What explains variation in the ways political actors consolidate order over space and peoples? What  are the consequences of these endeavors? My research investigates these questions using a variety of different methods ranging from lab experiments to archival research. For more information on my book, Governing for Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2021), please visit my Book Project page.


"Social Transformation and Violence: Evidence from U.S. Reconstruction"  

Forthcoming at Comparative Political Studies [with Karin Kitchens]

Abstract: How do political actors achieve revolutionary social transformation, and what are the consequences of their efforts? In this paper, we argue that the greater resources allocated to the beneficiaries of transformative social and political schemes, the more successful political actors will be in achieving the change they desire. But success comes at a cost: violence is more likely to emerge when transformative projects succeed, specifically, when they succeed in reducing social hierarchies between historically repressed and privileged communities. Effective reductions to long-standing social inequities trigger resentment among privileged communities leading to violence against repressed communities. Furthermore, because historically repressed communities work to institutionalize and preserve socio-economic gains arising from socially transformative interventions, such gains in status, as well as violence in response to them, persist over the long-term. We quantitatively test our arguments using historical, county-level data on post-U.S. Civil War Reconstruction and we supply both quantitative and qualitative evidence for our mechanisms. Our findings support our theory. We thus introduce a new mechanism that causally links social transformation to violence, thereby expanding our understanding of how actors consolidate social orders, and how societies' respond to these efforts.

"A Typology of Rebel Political Institutional Arrangements"

Journal of Conflict Resolution's Special Issue on Rebel Governance [with Zachariah Mampilly].

Abstract: What explains variation in the institutional arrangements rebels create to engage captive civilian populations? Rebel-controlled territories host a diversity of political institutions ranging from structures designed to promote democratic decision-making to martial law. Although previous research has focused on rebel social service provision and other aspects of rebel governance, few have investigated variation in the institutional arrangements rebels adopt. In this paper, we identify a set of dimensions along which rebel political institutions vary leading to six ideal-typical forms of political arrangements. We argue that an iterative and dynamic stepwise process, determined by rebel group strategies and local conditions, produces one of these political institutional outcomes. Importantly, the type of rebel political institutions within one location may change throughout the war, and variation may emerge even across territories the same rebel group controls. We demonstrate the plausibility of our arguments through a series of illustrative case studies that correspond to the formation processes of our six ideal-typical political arrangements. We conclude with recommendations for future research.

"Urban Concentration and Civil Wars: Population Distribution and Civil War Intensity" 

Journal of Conflict Resolution [with Dani Nedal and Michael Weintraub]. 

Abstract: The explosion of cities and megacities has increased scholars' and policy-markers' attention to the effects such changes might have on conflict; the increasing urban environment has been linked to a shift in the nature of warfare, but not necessarily to the propensity of intrastate war itself. In this paper we argue that high levels of urban concentration -- the concentration of populations in one or relatively few urban centers -- increases the both the likelihood of civil war and the intensity of such conflicts, for a number of reasons. Urban concentration limits the ability of the state to project power across space, exacerbating grievances in rural areas, allowing rebels to more easily control territory and enhance their military strength. At the same time, cities become high-value loci of contestation: rebels need only capture one or a few cities to be victorious, while states must be sure to protect urban centers. Yet, urban warfare reduces and constrains conventional state military strength. What results is more symmetrical fighting that produces greater battle deaths. This paper indicates that urban concentration exerts a crucial influence on the likelihood and nature and intensity of intrastate warfare.

"Rebel Governance: Military Boon or Military Bust?"

Conflict Management and Peace Science. 

Abstract: What is the effect of rebel governance on rebel military strength? Most existing research assumes that rebel governance enhances the military strength of the rebel group. I test this assumption with an original dataset of rebel governance services. The quantitative evidence present a more complicated picture that belies a straightforward link between the two: governance appears to have either no relationship with rebel strength, or a negative and statistically significant relationship with rebel military capacity. To explain this surprising result, I generate a set of empirically grounded mechanisms using case vignettes that incorporate primary and secondary qualitative data. As a whole, the paper calls for greater theorizing and testing about the consequences of rebel governance, as well as the strategic motivations for its implementation.

Appendix and replication materials can be found here.

Secessionist Social Services Reduce the Public Costs of Civilian Killings: Experimental Evidence from the United States and United Kingdom.”  

Research and Politics. [with D.J. Flynn]

Abstract: How do international audiences evaluate the legitimacy of secessionist insurgencies? Although secessionists often propagate their behavioral choices, such as state-building and non-violence, to international audiences in the hopes of generating support, scholars know little about the effects of this information. In this article, we use survey experiments in the United States and United Kingdom to examine how international audiences respond to two of the most commonly used strategies of secession: civilian killings and social service provision. We find that international audiences view secessionists who avoid civilian killings and provide social services as more legitimate than secessionists who kill civilians and do not provide services, respectively. Further, we show that service provision can allow secessionists to reduce --- and, in some cases, eliminate --- the public costs of civilian killings. These findings have important implications for ongoing secessionist conflicts across the globe.

“Civil War as State Building: Strategic Governance in Civil War” 

International Organization.*

Abstract: Why do rebel groups provide public goods? Some insurgencies divert critical financial and personnel resources to provide benefits to a population, that includes non-supporters (e.g. Karen National Union, Hezbollah, Eritrean People’s Liberation Front). Other groups offer no services or limit their service provision to only those people who actively support, or are likely to support, the insurgency. The existing literature examines why some insurgencies provide selective incentives for members to join and how insurgencies use social services to recruit members, yet no research addresses why insurgencies provide public goods. I argue that insurgent public goods provision is a strategic tool secessionist insurgents use to achieve their long-term strategic goal of independence. With new and original data, I use a large-n analysis to test this hypothesis. The results of the analysis support the theory, underscoring the importance insurgent non-violent behavior and addressing key issues such as sovereignty and governance.

Appendix and replication materials can be found here.

*Paper awarded honorable mention by APSA's Conflict Processes Section, 2016

*Read coverage on this work in the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog

"Do Good Borders Make Good Rebels? Foreign Territorial Control and Civilian Casualties." 

Journal of Politics.* [with Yu-Ming Liou]. 

Abstract: What is the effect of the location of rebel-held territory on civilian casualties? We argue that insurgencies with domestic territorial are strongly incentivized to cultivate mutually beneficial relations with civilians living in their territory and limit their violence against them, while insurgencies with foreign territorial control lack these behavioral constraints and may victimize civilians to gain compliance and extract resources. We test this hypothesis in two ways: a quantitative analysis of all insurgencies from 1989-2003 followed by a multi-methods case study that leverages the exogenous acquisition of foreign territory by the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) after the 1991 establishment of the northern Iraq No-Fly Zone. Our results strongly support our hypothesis. These findings shed light on potential broader patterns of civilian victimization by insurgents, and the conditions under which insurgents may strive to limit civilian casualties and provide governance. 

*Appendix and replication materials can be found here.

“Mass Protests and the Resource Curse: The Politics of Demobilization in Rentier Autocracies” 

Conflict Management and Peace Science.* [with Desha M. Girod and Meir Walters].

Abstract: Why are some dictators more successful at demobilizing protest movements than others? Repression sometimes stamps out protest movements (Bahrain in 2011) but can also cause a backlash (Egypt and Tunisia in 2011), sometimes leading to the overthrow of the regime. This article argues that the effectiveness of repression in quelling protests varies depending upon the income sources of the authoritarian regime. Resource-rich autocracies are relatively shielded from domestic and international criticism. They therefore have a greater capacity to quell protests through force. Because resource-poor dictators lack such shielding, repression is more likely to trigger a backlash of increased protests. The argument is supported by analysis of newly available data on mass protests from the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO 2.0) dataset, which covers all countries (1945-2006). The article implies that publics respond strategically to repression, and tend to demobilize when the government is capable of continually employing repression with impunity.

*Appendix and replication materials can be found here.

In Review or Revision

"Foundations of the Vanguard: The Origins of Revolutionary Leftist Rebel Groups"

Abstract:   What explains the emergence of leftist national liberation rebel groups? I present one causal pathway that unfolded from the late-19th to mid-20th century. During this time, empires were common. Imperialists imposed status hierarchies between colonizer and colonized and weak colonial bureaucratic institutions. Some empires perpetuated this system through assimilatory education programs that terminated in the imperial metropole where radical leftist  ideas were easily available and activism was common. The leaders of leftist, nationalist liberation groups were colonized individuals who participated in assimilatory education, uprooted to the imperial metropole for tertiary education but faced discrimination there. Discrimination by imperial in-groups prompted a series of common psychological and behavioral responses that resulted in a cohesive, experienced and relatively well-equipped vanguard composed of educated, colonized individuals seeking leftist national liberation. Because this vanguard was relatively strong and colonial bureaucratic institutions were relatively weak, civil war was more likely to occur and the vanguard would contest the state as a rebel group. Exploiting variation in educational experiences of rebel leaders in Eritrea’s Independence War, I quantitatively and qualitatively test mechanisms using archival and primary materials and an original dataset. Further generalizability is probed with out-of-sample cases that include archival data from three countries. 

"Rebel Resource Extraction and Healthcare: Strategic Incentives for Social Service Provision." 

[with Justin Conrad and Liana Reyes-Reardon]

Abstract: What is the effect of natural resource extraction by rebel groups on social service provision? Research on both insurgent governance and on state public goods provision typically conclude that natural resources inhibit the development and expansion of social service institutions. In this paper, however, we argue that the extraction of natural resources, especially natural resources that require significant labor to extract, can actually facilitate the provision and expansion of rebel healthcare services specifically. When insurgents capture territory with natural resources, civilians serve as a labor force and typically possess considerable technical expertise on the extraction process. Like natural resources, civilians are thus an asset, however they are a mobile asset that might flee if conditions are too grueling. To protect this asset from flight and the physical demands of extraction, insurgents provide healthcare, and may expand this provision as an investment. But this provision should not be confused with political, ideological or a humanitarian end: rather this governance should be viewed as an investment for deeper financial awards.

Working Papers

"Pro-Social Behavior, Violence and Gender: Evidence from Four Experiments"

[with Todd S. Sechser]

Abstract: What is the effect of exposure to violence on individuals? Psychological studies suggest that when exposed to violence, people become increasingly aggressive, but recent scholarship in political science finds that people who have been exposed to violence during civil wars are more likely to behave in a pro-social manner as a form of collective coping. Yet, both types of studies have limitations. Psychological researchers rely on highly fictionalized violence from movies or video games. Field experiments cannot ensure randomization of treatment, homogeneity of treatment, and cannot isolate the effect of violence in conflict specifically from the myriad behaviors strategic actors engage in during the course of civil war. We address these shortcomings and test these competing hypotheses relying on four separate experiments. Across all experiments, we find that the effect of exposure to violence is conditional on gender: exposure to violence leads to increased pro-social behavior and a decrease in levels of aggression among women, but an increase in aggressive behavior among men. These findings have important implications for not only the study of political violence, but also for post-conflict reconstruction. Civil wars are frequently characterized by a breakdown of social norms, so understanding how exposure to violence specifically may alter a country's ability to reconstruct these norms in a post-conflict environment is especially crucial.

"The Revolution Will Be Routine: Social Legacies of Contraband Camps"

 [with Karin Kitchens]

Abstract: How do revolutionary programs achieve enduring social transformation? Although most revolutionary programs fail, we identify one mechanism through which social transformation unfolds and endures: the routinization of practices within social out-groups that alter their interactions with social in-groups, and enhance their ability to make claims on the state. When social out-groups who benefit from transformative programs have more time and a more protected space to learn, inculcate and routinize new practices, these practices are more likely to endure over the long-term. We leverage the as-if random assignment to treatment of “contraband camps” that formed during the early years of the U.S. Civil War and the unbiased selection into these contraband camps by self-emancipating enslaved persons to quantitatively test our arguments, and we illustrate mechanisms using archival research. Because contraband camps were more humane and often more hygienic living environments than plantations, and because many camps were self-governing entities with locally elected officials, we expect that counties with contraband camps are more likely to have higher life expectancy rates, higher Black voter participation rates, and more Black politicians than similar counties without contraband camps.


Greece, 2009.