programs, and goods. Beyond the convergence of these structural conditions of the state — wide visibility and irregular presence — the study found that participants’ multidimensional ideals of citizenship exacerbate fragmentation by setting high expectations of state provision. Fragmentation, in turn, shapes citizens’ engagement with the state, with respondents more likely to exercise their citizenship in areas where they perceive the state to be functioning effectively. Conversely, participants described strategic disengagement from the state and their citizenship where they perceived it to be less fully and reliably realized, further contributing to fragmentation. Through a nuanced and timely ground-level analysis, Tara’s thesis builds upon prior research on how citizenship plays out in practice in Latin America to provide valuable insight into the crisis of democracy in Chile and beyond, examining the implications of high citizen expectations coupled with uneven state performance for democratic citizenship.

Sean Michael '23 presents his honors thesis CDDRL Outstanding Thesis Award winner Sean Michael presents his honors thesis. Nora Sulots

Sean’s thesis is entitled Letter of the Law: Comparing Indigenous Autonomy in Plurinational Colombia and Bolivia. In his thesis, Sean investigates the factors that enable rural Indigenous communities to defend themselves from incursions into their territory by the state, extractive corporations, and guerillas. He utilizes a case study approach, selecting two Indigenous communities each from Colombia and Bolivia, two of the countries with the most robust foundations for plurinational execution. His methodology uses deforestation levels as a proxy for the success of these defensive maneuvers, setting a baseline for the robustness of the country’s plurinational reforms. He then calls on research from anthropology, political science, and economics to understand the complex processes of politicization, power, and identity that surround the conflict in each case study. He finds that both the Colombian and Bolivian examples provide important insights into the strengths of plurinational legal systems but are vulnerable to political and economic threats. The resulting unpredictability allows only the Indigenous communities with high political unity and connections to national-level advocacy organizations to actively overcome the administrative hurdles put between them and autonomous recognition. In order to make plurinational autonomy more accessible to more Indigenous communities, plurinational constitutions require supportive legal scaffolding, robust state protections against corporate and illicit interests, and powerful Indigenous political organizations. This thesis contributes to existing literature by extending analysis beyond a single community, drawing comparisons between the Colombian and Bolivian cases to understand how future plurinational reforms can be implemented to protect autonomous Indigenous enclaves from outside threats.

Tara and Sean are part of a cohort of twelve graduating CDDRL honors students who have spent the past year working in consultation with CDDRL-affiliated faculty members and attending honors research workshops to develop their theses projects. Collectively, their topics documented some of the most pressing issues impacting democracy today in the US, Latin America, Malaysia, and Ukraine, among others.

“We are so proud of this year’s class of Fisher Family Honors program graduates,” shared Didi Kuo, Center Fellow at FSI and co-director of CDDRL’s Fisher Family Honors Program. “All of their theses investigated critical questions related to democracy, violence, and accountability. Tara and Sean’s research furthers our understanding of citizenship and governance in diverse societies, and we congratulate them and their peers on successfully undertaking original research this year.”

We are so proud of this year’s class of Fisher Family Honors program graduates. All of their theses investigated critical questions related to democracy, violence, and accountability, and we congratulate them on successfully undertaking original research this year.
Didi Kuo
Center Fellow, FSI; Co-director, Fisher Family Honors Program

CDDRL's Fisher Family Honors Program trains students from any academic department at Stanford to prepare them to write a policy-relevant research thesis with global impact on a subject touching on democracy, development, and the rule of law. Honors students participate in research methods workshops, attend honors college in Washington, D.C., connect to the CDDRL research community, and write their thesis in close consultation with a faculty advisor to graduate with a certificate of honors in democracy, development, and the rule of law.

Explore the rest of the thesis topics of the Fisher Family Honors Program Class of 2023 below:

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