Michel Estefan

I am a political sociologist that studies the rule of law from a comparative and historical perspective and a committed teacher with a practice and research emphasis on justice-focused pedagogy.

Assistant Teaching Professor of Sociology at the University of California-San Diego



In my first book, Feeling Like Equals: A Gramscian Reading of the Historical Origins and Development of Human Rights (published in Spanish by Universidad Iberoamericana Press), I asked how the idea of equality between human beings emerged in the West after centuries in which inequalities of all kinds were considered a natural part of the divine order on earth. Using Gramsci to trace discourses of inequality/equality across Western Europe, I show how the idea of equality emerged as common sense and was then transformed in the eighteenth century into an explicit political project in the first declarations of rights. This work uses a sociological lens to bridge the gap between the historiography of rights and legal scholarship on the idea of equality.

The Authoritarian Foundations of the Rule of Law: Spain and Mexico in Comparative and Historical Perspective (PhD Dissertation)

It is well-established in the research literature that authoritarianism leaves behind cultural and institutional legacies that make it difficult for countries to develop the rule of law. This insight, however, cannot explain why some countries that experienced authoritarian regimes are more successful than others in building strong and effective judicial systems in the post-authoritarian stage. I answer this question by studying twentieth century Mexico and Spain in comparative-historical perspective. Franco’s military dictatorship in Spain was a harsher form of authoritarianism than Mexico’s PRI-regime, with Franco exercising a degree of control over the judiciary unlike anything the PRI ever achieved. As a result, one would expect Spain’s path toward the rule of law to have been more troubled than Mexico’s. And yet, the exact opposite is true. Using extensive archival data, I argue that the key to explaining these outcomes lies in understanding the specific mechanisms through which the executive power in each country controlled courts and judges during the authoritarian period. This research shows how the longstanding conceptual opposition between authoritarianism and the rule of law in western thought obscures our understanding of the multiple paths countries can take to build strong judiciaries. It also brings into sharp relief the modernizing effects of certain types of authoritarian legal structures. In doing so, it makes theoretical contributions to our understanding of the rule of law and its paradoxical institutional origins in contemporary societies.  

Judge gavel and legal book on wooden tab
Closeup of diverse people joining their


My personal experience publishing my first book and the years I have spent mentoring 164 underrepresented students on the UC Berkeley campus have taught me that success in a rigorous academic program depends heavily on having a supportive community of peers and a mentor who not only equips you with technical skills, but nurtures your self-confidence and sense of belonging. This ethics of support is the central feature of my approach to mentoring students and making academia more inclusive and equitable.


In my classes, I prepare students for a future that will require and reward rigorous data analytic skills as well as cross-cultural communication and cooperation. Competency in these areas is key if they are to meet the collective challenges that lie before us, such as climate change, and bridge the divides across race, gender, class, politics and geography that define our polarized times. I believe sociology has distinct pedagogical value in this regard given its collective ethos and its view of learning as a social process. I translate this value into concrete teaching practices in my courses through a student-centered, integrated approach to course design that incorporates compelling audiovisual materials and innovative methods for generating collaboration among students.

2011-10-24 Bourdieu-Habitus_LogicOfPract

Academic CV



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