Professor Marcelo Bohrt joined the SIS faculty this past fall from Brown University, where he completed a PhD. A sociologist, Bohrt studies the intersection of race, racism, and politics in Bolivia and the US. We sat down with Bohrt to learn more about his research interests as he settles in at SIS.
What are your main areas of research and study?
My research lies at the intersection of three areas of sociology: organizational sociology, political sociology, and cultural sociology. My main focus is on how race and racism shape the experiences of members of historically excluded ethno-racial populations when they access state bureaucracies. I'm interested in understanding how race and racism have shaped organizational structures and cultures, as well as interpersonal relations, within state bureaucracies.
My dissertation research focused on the Bolivian Foreign Ministry since the arrival of President Evo Morales in 2006. Evo Morales was the first indigenous man to become president in Bolivia. Morales' party had a strong indigenous base, and he was elected during a tumultuous time in Bolivia when traditional parties and the political projects they stood for were losing legitimacy. This made it possible to propose radical changes to the state and the country, and to advance a new nation-building project that put indigeneity at the center.
Does this research have broader implications in our world today?
There is a broader relevance to this question of political participation. It's important in itself because it touches on central democratic questions of political equality and inclusion and being able to participate in government. But there's also a discussion in the US and in Latin America about creating representative bureaucracies. How do we build bureaucracies that are representative of the population, whether we're talking about race, gender, or ethnicity?
What are you currently researching?
In addition to my research on Bolivia, I'm currently working on a couple of projects about the incorporation of Latino/a immigrants and their children in the US. One project looks at social mobility and class inequalities, and another examines political participation. In particular, I'm interested in the way that the intersections of race and class shape the socioeconomic and political incorporation of Latinos in the United States.
During political elections and campaigns in the US, we often hear about cleavages between African American, Latino/a, and white voters. So we tend to think about political participation in the US as falling along ethno-racial lines. While that is not wrong, my ongoing research shows that these voters are also internally stratified by class. Race and class shape their political participation and experiences in the US. This is not to say that race does not matter, or that somehow class is more important than race, but that class is experienced in racialized ways in the US. Rather, the political experiences and voice of members of different ethno-racial populations vary according to their class position.
How did you become interested in studying sociology and the intersection of race and democracy?
I'm originally from Bolivia and grew up during a moment of indigenous movements, social mobilizations, and political change in the country. Living in this political context really raised my interest in politics and society. As a teenager, I thought about studying sociology or something similar. Sociologists are very public figures in Bolivia and are very much involved in politics.
What are you looking forward to achieving at SIS?
I hope to continue publishing my research and creating awareness about my findings. We're living in a particular, historical moment for the US and Bolivia in which we're having important discussions about race, racism, and exclusion. The kind of research I do is very relevant to these discussions and can help us think about the ways that racism and race structure our societies.
I'm excited about teaching at SIS because I have an opportunity here to let my research, as well as my academic experiences and personal experiences, inform my teaching. Teaching is the most direct form of service that scholars do for our societies; it's a great opportunity to engage young minds and push them to think critically and comparatively about issues that affect our world.