In developing countries authority is often wielded unevenly. Tribes, clans, religious groups and other traditional leaders control zones of governance outside of the reach of the state. The accepted view has been that traditional authorities are a historical burden to developing societies striving to modernize. Our research looks at how public goods provision and policing in traditional governance zones fare relative to that provided by formal political institutions. We ask whether poor rural communities are better off if they govern themselves through traditional participatory democracy practices rather than delegating decisions to "modern" forms of representative government, structured through political parties. Because governance is endogenous, we address issues of selection by matching municipalities on long-term settlement patterns, levels of development, ethnicity, and presence of indigenous languages. Using a first-difference design, our findings suggest that traditional participatory democracy enhances provision of public goods, including education, electricity and sanitation. Contrary to extant scholarly work, we also show that traditional governance practices produce vibrant political participation rather than authoritarian enclaves protecting the monopoly of local bosses.
PovGov trains and employs local students to carry out deep ethnographic work in Chiapas and Oaxaca that is vital to this research. These trainees not only contribute an essential part to this research, but also learn new tools essential to helping them preserverve their culture and language by constructing ethnographic profiles and enriching the current documentation of these underrepresented indigenous communities. You can see our current field enumerators and their credentials below.