Dr. Shannon Drysdale Walsh is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and awarded a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship for 2014-2016 -- an endowed professorship for promising junior faculty in the University of Minnesota system. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
McKnight Land-Grant Professor (2014-16)
Department of Political Science
University of Minnesota Duluth
(two one eight) 206-2426
shannondwalsh [at] gmail [dot com]
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Shannon Drysdale Walsh
My research agenda addresses a core question in politics: How and when do states respond to the interests of marginalized populations in contexts with limited state capacity? I am a scholar of comparative politics, Latin American politics, and women and politics whose work intersects with international relations and political sociology. I draw on over 22 months of field research in Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) to investigate state responsiveness to marginalized groups, especially female victims of violence, in emerging democracies.
My research spans three areas of inquiry. The first explains variation in the development and performance of state institutions charged with handling cases of violence against women. The second explains why those who commit violent crimes against women in Central America go unpunished by the state despite major efforts to address violence against women. The third area focuses on particular marginalized groups, such as indigenous Guatemalan women and sex trafficking victims, and explains how the state has (and has not) addressed their needs and interests.
While I contribute to the social science project of explaining variation in outcomes, my research is motivated by a normative concern for the well-being of marginalized groups, especially women who experience violence. Therefore, I craft my research and service so that it is policy relevant and advances practical solutions in addition to innovative analysis. Below, I describe my contributions, publications, and current projects in each of these research areas.
Institutional-Building and Performance, Violence against Women, Transnational Networks
What explains variation in the creation of specialized justice system institutions that address violence against women? Beyond this, what explains variation in the performance of these institutions? In answering these questions, I advance the literature in both comparative politics on comparative political institutions and international relations on the nature of transnational advocacy networks. With the emerging comparative politics literature that explains institutional creation and change (instead of stasis), I draw on international relations literature and argue that transnational advocacy networks play a key role in institutional creation. International relations scholars argue that transnational advocacy networks influence the emergence of several things, such as issues, policies, and campaigns. However, their impact on the creation of state bureaucratic institutions is understudied and important because these institutions are often charged with implementing the laws that these networks aim to advance.
I explain not just why and how specialized institutions are created, but also variation in their performance vis-à-vis women victims of violence. Do these institutions effectively implement violence against women laws? Among other things, I find that the stronger the network ties that enable institutional creation, the more effectively these ties are utilized to improve their performance. However, network-style advocacy is not a cure-all for the ills of weak institutionalization and lagging performance. Thus, I also analyze and critique the limitations of network-style advocacy. My work on these issues includes a book manuscript with a revise and resubmit at Oxford University Press, an award-winning paper with a revise and resubmit, two peer-reviewed articles at International Feminist Journal of Politics and Studies in Social Justice, and a refereed book chapter in press with an anthology published by Rutgers University Press.
Given the gravity and widespread acceptance of violence against women in most Latin American countries, it is surprising to learn that there are many state institutions such as women’s policy agencies that address the problem. The first article I published is “Engendering Justice: Constructing Institutions to Address Violence against Women”. A Fulbright-Hays fellowship in 2007-2008 funded the fieldwork for this study. These early insights identify coordinated efforts among actors in the state, civil society and international organizations as important for institution-building, which led to my current work on the impacts of transnational advocacy networks.
Although understanding the creation of institutions is important, so is understanding variation in how these institutions function to mitigate violence against women. My book manuscript that addresses both of these questions is Engendering State Institutions: State Response to Violence against Women, which and has a revise and resubmit at Oxford University Press. One puzzling outcome in Latin America is that some countries with few resources and a longstanding history of women’s exclusion have been able to create innovative specialized women-focused justice system institutions such as women’s police stations (in Nicaragua). I argue that transnational advocacy networks bringing together actors from three different sectors (state agents, international organizations, and domestic organizations) are necessary for providing the pressure, resources, and institutional models required for building state institutions that address the needs of groups historically marginalized by the state. Further, these networks help strengthen and improve performance within women’s state institutions after they are constructed by providing monitoring, training, and sustainable funding.
This is an important advance in the comparative politics and women and politics scholarship, which has limited explanations of the specific causal mechanisms necessary for improving institutional performance for marginalized groups. This broadens the literature on state response to violence against women, which is now beginning to focus more on developing countries. Finally, it advances the international relations literature by specifying how transnational advocacy networks help build state bureaucratic institutions. I have conducted over a decade of fieldwork, in which I observed institutions, and completed over 250 formal interviews with actors in the state, civil society, international organizations, and victims. My fieldwork reveals the everyday impact of these state institutions on women’s lives. In many cases, these institutions empower women by giving them leverage in abusive situations (for example, legitimizing the assertion that “If you hit me, I will go to the women’s police station!”). However, they also have serious limitations, as they are often underfunded, marginalized within the broader set of state institutions, and can – in the worst cases – be staffed by undertrained individuals who justify and reinforce rather than undermine violence against women.
I presented the core argument of the book project regarding the creation (or lack) of specialized policing for women in a paper for the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). This paper received the 2015 Helen Safa Paper Award from the LASA Gender and Feminist Studies Section. The article manuscript based on the paper, “Transnational Advocacy Networks and Institution-Building: The Emergence of Women-Focused Policing Units,” has a revise and resubmit.
While my work recognizes that coordination with international donors is often necessary and has been a major source of significant advances for women, I also critically analyze the role of transnational advocacy networks and international donors. In my article, “Not Necessarily Solidarity: Dilemmas of Women’s Transnational Advocacy Networks,” I argue that there are some potentially harmful impacts of engaging in network-style advocacy – including top-down resource allocation and a disproportionate focus on short-term projects with measurable results. Pernicious outcomes include neglecting local priorities, tabling long-term goals, and provoking resource competition among local organizations. Most of the international relations literature generally celebrates the advances that transnational advocacy networks and international donors have fostered. This article tempers the conventional wisdom with counterexamples drawn from in-depth interviews conducted in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Maintaining a critical eye toward the transformative potential of transnational advocacy networks, I critically analyze women’s police stations in Nicaragua in my refereed chapter “Advances and Limitations of Policing and Human Security for Women: Nicaragua in Comparative Perspective.” Women’s police stations are free-standing police stations operated by women for women and children that were created through the efforts of transnational advocacy networks. While there is an emerging literature on women’s policing and its impact on security, this is the first study to analyze these specialized institutions with a human security framework. I find that, despite the fact that these are more approachable and visible than traditional male-dominated policing, women’s police stations are generally underfunded, institutionally marginalized, and have a limited impact by having an incomplete toolkit for addressing broader forms of marginalization that put women at risk for violence. So, I argue that, to embody the core principles of human security, women’s policing must be integrated into broader programs addressing underlying issues that make women vulnerable to becoming victims in the first place. These broader programs should address risk factors for violence against women such as inequality, structural violence, poverty, and lack of access to education and health care.
Impunity for Violence against Women
My second research area turns from explaining variation in state response to violence against women to explaining persistent impunity and high levels of violence against women. I focus on killings of women (“femicide”) and killings of women because they are women in a context of impunity (“feminicide”). Much of the sociological and political science literature on women’s victimization focuses on individual-level factors that motivate these crimes or a general lack of political will or capacity to respond to them. Drawing on the theoretical framework of “multisided violence” by co-author Cecilia Menjívar, I utilize my extensive field research experience in Central America to demonstrate how a context of multisided violence that includes persistent patterns of social and legal discrimination against women increases the probability of impunity and extreme forms of violent killings of women. Menjívar and I demonstrate the explanatory strength of this framework in violent contexts by applying it to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In addition, we conduct victim-based analyses of failures in the justice system demonstrating that the burdens placed on victims’ families to advance cases also contribute to impunity. Our work has yielded three peer reviewed articles (two published and one forthcoming), one article under review, and the early stages of a book manuscript. We rotate first authorship for our articles and contribute equally to all of our work.
We argue that countries with a wide range of “multisided violence” – which includes structural, symbolic, political, gender, and everyday violence -- makes extreme forms of gender violence and impunity more likely through the normalization of violence in general and violence against women in particular (“Impunity and Multisided Violence in the Lives of Women in Latin America: El Salvador in Comparative Perspective” and “The Architecture of Feminicide: The State, Inequalities, and Everyday Gender Violence in Honduras”). Extending on this research, we also analyze socio-legal patterns in Guatemala and contend that progressive laws on violence against women are less likely to be implemented when embedded in a broader set of discriminatory laws on other issues, such as family and property laws (manuscript under review: “Subverting Justice: Embedding Discrimination in the Application of Violence against Women Laws in Guatemala”). In this work, we rely primarily on accounts from country experts to substantiate our claims.
In addition to drawing on country experts, I also contribute rare and valuable first-hand accounts by victims’ families to analyze the phenomenon of feminicide. I worked extensively with surviving families of women who had been murdered in Guatemala, conducting in-depth interviews and accompanying them to document their pathway through the justice system. Based on this, Menjívar and I develop a victim-based approach to explain stunningly low conviction rates for killings of women (2% in Guatemala). Drawing on Dan Brinks’s law and society scholarship, we explain that the justice system imposes extraordinary costs and burdens – or “legal tolls” – upon families attempting to pursue justice. These tolls include having to spend time, effort, and money to monitor cases and even gather evidence. Families also have to pay the toll of overcoming fear when they come under death threats from the families of the accused in a system that offers no effective witness protection. If and when cases are dropped by families who cannot afford these costs, the perpetrators are almost guaranteed to remain in impunity since the justice system will typically drop cases without the monitoring and assistance of victims’ families. While Brinks’s framework was created to explain impunity for police killings in Argentina, we demonstrate how legal tolls can also help explain impunity for femicide by disincentivizing and punishing the pursuit of justice. (See forthcoming article: “‘What Guarantees Do We Have?’: Legal Tolls and Impunity for Feminicide in Guatemala.”)
Cecilia Menjívar and I are continuing our collaboration with a co-authored book manuscript, provisionally titled Violence and Immigration: Socio-Legal Determinants of Women’s Migration from Central America. This will extend the analyses in our papers to explain the impact of violence and impunity on the immigration of women seeking asylum in the United States. It will also include empirical work on the remaining countries in Central America (Nicaragua and Costa Rica) to further test the explanatory power of the multisided violence theoretical framework.
Intersectionality and State Responses to Particular Marginalized Groups
My third research area examines the intersectional dimensions of state responsiveness to marginalized groups such as indigenous women in Guatemala and sex trafficked individuals in the United States. In part, I argue that incorporating members of marginalized subgroups into policymaking and monitoring positions improves the probability of improved policies and services.
While marginalized groups (such as women) have made some public policy gains, marginalized subgroups within them (such as indigenous women) are often left out of these advances. In “Women’s Organizing and Intersectional Policymaking in Comparative Perspective: Evidence from Guatemala and Germany,” co-author Christina Xydias and I develop the concept of “intersectional policies” to describe policies that advance the interests of marginalized subgroups. I wrote the case study on Guatemala, finding that the participation of indigenous women has been necessary for the creation of policies that address indigenous women’s rights. Xydias conducted the case study on Germany, finding that the exclusion of immigrant women from policymaking results in a lack of protective policies. We advance the literature on women and politics by demonstrating that the incorporation of marginalized subgroups into civil society organizations advocating for policy change is necessary for improving substantive representation for these subgroups.
Women victims of sex trafficking – especially minority women -- are a particularly vulnerable and marginalized subgroup, even in the United States. In a piece that integrates theory and policy, “Sex Trafficking and the State: Applying Domestic Abuse Interventions to Serve Victims of Sex Trafficking,” I argue that the participation of individuals who have been trafficked is crucial for formulating public policies and improving responsiveness in the police and courts. I make a significant theoretical contribution to the human rights literature by articulating the poorly-understood and under-documented intersections among sex trafficking, domestic abuse, and prostitution. While much of the literature has focused on international sex trafficking and responses to it, I analyze progressive justice system responses to domestic violence in Duluth, Minnesota that have been adopted worldwide. Further, I demonstrate how to effectively apply these interventions to address trafficking on a global scale. A key finding is that a coordinated community response that includes individuals who have been trafficked is crucial for advancing training, monitoring and legislation in ways that are parallel to the efforts that have enabled advances for domestic abuse interventions.
Research, Engagement, Fieldwork, Funding
In addition to the substantive questions I address, my work is characterized by a broader sense of engagement through policy work, the integration of research with service and teaching, and extensive fieldwork supported by external and internal funding. I have forged a career based on selecting research questions that might make the world a better place, and I am also committed to serving the communities I have worked with. In part, I have done this through serving as an expert witness in six cases of women seeking asylum in the United States from situations of violence in Central American countries and consulting (pro bono) for four other asylum cases. On the local level, I have served as a member of the Duluth Trafficking Task Force to advance evidence-based community-level initiatives for addressing sex trafficking in Minnesota. On the international level, I have served the rural community of Bisán, Guatemala as the coordinator of a village-based sustainable cultural and economic development project.
I also make my work policy relevant. In my articles, I usually include explicit recommendations that can be used by policy practitioners in order to improve responsiveness to marginalized individuals and groups. I have been called upon to consult for NGOs (such as the Guatemala Human Rights Commission) and have made my research available to them in abbreviated format useful for policymakers and international advocates. In the classroom, I have involved my students in these local and international initiatives so that they are contributing directly to solutions, not just learning about problems. For example, one of my classes held a fundraiser that enabled the community of Bisán, Guatemala to build their first schools. Moving forward, I will continue this integration of my research, service, and teaching in order to leverage my extensive field experience and have a practical and positive impact on the marginalized individuals and groups I serve.
My work is informed by intensive and extensive fieldwork. Since 2004, I have conducted over 22 months of fieldwork in Central America. I have conducted over 250 recorded and transcribed interviews in addition to collecting statistical and secondary data on women’s victimization. I have also conducted detailed observations of the inner workings of local NGOs and the justice system in Central America. I have lived primarily with families who share their everyday experiences, and dedicated most evenings to writing up field notes in the safety of their homes. Through return trips to Central America every year, I update my work and keep up with contacts on the ground. In addition, I have built a network of research assistants who can assist with data collection when I am unable to make it to the field. This has enabled my work to remain comprehensive and current.
I have advanced much of this research through successful efforts to obtain external and internal funding. As a graduate student, I was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship for field research and a Mellon / American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellowship. Since starting my position at the University of Minnesota Duluth, I have been awarded nationally-competitive awards, including the American Association of University Women (AAUW) American Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Stipend Grant, and the American Political Science Association (APSA) Fund for the Study of Women and Politics Research Grant. The Fulbright-Hays, ACLS, AAUW and NEH have competitive funding rates around 10%. I have also competed for internal funding and been awarded six research grants through the University of Minnesota system and five through the University of Minnesota Duluth. The most noteworthy of these is the highest honor that can be conferred on a junior faculty member in the University of Minnesota System: the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship, which is a two year endowed professorship for promising junior faculty. I will continue efforts to pursue external funding through competitive sources such as the National Science Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Over the next few years, I will continue my research agenda on state responsiveness to marginalized groups. I will complete revisions of my book manuscript Engendering State Institutions and resubmit this to Oxford University Press. I will also complete the book manuscript, Gender Violence and Immigration, with Cecilia Menjívar. In addition, I have several papers (solo authored and co-authored) at the early stages where I test the propositions in Engendering State Institutions across a broader set of cases in other regions in the world, including African and Asian countries. I am also beginning to explore broader questions about backlash against women’s rights by investigating policy setbacks and reversals. Over the course of my career, my principal aim is to significantly advance scholarship on marginalized groups by investigating state responses to their interests.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale. 2008. “Engendering Justice: Constructing Institutions to Address Violence Against Women” Studies in Social Justice. 2 (1): 48-66.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale. “Transnational Advocacy Networks and Institution-Building: The Emergence of Women-Focused Policing Units” [Invited to Revise and Resubmit.] An earlier version of this paper received the 2015 Helen Safa Paper Award by the Latin American Studies Association Gender and Feminist Studies Section.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale. 2015. “Not Necessarily Solidarity: Dilemmas of Women’s Transnational Advocacy Networks” International Feminist Journal of Politics. Online Version: March 2015, Print Version: June 2016, 18 (2): 248-269.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale. In Press. “Advances and Limitations of Policing and Human Security for Women: Nicaragua in Comparative Perspective.” Gender Violence in Peace and War: States of Complicity (edited by Victoria Sanford, Katherine Stefatos and Cecilia Salvi). Rutgers University Press.
Note: This chapter was refereed by the editors as well as external reviewers. Victoria Sanford, the principal editor, is an established and widely cited anthropologist who (among other contributions) has conducted groundbreaking work on human rights and violence against women in Guatemala. This volume is a collection of leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines documenting the complicity of states in gender violence during times of peace and war. My chapter documents the limits of women’s policing in Nicaragua through a human security lens.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale and Cecilia Menjívar. 2016. “Impunity and Multisided Violence in the Lives of Women in Latin America: El Salvador in Comparative Perspective.” Current Sociology. Online Version: April 2016. Print Version: July 2016.
 Reference: Menjívar, Cecilia and Shannon Drysdale Walsh. Forthcoming. “The Architecture of Feminicide: The State, Inequalities, and Everyday Gender Violence in Honduras.” Latin American Research Review. Print Version Scheduled: 2017.
 Reference: Menjívar, Cecilia and Shannon Drysdale Walsh. “Subverting Justice: Embedding Discrimination in the Application of Violence against Women Laws in Guatemala.” Under Review.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale and Cecilia Menjívar. Forthcoming. “‘What Guarantees Do We Have?’ Legal Tolls and Impunity for Feminicide in Guatemala.” Latin American Politics and Society. Print Version Scheduled: Winter 2016.
 Reference: Walsh, Shannon Drysdale. 2016. “Sex Trafficking and the State: Applying Domestic Abuse Interventions to Serve Victims of Sex Trafficking.” Human Rights Review. 17 (2): 221-245.