Fiona has two principal research interests in Brazil and Latin America: gender policies and politics, and criminal justice reform and human rights. In both cases she is interested in the interface between organised civil society and the state, and the way in which specific political institutions and governance arrangements (political parties, decentralisation) impinge on the capacity of civil society groups to affect policy and reform the state.
In the area of gender studies, her research began by examining the restoration of democracy in Chile and Brazil, and the way in which party systems and individual parties in Latin America have responded to, and filtered, women's movement demands for political representation and state gender policies. Her two-country comparative study, Gender Politics in Brazil and Chile, based on several years of in-country fieldwork, is original in focusing on both national and local-level political arenas, in emphasising party systems as well as individual parties; and in analysing the religious-secular cleavage in addition to the left-right axis, the degree and type of institutionalization of individual parties and of the party system, and the individual party's political genesis and habitus as variables determining parties receptivity to gender equality and equity claims. She has also published studies of women's networks and NGOs in Brazil and Latin America in relation to legal literacy, lobbying and advocacy, and domestic violence.
She developed expertise in the area of human rights whilst responsible for the Brazil desk at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International (1997-99). Funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation, she examined the institutional and political dynamics of human rights reform in Brazil, which has resulted in a number of publications on reform processes in the judiciary, police and prison system, as well as more general analyses. She is currently researching the ways in which civil society is able to engage with the criminal justice system, through accountability mechanisms, on the one hand, and co-production of security, on the other. In particular articles on little-known, but ground-breaking civil-society community-run prisons in Brazil, based on research supported by the Socio-Legal Studies Association, are due out in Spanish, Portuguese and English. She is continuing the study of state-NGO partnerships in São Paulo state with comparative research conducted in Minas Gerais state in November-December 2007. To this end she spent a month as Visiting Professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, at the invitation of the Institute for Advanced Transdisciplinary Studies (holding the IEAT/Ford Foundation Chair). In September 2007 she gave a paper at the conference of the Latin American Studies Association in Montreal on organized crime gangs and the prison system in São Paulo.