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 our main research efforts, as well as links to several of my current working papers.

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:

  • A USIP Special Report on dialogue and negotiation processes in transitions initiated through nonviolent action co-authored by myself and Dr. Veronique Dudouet.
  • 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 early 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

Durability not Diversity: Uncovering the Organizational Roots of Democratization

(with Charles Butcher and Jessica Maves Braithwaite)

(Under Review)

We refine and test theoretical mechanisms linking mass mobilization to democratization by focusing on variation in the organizations that participate in collective dissent. Specifically we investigate the effects of organizational diversity and durability on the likelihood of democratization. Using new data on maximalist claim-making organizations that engaged in resistance events in Africa from 1990-2015, we find little evidence that organizational diversity on its own improves democratization, which we link to what we call the “diversity dilemma.” While increased movement diversity may increase democratic preferences, it undermines movement capacity to realize these preferences by increasing collective action problems and reducing a movement’s ability to make credible commitments. In contrast, the participation of durable organizations such as trade unions and religious organizations, significantly increases longer-term democratization prospects, which we argue reflects their enduring pro-democratic preferences and ability to credibly threaten re-mobilization during a transition. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of democratization and mass mobilization.

Activists Against Autocrats: TSMO Networks and Democratic Diffusion

(with John Chin)

Do transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) promote the international diffusion of democracy? If so, how? Do TSMOs promote the spread and consolidation of democracy in ways that are distinct from regional inter-governmental organizations (IGOs)? Modern scholars of democratization have focused on a growing number of international factors in the spread of democracy, including geographic or regional proximity, colonial and trade networks, alliance networks, and joint IGO memberships. However, little attention to date has focused on the potential of TSMO networks in democratic diffusion. We theorize that TSMOs tend to promote democracy from the “bottom up” (by empowering civil societies), whereas IGOs tend to promote democracy from the “top down” (by socializing or sanctioning elites). We test the theory by leveraging the Transnational Social Movement Organizations Dataset from 1953-2013 and data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem). We find that TSMOs do in fact promote democratic diffusion but tend to do so through different mechanisms than IGOs. Whereas IGOs are strongest in diffusing electoral democracy in general and free elections in particular, TSMOs are strongest in diffusing participatory and deliberative dimensions of democracy. TSMOs also promote the diffusion of electoral democracy, but do so by promoting the diffusion of freedom of association and freedom of expression rather than elections.

Download appendix analysis file here.

Close but not Too Close: Opposition Network Strategy and Democratization Outcomes

(Revise and Resubmit)

 Existing research shows that political transitions initiated through pressure from below are more likely to result in democratization. Yet little work has systematically disaggregated bottom-up transitions to suggest when this democratizing effect obtains. This article proposes a novel theoretical avenue for addressing this question: re-conceptualizing opposition movements as multi-organizational actor networks. Insights from network theory have had significant benefits for the study of social movements and security studies. Applying these insights to democratization, I argue that opposition movements face strong incentives to achieve unity through increasing levels of connection. The specific strategy they pursue to achieve this connection in turn affects the political landscape during the transition. Highly centralized opposition networks are likely to lead to less democratic outcomes while more decentralized networks will have more democratic outcomes. I examine these dynamics in a crucial case study: the 1991 democratic transition in Zambia. I find that high degrees of centralization by the opposition movement in Zambia undermined political accountability during the transition and undermined Zambia’s democratic progress.

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

(with Babak RezaeeDaryakenari)

(Under Review)

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.