This seminar focuses on key questions facing scholars of contemporary Latin American politics: Under what conditions do democratic regimes emerge and endure? Under what conditions are politicians responsive to citizens? Does the choice of political institutions matter? What factors affect institutional instability and weakness? The first part of the seminar considers a variety of approaches to regime transition, including explanations based on class, culture, and individual preferences. The second part of the course begins with an analysis of the quality of democracy and representation in Latin America. To evaluate the impact of specific institutions on democracy, the course considers the advantages and drawbacks of presidential democracy. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding variation in inter-branch relations over time and across countries. The course concludes with a survey of emerging research on timely topics including indigenous movements, corruption, and institutional instability.