PhD Student Research & Placement: Where Do the Graduates Go?


The following are former graduate students for whom I served as dissertation committee chair. Though they moved to various positions, they remain part of a professional network and a community.  Though their research methods range across a spectrum that includes ethnographic narrative, interviews and participant observation, formal modeling, field experiments, descriptive statistics, surveys, and more, all of them seek to better understand basic problems related to violent conflicts. Many came to academic research with prior engagement with conflicts. Some came from the NGO community, others from policy positions, or served in the military in various countries, or have sought refuge from conflicts. These backgrounds help to ensure that these scholars have a deep knowledge of what they study. They avoid excessive abstraction and elaborate proof of the obvious or trivial. Their research centers on topics that are significant and often of interest to an audience that reaches far beyond the university.





Valerie Freeland, “Unconventional Power: Less Powerful States’ Strategic Use of International Norms”


Valerie Freeland asks why leaders in some politically unstable and administratively feeble states invite foreign scrutiny of their domestic affairs when they know that doing so risks drawing international attention to their own unsavory practices. She focuses on why governments that engage in human rights abuses and that tolerate corruption would invite foreigners to investigate such practices. Through field research in Uganda, Sierra Leone and Georgia, Valerie finds that some governments use these invitations to create the false impression that they are interested in conforming to international norms. Governments that engage these foreign actors manipulate these relationships to selectively violate other norms. This shows how selective invitations to infringe on a state’s sovereignty can be used as tools in the hands of governments that are conventionally viewed as weak in global terms.  This work sheds light on the true nature of the international system, particularly the extent to which heterogeneity concealed within the practices of regimes that cause external observers to think that they see increasing homogenization. Valerie won support for her research from the Kellogg School of Business’s Dispute Resolution Research Center.


Valerie is teaching at Wheaton College (Illinois) in a one year position.



Aditi Malik, “Playing the Communal Card: Elites, Parties, and Inter-Ethnic Electoral Violence in Kenya and India”


Aditi Malik provides a nuanced political explanation for variations in the occurrence of communal conflict around elections. Through extensive field research in Kenya and India, Aditi identifies the ethnic composition of elite coalitions and the use of patronage networks to drive inter-ethnic wedges as key variables that determine the probability of election-related violence and its intensity. She finds that the nature of political patronage in Kenya differs in significant ways from that in India, with consequences for degrees of party system institutionalization. These factors help to explain why elites choose either to build coalitions that unite rival communities or to divide these communities. In considering institutional issues—such as the ways in which political parties are organized—Aditi’s research also considers how and when these actors exercise agency to exacerbate or mitigate the influences of the wider political environment. This approach enables her to show how political fractionalization is a consequence rather than a cause of electoral violence, and identifies the conditions under which politicians rapidly shift from factional to unitary coalition strategies or do the reverse. Communal cleavages do a lot less of the work in explaining violence in Aditi’s account. Party systems play a larger role, and in this regard Aditi finds that elites in India are far more constrained than their counterparts in Kenya in being able to change their alliances from election to election.


Aditi is a 2015-16 Post-Doctoral Fellow at Pennsylvania State University’s Africana Research Center and will assume a tenure track position at Cal State San Marcos in 2016



Maavi Norman, “The Leadership Factor and the Quest to Reform the African State”


Maavi Norman’s research focuses on the choices of leadership in crisis situations. Maavi begins with the observation that some African leaders promote extensive reforms that they know will challenge powerful entrenched interest groups and unleash a flood of rapidly rising expectations among the wider populace. Why do these leaders prioritize the long-term rewards of reform, even though their actions generate these serious short-term threats to their regimes and even their own lives?  Most leaders do not take this risk, but those that do provide clues as to how and why reforms can happen in hostile political environments.  Maavi’s field research took him to archives, private papers and interviews in Ghana, Liberia and Senegal, where he investigated multiple sets of successful and failed reform efforts, as well as decisions to forego reform. In the course of his research, Maavi systematically identified specific elite cultural practices and outlooks that shaped how leaders evaluated the risks and the rewards of reform. These findings provide important clues as to better craft incentive structures that will encourage potential reformers to prioritize long-term gains and to better manage associated short-term risks. While a graduate student, Maavi was a Fellow at the Center for Leadership at Northwestern University and a Gwendolyn Carter scholar at the Program of African Studies


Maavi is the Vice President of Pan-African Leadership in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a consultant for Libtwifi (Leave It Better than We Found It)



Daniel Szarke, “Political Reform and Challenges to Order in Weak States: Center-Periphery Relations in the Sahel”


Daniel Szarke’s work is built around the puzzle of why Mali’s regime collapsed in 2012 while Niger’s regime has succeeded in managing political challenges similar to those that beset Mali.  At the outset, he finds that competitive elections and administrative decentralization destabilize existing patronage-based political networks in both countries. Cross-border migrations and flows of weapons from Libya affected both countries too.  He suspects that a possible cause for this difference lies in the configuration and management of elite political networks in each country. Niger’s leadership managed to control the rising costs of building political coalitions that accompany the introduction of competitive elections in some other African countries. He suspects that this political strategy includes a more careful attention to the centralization of coercive capabilities and different uses of foreign observation and training of security forces.


Dan teaches in the Department of Political Science at the US Air Force Academy






Elise Dufief “The Politics of Election Monitoring in Ethiopia”


Elise Dufief earned a dual doctoral degree (co-tutelle) at Northwestern University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.  She examines in depth the processes of foreign election monitoring in Ethiopia to investigate the impact of foreign engagement in and critiques of domestic governance on the project of exporting democratic norms and practices. In a critique of conventional approaches to explaining the spread of competitive elections in Africa, she finds that Ethiopian authorities used controversies arising from complaints of foreign monitors to normalize and legitimate their own explanations of the meaning of democratic politics.  These authorities used rhetorical means to isolate their critics and to demonstrate simultaneously their own version of democratic credentials and to signal the certainty of their domination.  Whether foreigners become complicity in this strategy depends upon the depth of their engagement and how audiences interpret critiques of election processes.  Through her extensive interviews of Ethiopian officials and European Union and other election monitors, Elise provides detailed accounts of how Ethiopian government critiques and internally generated evaluations of monitoring performance tended to refocus attention to observers’ deficiencies and provide material to discredit and controversialize monitoring in the eyes of observers inside and outside of Ethiopia.


Elise is Research Manager at Publish What You Fund in London, UK.



Khairunnisa Mohamedali, “Negotiating the State: The Development of Informal and Formal State Institutions in Contemporary Uganda and Kenya”


This dissertation shows how relationships between state elite coalitions and business groups develop in the contexts where the credibility of commitment generally is suspect. Through extensive field research in Kenya and Uganda, Khairunnisa found that state – business relations reflected the priority and strategies of risk management. Businesses engaging with centralized and hierarchical patronage-based elite networks solved their risk management problems through privileging the benefits of political protection; in essence, the creation of oligopolies in the business realm and the servicing of patronage networks in the political realm. Businesses facing fragmented elite coalitions have to resort to the precarious use of formal state institutions, and insist instead on the rule of law (including more scrupulous business pursuit of formal licensing and payment of taxes) and delivery of state promises to provide services.  The implication of these findings is that external efforts to promote commercial interests may strengthen patronage-based political systems and entrench suboptimal investment patterns. More durable business interest in the rule of law and capable formal institutions of the state may require fragmented state elite networks, which the Kenya case shows may be prone to greater risks of violent competition.


Khairunnisa is Resident Ethnographer at Ideas Couture, Inc. in Toronto, Ontario






Romain Malejacq, “Neo-Chiefs in the International State System—Power Strategies and Authority in Afghanistan (1992 to the Present)”

            [Dual Degree with Ecole doctorale de Sciences-Po, advisor: Bertrand Badie, with the award of a PhD at each institution.]


This dissertation research focuses on the strategies that Afghan “warlords” use to consolidate and legitimate their authority. Romain begins by testing the assumption that post-2011 state-building in Afghanistan diminishes the authority of these actors. Through careful field research in Afghanistan over several years, Romain discovered the mechanisms through which these actors engage in “power conversion,” or the redeployment of their influence in political, commercial, religious and other social networks to maintain their authority. He finds that key elements of state-building strategies, including a variety of counterinsurgency efforts and numerous administrative reforms, unintentionally assisted in these “power conversion” strategies.  In sum, he shows how pressures on actors in the global periphery to construct their authority in conformity to a set of international standards and norms results instead in the construction of hybrid authorities that include sub-state actors that exercise substantial autonomous capacities to engage in their own brand of “international” relations in their searches for resources and support.


Assistant Professor, Radboud University & Nijmegen School of Management’s Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (Netherlands) from 2013. (Romain blogs at



Sean Burns, “One Hand? Military Structure and Middle East Revolts”


This research explores how regime strategies of control over militaries prior to revolts in the Middle East shape how these revolts evolve. In a nutshell, Sean finds that all of these pre-conflict regimes engaged in patronage-based strategies of control. But those that used the hierarchical structures of military commands as vehicles for patronage left these militaries with enough institutional cohesion such that they could act as conservative stabilizing successors to old authoritarian regimes. This in turn left this kind of military with capacities to manage and limit political violence and to support the cohesion of other state institutions. Pre-conflict authoritarian regimes that sought to undermine military cohesion through close personal ties between political leaders and officers often sponsored non-official militias, processes that fragmented the exercise of coercion in these societies. These revolts have experienced prolonged political instability that has undermined other state institutions and led to conditions that resemble so called “collapsed states” in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.  Sean also explores how these sobering conclusions have provided incentives to foreign actors to support authoritarian rulers who are known to foster conditions that in the long-term lead to a devastating fragmentation of institutions that are essential to the maintenance of order.


            Lecturer in Residence, Northwestern University – Qatar, from 2011



Ariel Zellman, “Security or Identity? Narratives of State & Nation in International Territorial Disputes”


Ariel studies the politicization of identity in the context of irredentist claims. Despite seemingly overwhelming incentives to avoid such claims, Ariel finds that territorial claims on the basis of an ethnic group’s connection to that territory at the level of national politics are surprisingly common. Ariel’s critical observation is that territorial claims do not spring from the instrumental designs of nationalist politicians or ethnic extremists who outbid each other to adopt progressively more hard-line postures. Ariel grapples directly with the idea of the “political entrepreneur” in the works of economists (such as Paul Collier) and political scientists (such as Robert Bates, David Laitin and Jim Fearon) who focus on elite-level incentives to explain the appearance and evolution of ethnic conflict. Ariel finds that grassroots social movements drive persisting territorial claims, despite substantial costs in terms of economic well-being and international standing. Through societal interpretations of what he terms ethno-historical evidence—archeological and other evidence of ancestral occupation of territory—mass political movements coalesce. The instrumental politicians from standard rational choice explanations are consequences rather than causes of this development. These broad-based movements interpret politics in ways that are internally consistent and are resistant to carrots and sticks that outsiders wield. Ariel’s approach suggests that irredentist politics at a popular level is more prevalent than one generally imagines (i.e. expansionist Bulgarians, Bolivians who have axes to grind with Chile and so forth). Thus Ariel views the post-1945 world’s prohibition of conquest to only temporarily put the genie of irredentism back in the bottle, much as the Congress of Vienna was supposed to banish nationalism back in 1815.


            Assistant Professor at Bar Ilan University, Department of Political Science from 2015 (Ariel blogs at






Kendra Koivu, “Organized Crime and the State: State-Building, Illicit Markets, and Governance Structures”


Most people assume that states and organized crime groups (OCGs) commonly exist in opposition to one another; i.e., that strong states and repress OCGs, and that weak sates are overrun by them. Kendra finds instead that some strong states have strong OCGs (such as contemporary Japan) and that some weak states coexist with weak OCGs (such as interwar Finland). Kendra develops a transactional model to explain these and other surprising outcomes. Kendra’s model specifies a range of relationships, from collusion to collision between states and OCGs that arise out of state agents’ efforts to solve problems related to market regulation. Kendra discovers that it is not unusual for some state officials to attempt to recruit OCGs to carry out tasks commonly associated with states, particularly where this involves efforts to restrict competition and bolster market penetration beyond a state’s borders.  More generally, Kendra explores how a variety of strategies for state management of violent actors contributes to state-building efforts, and shapes the long-term relationship between state power and coercion.


Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico from 2012



Erin Kimball Damman, “Peacekeeping for Approval: The Rise of African-Led Interventions”


Erin Kimball’s dissertation tackles a basic question: What accounts for cooperation among a disparate group of African countries to undertake armed peacekeeping operations? One would think that widely varied capabilities, long-term fears of military involvement in domestic politics, and regional norms against overt infringement on the sovereignty of other African states would discourage such cooperation.  Erin tests a range of explanations for this cooperation such as the influence of new norms that encourage intervention to prevent atrocities, shifts in regional geo-strategic balances, and hegemonic management of cooperation under the label of US-led security strategies in Africa. Erin finds instead that domestic political considerations drive decisions about whether or not to participate in peacekeeping operations. Decisions to cooperate tend to emerge out of efforts on the part of leaders to extract more resources from powerful external patrons that they can then use to manage members of their own coalitions. Peacekeeping also serves as an instrument to recruit foreigners to help limit the domestic political roles of armed forces. Erin finds that these relationships underlying mobilization for warfare reinforce patron-client logics of domestic politics rather than increasing the bureaucratic capacities and efficacy of governments that participate in peacekeeping. She uses the case of Ethiopia’s intervention in African conflicts as a counterfactual to illustrate this divergence in the logics of decisions to use force and the divergent outcomes in these decisions’ effects.


Assistant Professor, Florida International University from 2013



Christopher Day, “The Fates of Rebels: The Politics of Insurgency Survival and Demise”


Before joining our program Chris Day earned his MA in International Affairs from SAIS. Chris also worked for about nine years with humanitarian aid organizations. This work took him to conflict zones and put him in positions in which he had to negotiate with armed actors on the ground in places that included Nigeria’s delta region, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Uganda and Kashmir.  Chris’s dissertation builds on observations from those experiences and on extensive fielded research in Sierra Leone, Uganda and South Sudan to address the question: What happens to the great majority of rebel groups that fail to consolidate and seize state power, and what do their fates reveal about the nature of past and contemporary rebel warfare?  Chris explains how patron-client networks dominate the conduct of warfare in some countries. In many instances, rebellion becomes an instrument of negotiation within an intra-elite coalition. Political actors in neighboring states discover that they can use patronage of rebel groups to pursue their own agendas, illustrating further the intersections of established political networks and violent action. Chris won an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to support his dissertation research.


Assistant Professor, College of Charleston (from 2012)






Natacha Lemasle, “Political Strategies of Local Actors in the Shadow of International Projects of Post-conflict Reconstruction”


Natacha Lemasle earned her degree in the joint Northwestern University – Sciences Po PhD program, with Prof. Samy Cohen at Sciences Po serving as a co-chair of her dissertation committee. She is concerned with how local actors in Sierra Leone and Liberia engage with the international “post-conflict reconstruction and democratization industry.”  She finds that local actors often hold ideas about legitimate authority that are at odds with global liberal notions of citizenship and individual rights.  They also may hold contrary ideas about post-conflict justice.  Nonetheless, post-conflict international engagement often requires acceptance and application of the imported models of politics. Her research in Sierra Leone indicates that local actors devise strategies “from below” to modify and on occasion undermine the plans of outsiders. Understanding this process is critical for mapping the true configuration of post-conflict political authority in these places and identifying potential flash-points for future conflict.


Social Development Specialist, AFTCS (Africa Conflict, Fragile States and Social Development) Unit, World Bank, (since 2010)






Patrick Johnston, “Humanitarian Intervention and the Logic of Genocide in Civil War.” 


Patrick Johnston asks whether and under what conditions state targeting of civilians is and effective strategy for defeating rebels. He considers this question in the context of the cases of the US in the Philippine War (1900-02), in Vietnam (the 1960s to 1973) and Sudan in Darfur (2000s). Patrick also has constructed his own data set of significant instances of state rebel campaigns since 1800. Combining his analysis of these cases and his larger data set, Patrick finds that the application of force in areas where rebels operate among non-combatants is a successful device for separating rebels from non-combatants. Non-combatants conclude that it is in their interests to move to safer areas under government control, or provide information to government forces to expand such areas. Patrick’s research shows that non-combatants do not remain static and behave according to bounded calculations concerning which force asserts the most control at a given moment. Governments can use this behavior to expand its areas of control in ways that do not rely critically on “hearts and minds” campaigns to out-govern rebel forces in contested areas. Patrick was a Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellow at the US Institute of Peace, 2009-10.


Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) Stanford University post-doctoral fellow (2010-11).

Harvard University Belfer Center—Post-doc (2009-11)

Political Scientist, RAND Corporation since 2011,

He is at, and here is his great 2015 article in Foreign Affairs.






Lee Seymour, “Pathways to Secession: Mapping the Institutional Effect of Secessionist Violence”


Lee Seymour’s dissertation explores the “international relations” of separatist insurgencies. He shows how some separatists successfully utilize appeals to global norms to extract resources and diplomatic protection from more powerful international actors. They become adept at focusing appeals to the interests and anxieties of different constituencies to create political opportunities for themselves. Regional configurations of power, however, exercise considerable influence over the utility of these strategies. These strategies, coupled with shifts in global politics, give separatists new openings to achieve their goals in recent years. But these “gains” are contingent upon occupying a geo-strategic position that allows separatists to exploit these opportunities, a condition that not all share. Seymour conducted field research for this project in Somalia (Somaliland), Sudan (southern parts), Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh), and in Kosovo. Seymour won a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship (2003-06) United States Institute of Peace, Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellowship (2006-07), and a Presidential Fellowship (2006-08) and was a Guest Researcher at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Berlin). 


Harvard University Belfer Center – Post-doc (2008-09)

Assistant Professor, University of Leiden (2009-13)

Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam (2014-15)

Professeur agrégé (Associate Professor), Université de Montreal since 2015






Claire Metelits, “Coercion and Collusion: Change in Rebel Group Treatment of Civilians” 


This dissertation explores why some rebel groups undertake radical shifts in their behavior toward civilians, seemingly without regard to the resource endowments or external diplomatic norms that they find in their external environments.  Metelits explains rebel group behavior in terms of degrees of control over local people and resources. If rebels exercise something close to a monopoly of control, they are more willing to engage in “democratic openings” to local people and involve these people in their day to day decision-making processes. Where this control is challenged, they are more likely to become more coercive toward local people. Ironically, this means that rebels who face states that engage in their own democratic openings are most likely to become more violent toward local people. In short, global norms of democratic rule seem to gain the most traction among rebels secure in their control and are most actively defied by those who are most challenged. Rebel “state-building” is very much about control and much less about attracting popular support in this analysis. Metelits conducted field research in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, and southern Sudan and received support from the Dispute Resolution Research Center of the Kellogg School of Business, Northwestern University and other sources.


            Washington State University – Assistant Professor (2007-09)

Regional Scholar for Africa at the Cultural Knowledge Consortium from 2012-2013 (US Army TRADOC/ CGI Federal). Prior to this, she worked as an advisor and researcher for the U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti .

Davidson College – Visiting Assistant Professor (2013-14)







Ato Kwamena Onoma, “Rethinking the Causes of Property Rights Regimes: Botswana, Kenya and Ghana in Comparative Perspective”


Onoma’s dissertation asks why people who own real estate in some African countries sometimes resist reform efforts that would give them greater legal capabilities to defend their title to this property. One would think that all owners of real estate would prefer such reforms, since such reforms should increase the value of properties as collateral for loans when rights become more clearly defined and exclusive.  Instead, Onoma finds that owners of real estate in patronage-based political systems find more value in legal uncertainty. They use their political positions to exploit others’ uncertainties, and reap short-term gains through their control over real estate. Onoma finds that this kind of behavior rooted in the configurations of elite accommodations in their higher levels of state power. He shows where legal reform of land tenure is likely to be defied by ostensible beneficiaries and where it will be exploited in a manner that will support the growth of predictable markets for land and bolster credit markets.  Onoma conducted about a year and a half of field research for this project in Ghana, Botswana and Kenya and received support from the Social Science Research Council and other sources.


            Princeton University – Postdoc at Center for Globalization and Governance

            Yale University – Assistant Professor (2007 - 2012)

            Head, African Centre for Peace and Security Training (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2012-13)

            Program Officer, Research at Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Dakar, Senegal, since 2013)



Birol Baskan, “Religious Institutions and the Diverging Processes of State-Building in Turkey and Iran”


Birol Baskan’s dissertation explores diverging historical evolutions of relations between state institutions and religious organizations in Iran and Ottoman Turkey.  Baskan traces the merger of religious institutions with state institutions as state rulers attempted to expand the scope of their authority from the 17th and 18th centuries to the 20th century. Baskan identifies differences in the organizational structure of Sunni and Shia religious organizations as key factors shaping these diverging paths of evolution. In the case of the latter in Iran, state building projects were more easily absorbed into the decentralized structures of Shia organizations (which were initiated as a state project in a massive conversion of the country’s religious establishment). Ironically, what appeared to be an easy target for state builders from an institutional perspective in one case turned out to be the more easily managed (from the state-builder’s perspective) while the more centrally organized one was more easily controlled. This dissertation sheds new light on the role of religious organizations in the state-building process, and provides a basis for a revised look at the role of these organizations in European state building too.  Fluent in Turkish and Persian, Baskan was able to conduct on-site research for this project.


            Qatar University – Assistant Professor (2007-10)

            Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service (Qatar Campus) – Assistant Professor (since 2010)



Roshen Hendrickson


            CUNY – Staten Island – Assistant Professor






Christina Nyström, “the Patrimonial Straightjacket: A Study of Namibian Liberation and Path Dependency”


Christina Nyström’s dissertation investigates the politics of institution-building and foreign assistance in post-conflict Namibia. Christina conducted field research in that country to determine the impact of efforts among domestic and foreign actors to integrate the organizational structures and practices of the liberation movement into day-to-day governance. Her main finding is that what seemed to be incentives to adopt practices to strengthen formal institutions of the state instead bolstered the personalist networks of the liberation movement. What had been affective instruments of recruitment and control during the struggle for independence became instruments of clientelist politics after the struggle. This occurred in spite of the lessons that domestic and international actors thought that they had learned from earlier post-conflict transitions.


Head of school at Viktor Rydberg gymnasium Odenplan (Sweden) since 2013






Krista Johnson, “From Consensual Decision-making to Conventional Politics: Popular Participation in Contemporary South Africa”


This dissertation examines the institutionalization of post-apartheid governance in South Africa through the lens of the evolution of GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) plan.  Early optimism was replaced with the growing influence of insider networks and waning commitment to the plan’s initial objectives in the face of global pressures to maintain fiscal discipline. Krista’s research was supported with an NSF Pre-Dissertation Fellowship.


DePaul University – Assistant Professor (2002-05)

            Agnes Scott College – Assistant Professor (from 2005)

            Howard University – Department of African Studies Associate Professor (since 2013)