Through an empirical focus on hostage taking, my research explores the causes and consequences of political violence. From rebel guerrillas to authoritarian states, hostage takers use human captivity to coerce monetary, diplomatic, and political concessions from state and non-state targets. Hostages suffer significant and symbolic violence with implications for policy, governance, and peace.
Book Project: Ransom and Rebellion: The Logic of Kidnapping in Colombia and Beyond
Based on my PhD dissertation, "The Logic of Coercive Kidnapping," winner of the American Political Science Association's 2021 Merze Tate Award for the Best Dissertation in International Relations, Law, and Politics.
Global kidnapping has spiked dramatically over the last several decades, as armed groups abduct civilians in war. While hostage-takers ravage communities and confound policymakers, there has been limited scholarly examination of this tool of coercion. Why do some armed groups kidnap for ransom, whereas others do not? How do armed groups kidnap? And, does kidnapping "work" for perpetrators? In Ransom and Rebellion, I explain the causes, conduct, and consequences of kidnapping by armed groups. Bringing together insights on state building, civilian victimization, and coercion, I argue that ransom kidnapping is used to enforce rebel taxation. Kidnapping serves both as the most efficient, lucrative way to punish those who refuse to comply with group taxes and a means of threatening the population with violence if they fail to pay. However, kidnapping presents a temporal trade-off for armed groups: While it increases tax compliance in the short term, it presents long-term legitimacy costs to perpetrators. To test my argument, I draw on evidence from more than 100 interviews with ex-combatants and former hostages from the Colombian civil war, as well as secondary evidence about armed-group kidnapping in India and the Middle East. My book highlights an unexplored way that selective violence bolsters insurgency, offering a novel explanation for a persistent and perplexing form of violence against civilians worldwide.
The Logic of Kidnapping in Civil War: Evidence from Colombia
Winner, 2024 Best Article Award, International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association. Honorable mention for the 2023 Alexander L. George Article Award for the best article or chapter developing or applying qualitative methods, American Political Science Association's Qualitative and Multi-Method Research section.
Why do some armed groups kidnap for ransom? Despite a dramatic spike in kidnappings by political groups over the last several decades, there are scant existing explanations for why groups use this tool of coercion. Leveraging evidence from extensive interviews with former combatants from Colombia’s civil war, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as military and security personnel, I show that ransom kidnapping is used to enforce groups’ protection rackets, their main source of funding. Kidnapping is both the most lucrative way to punish tax evasion and an effective means of deterring future shirking. Thus, groups that tax local populations are more likely to kidnap; groups relying on external or voluntary forms of funding are less likely to take hostages. This article explains when we should see kidnapping in armed conflict, describing an underexplored way that selective violence bolsters insurgency.
Published in American Political Science Review, Vol 116, No. 4 (2022): 1226-1241. Paper available here | PDF available here | Online appendix available here | Full supplementary materials available here.
Partners in Crime: Comparative Advantage and Kidnapping Cooperation (revise & resubmit)
What explains cooperation between armed groups? Existing scholarship highlights groups' similarities -- such as shared ideology or goals -- to underwrite cooperation. But armed groups frequently cooperate without such shared values or traits. In this paper, I show that it is precisely groups' differences, not their similarities, that open up avenues to cooperation. To do so, I focus on kidnapping, an underexplored but common form of non-state actor violence against civilians, to explain cooperation across different types of armed actors. I apply the economics concepts of comparative advantage and vertical and horizontal integration to demonstrate that rebels and criminal gangs -- organizations that typically eschew collaboration -- cooperate in producing violence. Specifically, rebels outsource part of the kidnapping process to criminal gangs as part of their drive to expand their market territory, much as a firm might. Drawing on extensive interviews with armed groups and security personnel from Colombia, I theorize the conditions under which rebels are likely to "outsource" violence to criminal gangs or produce kidnapping violence "in house." This paper explains the organizational dynamics of armed group cooperation, as both sides exercise their specialization to achieve mutual benefits -- and commit systematic violence against civilians.