My research agenda on political violence sits at the intersection of comparative politics and international relations. I study civil war, terrorism, crime, and the role of non-state actors in international security. This page includes abstracts of my current projects and links to my published scholarship. Links to my policy writing can be found here.
Dissertation Research: "The Logic of Coercive Kidnapping" Committee: Alex Downes (chair), Eugene (Evgeny) Finkel, and Cynthia McClintock
Global kidnapping has spiked dramatically over the last several decades, as armed groups abduct civilians in war. While the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and the FARC ravage communities and confound policymakers, there has been no scholarly examination of this tool of coercion. By examining when and why armed groups kidnap, my research fills this gap. I ask: First, why do some armed groups engage in kidnapping whereas others do not? Second, if a group does kidnap, what explains variation in targeting and demands? I argue that kidnapping is an unexplored but critical component of groups' protection schemes. Itself a form of extortion, kidnapping is part and parcel of a much broader system to extract tribute from local populations. It is used both as the most lucrative way to punish those who refuse to pay the groups' taxes, as well as an extremely effective, strategic message to compel others to cooperate. In this way, kidnapping is both tactical and strategic.
To examine when and why armed groups choose this particular tactic, I leverage qualitative evidence from extensive interviews with ex-combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as quantitative analysis of an original, global dataset of nearly 1,900 armed groups. Through individual case studies and event count models models that estimate the likelihood of kidnapping attacks, my dissertation provides a novel explanation for a persistent and perplexing type of violence against civilians worldwide.
Publications: "Terror by Any Other Name," Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 31, No. 2 (2019): 417-420. Online here. "Organized Violence Between War and Peace," Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2017): 377-383. Online here.
Under Review: "The Logic of Kidnapping in Civil War: Evidence from Colombia" * Why do some armed groups kidnap, whereas others do not? Despite a dramatic spike in kidnappings by political groups over the last several decades, there is no existing explanation for 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), National Liberation Army (ELN), and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), as well as military and security personnel, I show that ransom kidnapping is used to enforce groups' protection rackets. It is both the most lucrative way to punish tax evasion, as well as a strategic means of compelling future cooperation. Thus, groups that tax local populations are more likely to kidnap; groups with external or voluntary funding are less likely to take hostages. This novel study explains when we should see kidnapping in armed conflict, describing an unexplored way that selective violence bolsters insurgency.
"The Oxygen of Publicity: Explaining U.S. Media Coverage of International Kidnapping" * What explains U.S. media coverage of Americans attacked abroad? Scholars have argued that attention to the "war on terror" increases the salience of certain acts of violence, but this relationship is seldom tested. Kidnapping, a common and highly individualized form of violence, provides an ideal lens: While some hostages generate significant national media attention, others hardly make the local news. Using an original, event count dataset of newspaper stories about Americans kidnapped abroad since 2001, this article provides a direct, empirical test of an oft-cited but under-measured assumption: that "terrorism" receives more media attention than crime or other violence. Controlling for reported variation across kidnappings, I show that those framed as "terrorism" receive more coverage. Challenging existing literature, this article also demonstrates that kidnapping incidents with more victims receive less coverage than those incidents with fewer victims, and that there is no "missing white woman syndrome" in international kidnapping.
"The Politics and Pedagogy of Nationalism" * (Revise & Resubmit) In recent decades, nationalism has emerged from the distant purview of history to become the primary driver of some of the world’s biggest news. Given the prominence of nationalist conflict, students in political science increasingly study the subject with modern references in mind. This article describes the design for a timely undergraduate political science course on the causes and consequences of nationalism, with a focus on four central learning objectives: understanding theories and concepts in the study of nations and nationalism; applying theories to contemporary events; exploring issues of identity among a community of learners; and developing analytical and professional skills. I describe in detail two course assignments that exemplify these pedagogical objectives. In the “nationalism in the news” assignment, students give an in-class oral presentation on a current news story, interpreting the event through the lens of course themes. In the “national anthems analysis” paper, students analyze the lyrics of the national anthem of their choosing, linking symbols to interpretations of different nationalism types. I conclude by offering suggestions for adapting these and other course assignments to a range of classrooms and students.
Book Reviews: Review of Nichols, Angela. Impact, Legitimacy, and Limitations of Truth Commissions. Democracy and Security. Vol. 15, No. 4: 408-410 (2019). Online here. Review of Kidd, Dustin. Social Media Freaks: Digital Identity in the Network Society. Terrorism and Political Violence. Vol. 31, No. 6: 1347-1349 (2019). Online here. Review of Scott, Erik R. "The Hijacking of Aeroflot Flight 244: States and Statelessness in the Late Cold War," H-Diplo. June 2019. Online here. Review of de la Calle, Luis, Nationalist Violence in Postwar Europe. H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. November 2017. Online here. Working Papers and Work in Progress: "Weapon of the Week: A Brief History of Political Kidnapping" * "No Man Left Behind? Explaining Public Support for Hostage Recovery" (co-authored with Professor Lauren Prather of the University of California, San Diego) "Eulogizing National Violence, Affirming Divine Right, or Glorifying Liberal Values? Explaining Variation in National Anthem Types" (co-authored with Professor Harris Mylonas of George Washington University)
Datasets: Kidnapping by Violent Political Organizations, 1970-2015 (in progress) U.S. Media Coverage of International Kidnappings, 2001-2015 (in progress)
Fieldwork: Colombia (2017, 2018, 2019) Israel and the West Bank (2006)