Case study: Aldo Elizalde

Photo of Aldo Elizalde

Programme: Postdoctoral Fellowship

Project title: Land Reforms, Ethnic Groups and Long-Run Development in Latin America: A Case Study of Mexico

Name of PI: Aldo Elizalde

Project dates: 2017 – 2020

Award amount: £313,536

Name of institution: Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow

About the project

This project explored the institutional capacities of Indigenous groups in influencing policy locally and, via this, development outcomes. To investigate this empirically, the project used the land reform in Mexico as a case study. Between 1917 and 1992, the rights to 16 million hectares of ancestral land were transferred to the Indigenous population in the form of land plots known as Agrarian Communities (Comunidades Agrarias). A novel data on Indigenous institutions and ancestral land for 13,600+ municipality-census observations was then created via the digitalisation and collection of detailed census information, spanning most of the 20th century. The project documented that municipalities with more complex Indigenous institutions evidence a higher redistribution of ancestral land. This suggests that Indigenous people who descend from more politically centralised societies in pre-colonial times were better able to coordinate themselves collectively, which resulted in the repossession of more ancestral land and therefore the possibility of improving outcomes locally.

The project enhances the literature in two ways. Firstly, the project contributes to the emerging line of studies that documents the effects of pre-colonial Indigenous institutions on present-day outcomes. The project adds to this literature by showing that Indigenous people who descend from politically centralised groups in pre-colonial times had greater collective capacities in influencing the redistribution of ancestral land, which may have resulted in the improvement of some socioeconomic outcomes within their communities. Secondly, the project also contributes to the important debate concerning the impacts of returning ancestral land to Indigenous people. The main findings of the project add to this literature by showing that land restoration seems to be more successful in regions with more politically centralised Indigenous groups.

Impacts and value

Elizalde’s research has enabled him to establish a world-leading research agenda in the field of development economics. His work has been cited by world-leading academics in top journals in the field of economics and political science such as the Annual Review of Economics, the Journal of Economic Literature, and the American Political Science Review. Indeed, his research has advanced the literature in these fields as shown by the explicit citation of his published work in studies developed by leading academics from top universities such as Stanford University, namely Diaz-Cayeros et al. (Pandemic Spikes and Broken Spears: Indigenous Resilience after the Conquest of Mexico), who investigate how societies endure diseases and violence using the conquest of Mexico. They connect their main findings to the literature addressing the effects of colonial decisions and institutions on development by citing directly how his work shows that pre-colonial indigenous institutions are appropriated by colonists to structure their own imperial administration. This shows clear evidence of how his research is influencing the development of novel and world-class research projects in the field of development economics.

Furthermore, the project has important implications for policy. In particular, the project may be relevant to the debate concerning ancestral land redistribution, which represents a major area of enquiry for policy reforms beyond Latin American countries, for example, Canada and the United States.

Benefits of the award

“The award enabled me to increase my academic profile and expertise internationally. This is proved by invitations to present my work in world-leading academic networks. In 2020, I published the main findings of my project in the Journal of Development Economics, which is usually the top journal in its field. Also in 2020, I was awarded the Sir Alec Cairncross Prize for best paper submitted by a young economist to the Scottish Economic Society Annual Conference. As a result of my achievements during my Fellowship, I felt that my profile in the job market increased remarkably. In 2021, I then received two job offers for a permanent position as Lecturer in Economics. Since October 2021, I am a permanent Lecturer in Economics at Queen’s University Belfast.”

As a result of his award, Elizalde has been able to strengthen his research collaborations significantly. Currently, he is working on a joint project with a Lecturer in Economics from Cardiff University on Ancestral trade routes and present-day development from Australia. In 2022, the project was awarded a Small Research Grant from the British Academy to develop the main datasets and analysis.

He has also started another project on ancient navigation and the emergence of modern democratic countries in the Mediterranean. This project is being developed in collaboration with an economist from Cardiff University and a geographer from the University of the Aegean.

Elizalde has also been working a project that explores an important phenomenon affecting Indigenous people globally: ‘megaprojects’. This research seeks to examine which Indigenous groups are better able to reject public ‘megaprojects’, using the launch of the first large-scale public road programme in Mexico in the 1920s. This project is developed with researchers from the University of Cologne and Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Finally, he has also been working another project that explores whether socially disadvantaged ethnic groups practise favouritism when they reach national power. They use the case of Bolivia, where a leader of traditionally disadvantaged ethnic groups and Indigenous people, won the presidency for the first time in 2005. This project is developed with researchers from the University of Cologne and University of Antwerp.

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