My research interests are united by a drive to understand the ideas, institutions, and practices that produce or inhibit order, conflict, and violence. In addition to my book project and published work, I have a number of research projects in progress on civil wars, revolutionary regimes, and security and state building in the developing world. Working papers are available on request and I have listed the last conference at which a paper was presented. View my Google Scholar profile here.
When the Rebels Win: State Power and Public Interests after Civil Wars
When rebels win civil wars, what types of state structures do they build, how do they seek to assert their authority, and how do they govern in practice? I theorize that the goal orientation and organizational decisions of top-level leaders shape the institutions and practices of groups while fighting as rebels and that these patterns will carry over into their time in power. I argue that we can distinguish among rebel organizations on the basis of their political-ideological programs, their goals, and their relations with the civilian population, which will shape the form and character of the states built after victory. Drawing on fieldwork in three countries—Nicaragua, Uganda, and Liberia—I find that rebel organizations’ state building and service provision practices depend on whether their leaders develop a transformational program to affect a broader public, or whether they have more narrow aims of gaining power and wealth for their private benefit. This affects the recruitment practices, internal organizational policies, and rebel governance of organizations while fighting as rebels and has path dependent effects into the groups’ time governing internationally-recognized states. I use shadow case studies to test generalizability in a diverse range of cases and am developing a dataset to conduct statistical analyses comparing states led by former rebel groups to other states in the developing world. This research contributes theoretical and historical grounding to academic and policy debates on rebel governance, state building, and post-civil war governance and development.
I have presented draft portions of the theory and case studies at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, International Studies Association, and African Studies Association. The book manuscript is revised from my dissertation, which I defended in 2018. I have written about the project and my research in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs’ Centerpiece magazine (pdf here, pp.10-12) and discussed it in a Q&A with the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation’s Challenges to Democracy blog.
“Civil Resistance in the Shadow of History: Historical Frames, Analogies, and the Generation of ‘Spontaneous’ Uprisings” (with Eric Mosinger, Charlotte Fowler, and Diana Paz García, accepted for publication at Comparative Politics)
What explains sudden nonviolent civil resistance campaigns? Nicaragua’s April-May 2018 mass protests grew quickly from initial demonstrations against social security reforms to a nationwide mass uprising calling for regime change and democratization, prompting harsh state and paramilitary repression. Standard mass protest models highlighting underlying economic and political grievances fail to explain mass participation in these protests. Instead, the best explanation lies in history-based frames that shape actors’ perceptions of their opponents and the issues at stake. The initial April 18-21 interactions between pro-government forces and protestors activated powerful frames resonating with Nicaragua’s history of dictatorship and revolution. Nearly overnight, President Daniel Ortega’s regime was reframed as equivalent to the 1936-1979 Somoza dictatorship. Protesters, meanwhile, set up barricades and adopted the symbols, rhetoric, and paradigmatic roles of the Sandinista revolution of the 1970s. The creative, contingent use of historical analogy may enable sudden uprisings even where long simmering grievances are absent.
“Civil Wars as Critical Junctures: Theoretical Grounding and Empirical Applications” (2020 APSA Annual Meeting)
Civil wars are not only destructive: they can also give birth to new, long-lasting social, political, and economic structures and processes. To best account for this productive potential of civil wars and to measure and analyze post-conflict changes, I argue that we should view civil wars as critical junctures. Civil wars relax structural constraints, opening opportunities for structural changes generated by wartime processes. The results of the conflict can lock in these changes, creating path dependency. Government victory may foreclose change (critical junctures do not necessarily lead to transformation), but governments can also make lasting reforms in response to conflicts. Rebel victory, meanwhile, has major potential for statebuilding and societal transformation, depending on the ideals and goals of the rebel group. Finally, negotiated settlements can institutionalize a new balance of domestic political power. The liminal period as a war seems to be drawing to a close and peace is on the horizon is therefore a crucial moment for postwar political, social, and economic development, and for the likelihood of conflict recurrence. I explore the benefits of a critical junctures approach to civil wars through an examination of the literature on women’s empowerment during and after war, and I discuss how a critical junctures framework may prove useful for studies of civil war using methods beyond its traditional application in comparative historical analysis.
“Delegation, Sponsorship, and Autonomy: Logics and Consequences of Armed Group-State Relationships” (2019 APSA Annual Meeting)
What types of relationships do armed groups have with states? How do different levels of ties and power relations affect both armed group and government behavior? I develop a spectrum across which armed group-state relationships can move, focusing on three key types of relationships—delegation, sponsorship, and autonomy. An armed group-state relationship may be classified depending on the degree to which the armed group receives material or security support from a state, whether it pursues the strategic aims of the state, and the balance of power between the armed group and the state. Examining cases ranging from Cold War-era rebels to progovernment and communal militias to the Lord’s Resistance Army and al-Qaeda, I explore the implications of these different levels of armed group-state connection in light of advances in international law and humanitarian practice, and I discuss how my framework enhances our ability to analyze the behavior and liabilities of both armed groups and states.
“Disentangling African Insurgent Ideologies” (with Jason Warner, 2017 APSA Annual Meeting)
Ideology guides the policies and actions of African insurgent groups, yet it is often hard to disentangle different groups’ objectives, the origins and components of their ideological principles, and how these principles are put into action. Confusion among academics and policy analysts about variation among African insurgent ideologies has frequently led to suboptimal military and diplomatic engagement with insurgent groups by national and international actors. To address these issues, this paper introduces a new analytic device, the African Insurgent Ideology Matrix (AIIM), to disaggregate the components African insurgent group ideologies and allow for improved comparisons between groups. This approach improves understanding and precision in formulating strategies to prevent and reduce violence in both domestic African and transnational contexts. To demonstrate the AIIM and its utility, we code the ideologies of 54 insurgent groups active on the African continent during the decade of 2004-2013.
“Ideology, Perception, and Strategic Decision-Making in a Revolutionary State: Mistakes and Adjustment in FSLN Security Policy in Nicaragua” (2018 LASA Congress)
Victorious revolutionary organizations always face a difficult process of transitioning from a political-military organization opposing the government to occupying the seat of state power. One area of particular importance is the transformation of revolutionary militant forces into a state military, as the newly victorious revolutionaries almost inevitably face domestic resistance and foreign threats. How does a revolutionary government balance these calculations in the design of its security forces, and what factors shape the effectiveness of their efforts to counter both domestic and foreign threats? To answer these questions, I examine the FSLN’s development of its defense strategy and security apparatus following the revolutionary victory in Nicaragua. I draw on interviews with key political and military members of the FSLN, archival documents, and secondary sources. I argue that the FSLN initially misperceived the risk of a direct US invasion due to ideological opposition to the US and the bellicose rhetoric of some segments of the Reagan administration. The FSLN thus devoted excessive resources to external defense, while failing to adequately address an ongoing, multiple-front insurgency that had both domestic roots and foreign-sponsored elements. Subsequent strategic recalibration resulted in improved effectiveness in combating contra forces, but only after the country paid an unnecessarily high cost in loss of life and economic devastation.
“Levels of Analysis and Theories of Violence in Civil Wars: Ideology and Contestation in Nicaragua” (2019 Texas A&M Conference on Ideology and Political Violence)
When does ideology act to restrain or facilitate violence in civil wars, and when do other factors supersede ideology? This paper tests existing theories of civil war violence and state repression in a single case, examining the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) of Nicaragua, which fought as rebels and as a revolutionary government facing an insurgency. Using archival evidence and human rights reports, I argue that at the macro level, the FSLN was a relatively restrained organization, seeking in policy and practice to avoid committing violence against civilians due to a leftist ideological commitment to discipline and civilian protection. Disaggregating the regional and temporal contexts of violations and looking at the meso and micro levels reveals, however, that violence was concentrated where the FSLN had less territorial control, fewer ties to the population, and looser discipline, supporting Kalyvas’s theory of contestation. In areas of stronger FSLN control, ideology did shape micro-level targeting of violence against individuals who were considered counterrevolutionary. Theories of state repression focused on the macro level, which predict fewer violations of physical integrity in more democratic settings and during shifts toward democracy, are borne out at certain times in Nicaragua and contradicted at others. These findings demonstrate that ideology and other explanations for violence may explain variation at one level of analysis and not others within a given case, emphasizing the need for within-case disaggregation in explaining patterns of violence and state repression in civil wars.
“The Paradox of Revolutions: How Can We Isolate the Causal Effects of Transformative Events?” (with Marika Landau-Wells)
Social revolutions are among the most transformative events societies can experience, restructuring social, political, and economic relations. By virtue of their transformative nature, social revolutions may be difficult to study as causal variables leading to subsequent changes. This paper examines the possibility of studying the effect of social revolutions on interstate war outcomes using cross-national statistical analysis. We find that social revolutions’ effects are not amenable to study using this method due to problems of post-treatment bias, collinearity, temporal sequencing, and mediation. Rather than the social revolutions themselves, mediating variables such as level of democracy or alliance membership are more likely to influence states’ war outcomes. We also identify problems with datasets and data sources commonly used in the study of interstate war in international relations and comparative politics. While the causes of social revolutions may be studied using cross-national statistical analysis, provided researchers carefully examine the validity of the data they use, the effects of social revolutions are best studied by process tracing within close studies of individual cases.
“Strategic Pandering: Exploitation of Grievances and Rebel Mobilization”
In civil wars, predatory, violent rebel groups sometimes gain support from politically-motivated individuals or groups who should, by outside appearances, logically oppose the rebels. I explain this counterintuitive result through a principal-agent logic in which self-interested, insincere rebel leaders (the agents) pander to aggrieved civilian populations (the principals), presenting themselves as empathizing with and offering solutions to grievances. Leaders exploit an information asymmetry about their true preferences to gain allegiance using cheap sociopolitical appeals, rather than more costly material incentives or coercion. I inductively developed the theory through a case study of Renamo in Mozambique. I then test the generalizability of the logic through two case studies of the Nicaraguan FDN and the NPFL in Liberia, drawing on interviews and archival materials. The article explicates a previously undertheorized phenomenon in the study of rebel mobilization, and demonstrates how apparent popular, voluntary support for rebels can be more tenuous than it appears.
“Threat Perception, Security Apparatus Structure, and Military Effectiveness after Revolution” (2019 ISA Annual Convention)
Revolutionary regimes are inexperienced in governing and assume control of a weakened state apparatus. These regimes must then address three types of threats: the threat of a coup internal to the state, domestic protest or rebellion, and interstate rivalries. Revolutionary regimes vary on the persistence or disintegration of old regime security forces. I argue that where old regime security forces persist, the new regime will focus on domestic security and coup-proofing, leaving itself vulnerable to foreign threats. Where the old regime security forces are defeated or disintegrate, the revolutionaries will focus heavily on external threats, neglecting possible domestic threats. I develop this argument through a comparison of Nicaragua and Iran, whose revolutionary movements exhibited very similar characteristics, but differed in that the old regime security apparatus dissolved in Nicaragua yet remained largely intact after the revolutionary takeover in Iran. The Nicaraguan revolutionaries emphasized defense from foreign enemies, while the Iranian regime was worried about coups and thus sought to protect itself from internal enemies. These strategies both resulted in suboptimal outcomes in the regimes’ first several years in power. Nicaragua allowed an insurgency to develop, while Iran made itself vulnerable to foreign invasion. Over time, however, the two regimes corrected their initial missteps, balancing their security apparatuses’ management of internal, domestic, and foreign threats. Drawing on historical evidence from Nicaraguan, US, and Iraqi documents, I demonstrate the importance of the status of the old regime security apparatus in revolutionary transitions, and reinforce the importance of the security apparatus in analyses of regime transitions more broadly through plausibility probes of recent regime changes in Turkey and Egypt.