Ongoing Projects

Most of my current research projects are conducted as part of the combined efforts of the Program on Nonviolent Action at USIP. For more about the program’s work see many of the institute’s publications related to nonviolent action here and our training curriculum Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding here. This page provides short summary descriptions of a few of our main research efforts, as well as links to a selection of my current working papers.

Emergent Technology and Nonviolent Action

This project (funded by the Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance center at USAID) focuses on the impact of emergent technology, particularly artificial intelligence and new information communications technologies (ICTs) on the dynamics of nonviolent action campaigns in authoritarian regimes. The first report from this project, by myself and my colleague Matthew Cebul, focuses on two challenges from digital authoritarianism to nonviolent action and is available here. The second report in the project is currently under review and will be forthcoming from USIP in early 2022.

Women, Youth, and Nonviolent Action

This project (funded by the Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance center at USAID) is a multi-method attempt to better understand the impacts that two key social groups: women and youth, have on nonviolent action campaigns. The first stage of the research involved commissioning a series of reflective case studies from frontline activists, with results captured in this USIP Peaceworks by myself and my colleague Miranda Rivers. Current research efforts include:

  • A series of cross-national survey experiments to gauge how women’s and youth participation impacts perceptions of nonviolence, likelihood of success, and legitimacy of repression.
  • New data collection on the participation of youth and gender and sexual minorities being conducted by Dr. Erica Chenoweth’s Nonviolent Action lab at Harvard University.

People Power, Peace Processes, and Democratization

This project involves several lines of research effort seeking to better understand the intersections between nonviolent action, dialogue and negotiation processes, and democratization. Current specific research efforts include:

  • Research into the impacts of inclusion in dialogue processes and nonviolent action on democratic legitimacy by Dr. Roman-Gabriel Olar.
  • Research into the impact of nonviolent action on the democratic inclusion of minorities by Dr. Ches Thurber and Subindra Bogati.
  • Research into the impact of various nonviolent tactics on peace negotiations in civil war by Drs. Luke Abbs and Marina Petrova.
  • New data collection on mediation in civil resistance campaigns by Dr. Isak Svensson.

The Neuroscience of Resistance and Violent Extremism (NERVE)

This project seeks to better understand the psychosocial and neurobiological factors behind participation in nonviolent action and violent extremism, and the similarities and differences between the two. Results of our inaugural research survey with members of the nonviolent action Herak campaign in Algeria will be released as a USIP special report in 2021.

How Nonviolent Action Works: Testing the Impact of Training in Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding

This project, led by USIP’s Senior Research Scholar Consuelo Amat, is testing the impact of USIP’s Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding (SNAP) training through a series of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). RCTs are currently under way in four countries in Latin America and Africa.

Working Papers (Selected)

Strategic Virtues? Individual Logics of Participation in Nonviolent Civil Resistance

With Sirianne Dahlum and Tore Wig

(Under Review)

An emerging consensus holds that nonviolent resistance campaigns are more successful than violent campaigns because they have more participants. Yet, we lack an understanding of whether nonviolent tactics themselves (rather than correlated characteristics) attract mass participation, and how nonviolent resistance motivates supporters. We conduct a survey experiment probing these questions, focusing on two motivational logics: A strategic logic, whereby nonviolent resistance is preferred based on cost-benefit considerations, and an intrinsic logic where nonviolent resistance is preferred because of perceived inherent moral superiority. To elicit responses consistent with these logics, we conduct a multi-factorial vignette experiment among a convenience sample of more than 5000 respondents across 33 countries. We find that nonviolent tactics strongly increase movement support relative to violent tactics, and that the preference for nonviolent resistance is primarily driven by intrinsic commitments to the moral superiority of nonviolence and is highly robust to varying factors pertaining to instrumental considerations

When the Levee Breaks: An Ensemble Forecasting Model of Nonviolent and Violent Conflict

(with Babak RezaeeDaryakenari)

(Revise & Re-Submit)

There is increasing interest in conflict research in forecasting conflict onset. Yet the literature thus far has focused almost exclusively on the onset of violent conflicts such as civil wars, and largely ignored the onset of major nonviolent uprisings. Similarly, the growing literature of forecasting nonviolent uprisings has largely ignored the onset of violent conflict. Since the onset of major episodes of violent or nonviolent contention are not independent of one another, these approaches are likely to miss significant variation in contentious activity. In this paper we address this gap in the literature by developing the first unified forecasting model of the onset of both major violent and nonviolent uprisings. We draw on three types of data: slow-moving structural factors such as geography and levels of economic development, medium-term political dynamics captured in trends in events data, and short-term triggering events captured in topic modeling of newswire coverage. We combine separate forecasting models using Ensemble Bayesian Model Averaging (EBMA) to generate a unified set of annual forecasts that can reliably predict the onset of both violent and nonviolent uprisings.

Did the Women’s March Work? Revisiting the Political Efficacy of Protest

The Women’s March on Washington and its over 600 “sister marches” were likely the single largest day of protest in American history, and were followed by a wave of political organizing that re-invigorated progressive politics after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Yet to what degree can we attribute the emergence of this Anti-Trump “Resistance” to the Women’s Marches themselves? Do public protests such as the Women’s March truly change political outcomes or do they simply reflect underlying public opinion? There is a growing literature arguing that protest has important effects independent of its endogenous relationship to public opinion. In this paper, I test this argument on the scale of the Women’s March. I instrument Women’s March participation using rainfall data from the day of the march and measure the effects of instrumented march size on two dependent variables: the creation of “Indivisible” groups, and the shift towards Democratic congressional candidates in the 2018 elections. I find that the instrumented size of Women’s March protests significantly increased both dependent variables. These findings provide strong evidence that the Women’s Marches were a significant transformative event in American politics, with real political consequences, and speak to the power of peaceful protest as a social movement tactic.

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