Research Interests

Presidential politics; democracy; civil society; comparative politics; Latin American politics; informality.

Background & Qualification

Chris O’Connell is the Paddy Moriarty Memorial Scholar for 2015/16. Chris holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from University College Cork and Leiden University (1994). He is also a qualified solicitor and has practiced law in Ireland. Chris also holds an MA in Development from DCU (2008). He is the current Chair of the Latin America Solidarity Centre, and spent a number of years working in higher education in Ecuador.

Doctoral Research

Chris’s doctoral research interests centre on the nature of democracy in presidential systems, with a focus on issues of democratic legitimacy and the role of civil society. The regional focus of his research is the Andean bloc.

Research Overview

Presidents in contemporary Latin America are central figures in the region’s economic, social and political development. Yet despite their high profiles and considerable influence over the lives of almost 600 million people, the actions in office of these leaders continue to confound. In particular, this study addresses the puzzle of why some Latin American presidents who run on a left populist campaign platform proceed to govern within the existing rules of the game, while others attempt to radically alter or even destroy those institutional constraints. This research contends that a major element of this confusion results from the vague and over-stretched concept of ‘populism’, which serves to obscure rather than enlighten.

This study instead focuses on the influence of informal constraints and enabling factors, contending that this interactive relationship bears directly on the governance of newly elected presidents. Specifically, this research hypothesises that variation in popular demands for reform in Latin America can help to explain variation in left populist governing styles. The expectation is that where there are low levels of demands left populists will govern within the existing rules; but where levels of demands are high they will (attempt to) radically overhaul existing institutions. This research will complement existing work focussing on formal institutional and economic constraints, contributing to a better understanding of presidential politics in Latin America.

Courses Taught

Contemporary Politics of Latin America (LG330)

Contact Details