Kurt Weyland

ProfessorPh.D., Stanford University

Kurt Weyland



Professor Weyland's research interests focus on democratization, market reform, social policy and policy diffusion, and populism in Latin America. He has drawn on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including insights from cognitive psychology, and has done extensive field research in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela. After receiving a Staatsexamen from Johannes-Gutenberg Universitat Mainz in 1984, a M.A. from UT in 1986, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1991, he taught for ten years at Vanderbilt University. He has received research support from the SSRC and NEH and was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, in 1999/2000 and at the Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame, in 2004/05. From 2001 to 2004, he served as Associate Editor of the Latin American Research Review.

He is the author of Democracy without Equity: Failures of Reform in Brazil (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), The Politics of Market Reform in Fragile Democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela (Princeton University Press, 2002), several book chapters, and many articles in journals such as World Politics, Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Latin American Research Review, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Foreign Affairs, and Political Research Quarterly. He has also edited a volume, Learning from Foreign Models in Latin American Policy Reform (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2004). His latest book, Bounded Rationality and Policy Diffusion: Social Sector Reform in Latin America, was published by Princeton University Press in July of 2007.


Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift: The Threat from the Populist Left


Democracy has been on the defensive in contemporary Latin America; under the cover of progressive rhetoric, competitive authoritarianism has emerged. Leftist leaders like Hugo Chávez relied on populism to establish their political hegemony, erode institutional checks and balances, marginalize the opposition through discriminatory legalism, and severely skew political competition. Left-wing populism has done more damage to democracy than the rightist, neoliberal populism of the 1990s. Self-styled socialist leaders command more solid, durable support, use growing economic interventionism to boost their power, invoke nationalism as a shield against foreign democracy promotion, and act as a coordinated group in suffocating democracy.

The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848?


Prominent scholars have highlighted important similarities between the Arab Spring of 2011 and the “revolutions” of 1848: Both waves of contention swept with dramatic speed across whole regions, but ended up yielding rather limited advances toward political liberalism and democracy. I seek to uncover the causal mechanisms that help account for these striking parallels. Drawing on my recent analysis of 1848, I argue that contention spread so quickly because many people in a wide range of countries drew rash inferences from the downfall of Tunisia's dictator. Applying cognitive heuristics that psychologists have documented, they overrated the significance of the Tunisian success, overestimated the similarities with the political situation in their own country, and jumped to the conclusion that they could successfully challenge their own autocrats. This precipitation prompted protests in many settings that actually were much less propitious; therefore problems abounded. Cognitive shortcuts held such sway because Arab societies were weakly organized and repressed and thus lacked leaders from whom common people could take authoritative cues. The decision whether to engage in emulative contention fell to ordinary citizens, who—due to limited information access and scarce experience—were especially susceptible to the simple inferences suggested by cognitive heuristics.

The Diffusion of Regime Contention in European Democratization, 1830-1940


This article goes beyond the established literature’s focus on domestic conditions by examining the impact of external impulses on European democratization from 1830 to 1940. Specifically, it analyzes the diffusion of regime conflict that arose from the cross-national spread of situational judgments about the feasibility of political change: Striking precedents of regime collapse, such as the overthrow of French kings in 1830 and 1848, tended to produce dramatic waves of political contention across Europe. But because the actual distribution of power in polities that experienced such externally stimulated episodes of regime contention often differed from the front-runner, these conflicts produced various types of results. The article distinguishes four outcomes of diffusion, namely (a) successful replication, (b) preemptive reform, (c) abortive replication, and (d) blockage of replication efforts. The latter two outcomes help explain why in European history, not only did political liberalism and democracy diffuse, but during certain time periods authoritarianism, corporatism, and fascism spread as well.

The Logic of the Tenure Decision:In Dubio Contra “Reum”


Since tenure decisions concern the award of an employment guarantee, the burden of proof ought to rest on the candidate; in cases of doubt, the vote should be negative. However, a number of corrosive tendencies often weaken the strict application of this principle. To counteract these tendencies, this article advocates a strategy of pre- commitment to fairly objective standards and reliance on the professional judgments of a variety of anonymous outside experts, as reflected in a candidate’s success in the double- blind peer review process.

The Diffusion of Revolution: ‘1848’ in Europe and Latin America


What accounts for the spread of political protest and contention across countries? Analyzing the wildfire of attempted revolutions in 1848, the present article assesses four causal mechanisms for explaining diffusion, namely external pressure from a great power (such as revolutionary France after 1789); the promotion of new norms and values—such as liberalism and democracy—by more advanced countries; rational learning from successful contention in other nations; or boundedly rational, potentially distorted inferences from select foreign experiences. The patterns in which revolutionary contention spread and eyewitness reports from all sides of the ensuing conflicts suggest that bounded rationality played a crucial role: cognitive heuristics that deviate from fully rational procedures drew attention to some experiences but not others and induced both challengers and defenders of the established order to draw rash conclusions from these experiences, particularly the French monarchy's fall in February 1848. My study also shows, however, that other factors made important contributions, for instance by preparing the ground for the wave of regime contention.

Toward a New Theory of Institutional Change


Going beyond historical and rational choice institutionalism, this article elaborates the core of a new theory that can account for the discontinuous, disproportionate, and frequently wavelike nature of institutional change. Cognitive-psychological findings on shifts in actors' propensity for assuming risk help explain why periods of institutional stasis can be followed by dramatic breakthroughs as actors eventually respond to a growing problem load with efforts at bold transformation. And insights on boundedly rational learning explain why solutions to these problems often occur as emulation of other countries' innovations and experiences. The new approach, which elucidates both the demand and the supply side of institutional change, is illustrated through an analysis of the transformation of developmental states, welfare states, and political regimes.

Theories of Policy Diffusion Lessons from Latin American Pension Reform


What accounts for the waves of policy diffusion that increasingly sweep across regions of the world? Why do many diverse countries adopt similar changes? Focusing on the spread of Chilean-style pension privatization in Latin America, this article assesses the relative merit of four theoretical explanations that scholars of diffusion have proposed. As the principal mechanism driving innovations' spread, these approaches emphasize external pressures, emanating especially from international financial institutions; the quest for symbolic or normative legitimacy; rational learning and cost-benefit calculation; and cognitive heuristics, respectively. The article assesses which one of these frameworks can best account for the three distinctive features of diffusion, namely its wavelike temporal pattern; its geographical clustering; and the spread of similarity amid diversity. While several approaches contribute to understanding policy diffusion, the analysis suggests that the cognitive-psychological framework offers a particularly persuasive account of the spread of pension reform.

You Might Not Be Ready for Promotion


Who wouldn’t like more salary and higher status? Understandably, then, it is tempting for academics to bid for promotion as soon as the opportunity seems to arise. Associate professors who have been at that rank for a few years are often eager to become full members of the academic guild. How nice it would be to reach the top of the career ladder soon.

The problem is that human beings tend to overestimate their capabilities and accomplishments. That’s why large majorities of survey respondents rate themselves as above-average drivers, spouses, and parents. Academics are not exempt from that tendency: We often have exaggerated views of our own qualities and contributions.


Curriculum Vitae

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