Rachel Bowen, Ph.D.


Ohio State University, Columbus

Country: United States (Ohio)

Research Interests

Latin American And Caribbean Politics

Judicial Politics

Gender and Politics

Comparative Political Institutions

Crime Politics

Comparative Democratization

Human Rights

Countries of Interest

Costa Rica

El Salvador



My Research:

My research agenda incorporates political science research and sociolegal studies research on the functions of law and legal institutions to explain successes and failures in building the rule of law with a special focus on Central America. I employ qualitative methods and extensive field work.  I have interviewed judges at all levels of the judicial hierarchies as well as other justice sector officials, practicing lawyers, and activists in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. I argue for the need to focus on protecting judges from societal influences and not just narrowly partisan influences from the other branches of government. In other words, I have argued for the need to turn our attention to judicial autonomy from society and not just inter-branch judicial independence. I place the judiciary in the context of research on the state and society to argue that the rule of law is only possible when judges at all levels of the hierarchy have the autonomy to enforce the law – the crystallization of democratic will – against those with social, economic, or even criminal power and not just pure political power. My current project grows out of observations during a decade of studying Central America about the problem of violence against women and the way that it has largely been excluded from scholarly work on crime and public security.  Such violence and responses to it are not theorized and rarely even measured in the political science literature on public security and crime. This project seeks to provide a gendered theory of public security and its relationship to support for democracy and the rule of law, based on field research in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Managua, Nicaragua; and San Salvador, El Salvador.  I also study the effects of legal and social supports for women victims of crime in Central America, specifically how the availability of legal and social supports affects the attitudes of women crime victims toward legal and political participation.  


Journal Articles:

(2019) The Weight of the Continuous Past: Transitional (In)Justice and Impunity States in Central America, Latin American Politics and Society

Central America’s “Northern Triangle” is infamous for high levels of violent crime and human rights abuses, producing “impunity states” in which violence typically goes unpunished. That violence reflects the broader impunity or “transitional injustice” that has persisted since the peace accords and transitions to democracy of the 1980s and 1990s. Several “post-transitional” trials for past human rights violations occurring in recent years in Guatemala were made possible by institutional strengthening efforts in the prosecutorial agency, led by a unique United Nations commission. Significant progress away from broad impunity may also be seen in the 2015 “Guatemalan Spring,” in which a sitting president was forced to resign and submit to prosecution in connection with a corruption scandal. Comparisons of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras suggest that institutional strengthening is necessary before “post-transitional justice” or an end to impunity more generally can be possible.

(2013) Judicial Autonomy in Central America: A Typological Argument, Political Research Quarterly

Judicial autonomy from societal actors is argued herein to be a critical aspect of the rule of law and to have been overlooked by the dominance within comparative judicial politics of the role of inter-branch judicial independence. These distinct concepts are parsed and then interrelated to form a typology of four “judicial regime types”: liberal regimes, partisan control regimes, impunity regimes, and government control regimes. These regime types are then traced in five Central American countries.

Books Written:

(2017) The Achilles Heel of Democracy: Judicial Autonomy and the Rule of Law in Central America, Cambridge University Press

Featuring the first in-depth comparison of the judicial politics of five under-studied Central American countries, The Achilles Heel of Democracy offers a novel typology of 'judicial regime types' based on the political independence and societal autonomy of the judiciary. This book highlights the under-theorized influences on the justice system-criminals, activists, and other societal actors-and the ways that they intersect with more overtly political influences. Grounded in interviews with judges, lawyers, and activists, it presents the'high politics' of constitutional conflicts in the context of national political conflicts as well as the'low politics' of crime control and the operations of trial-level courts. The book begins in the violent and often authoritarian 1980s in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and spans through the tumultuous 2015 'Guatemalan Spring'; the evolution of Costa Rica's robust liberal judicial regime is traced from the 1950s.

Media Appearances:

Radio Appearances:

(2019) The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC

"Guatemala in Crisis"

Blog Posts:

(2019) The Conversation

"Guatemala in crisis after president bans corruption investigation into his government" (January 15, 2019).

(2018) The Conversation

“Costa Rica looks a little less exceptional after its heated election” (April 2, 2018). Republished on multiple platforms, including Newsweek.. Translated and published on Huffington Post Mexico.

(2017) The Conversation

“Would impeaching Trump restore the rule of law? Lessons from Latin America,” (July 11, 2017). Received over 100,000 views on multiple platforms and republished by The Washington Post as “Impeaching Trump wouldn’t help restore the rule of law” on July 19, 2017,