My book-length dissertation examines the political consequences of transitional justice at the micro-level, asking how participation in these policies affects patterns of political behavior after violence. To address this question, I study three commonly-implemented transitional justice policies and utilize a range of evidence, including quantitative, interview, and text, collected during twelve months of fieldwork in Chile. Read more about my dissertation here.
Balcells, Laia, Valeria Palanza, and Elsa Voytas. 2019. “Do museums promote reconciliation? A field experiment on transitional justice.” Revise and Resubmit, Journal of Politics. Read an early draft available at: ESOC Working Paper Number 10. Empirical Studies of Conflict Project.
Can memorial museums promote post-conflict reconciliation? This project draws on evidence from a field experiment studying the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile to begin to answer this question. We propose that memorial museums present a certain narrative of past events that can both impart knowledge and elicit emotional reactions among their visitors. Our findings suggest that though perceptions of museums vary along ideological lines, visiting them alters political attitudes related to issues documented in the museum. After visiting, we find that Chilean university students have greater support for democratic institutions, are more likely to reject institutions associated with the repressive period, and are more likely to approve of restorative transitional justice policies. Our findings suggest that memorial museums can support processes of reconciliation by influencing the political attitudes of visitors but that most changes in political beliefs wane over time.
Media coverage: El Mostrador
Voytas, Elsa and Ben Crisman. 2019. “Failure to Protect: Civilian Victimization and State Legitimacy in Colombia.” Under Review.
How does civilian victimization during civil war affect interactions with the state following conflict? We highlight on an oft-overlooked fact: participating in transitional justice and reconciliation policies can require contact with state institutions that failed to protect civilians or perpetrated violence themselves. Recent research suggests that conflict-affected individuals can become more pro-social and increase political engagement. These findings, however, originate from contexts where violence was not perpetrated by state institutions. We argue that though victims may be more pro-social than non-victims, state-led victimization decreases trust in the state, causing individuals to withdraw from behaviors that presuppose trust in government, such as registering as a victim. In this paper, we leverage variation in civilian victimization by perpetrator over time and across space. We find that indiscriminate violence carried out by the state translates into lower levels of victim registration in the registry held by Colombia’s state-run victim’s unit. We examine what this implies for state legitimacy and peace consolidation after civil war. Our results also shed light on dynamics influencing victims’ engagement with transitional justice after violence in contexts where the state carried out violence.
Voytas, Elsa. 2019. “What can money buy? The political consequences of material reparations.” Job market paper.
What explains patterns in political participation after violence? I examine the political consequences of participating in transitional justice policies in post-conflict settings. Recent research has suggested that violence can shape subsequent political engagement. In this paper, I turn to victim micro-level behaviors and find that experiences with transitional justice policies can increase political engagement. I use a multi-method approach to show that surviving victims who receive a material reparation are more likely to register to vote. I substantiate this claim through content analysis of victim testimonies, exogenous variation in the timing of reparations, and qualitative interviews. However, I also find that the effect varies according to an individual’s relationship to violence; while direct survivors of torture exhibit higher levels of voter registration, I do not find a significant relationship between compensation because of a deceased family member and registering to vote. These findings suggest that analyses of political participation in post-conflict societies should account for 1) experiences with transitional justice policies and 2) differences among types of victims. From a policy perspective, the results are important for societies implementing transitional justice policies in the hopes of achieving long-lasting peace and preventing reversions to violence.
Balcells, Laia and Elsa Voytas. “What Difference Do Museums Make?” in The Oxford Handbook of Transitional Justice. Edited by Jens Meierhenrich, Alexander Laban Hinton and Lawrence Douglas. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Under contract.