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 focuses on activist adaptations to digital authoritarianism and is available here.

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 was published as a USIP Peaceworks in 2021 and is available here. Our current research involves a series of survey experiments to test several of the mechanisms identified in that report.

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)

How Civil Resistance Improves Inclusive Democracy

With Subindra Bogati, Titik Firawati, and Ches Thurber

Nonviolent resistance campaigns have a robust positive effect on future levels of democracy. Yet this well-tested empirical relationship has been primarily based on measures of liberal or electoral aspects of democracy such as fair elections, freedom of expression, and rule of law. The impact of civil resistance campaigns on egalitarian democracy, particularly the inclusion in state power and resources of historically excluded groups, has been less examined. This paper examines the relationship between civil resistance and advances in gender, class, and ethnic inclusion in the aftermath of political transitions. Using cross-national data on egalitarianism and exclusion from the Varieties of Democracy project, we find that civil resistance transitions (CRTs) produce gains in inclusion along all three of these dimensions greater than those observed in non-civil resistance transitions. Furthermore, we find some evidence that participation by women and by excluded ethnic groups in the civil resistance campaign may be crucial to the realization of advances in inclusion.

Beating Swords into Slogans: Can Nonviolent Action Substitute for Violent Extremism?

With Matthew Cebul

This pre-analysis plan describes the hypothesis, research design, and sampling procedures for two survey experiments that explore how the presence of nonviolent alternatives affects individual support for violent extremist organizations (VEOs). The first experiment tests whether respondent support for VEOs decreases in the presence of an alternative, nonviolent campaign, and whether this effect depends on the government’s repressive behavior. The second experiment considers whether this substitution effect can be enhanced by emphasizing particular psychological motivations for participation in nonviolent resistance. The experiments build on studies demonstrating that individuals participate in VEOs to satisfy emotional and psychological needs. If these needs can be satisfied by participation in nonviolent mobilization, then nonviolent action may serve as a substitute for violent extremism.

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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