Current Students


These are the students for whom I serve as the principal academic advisor and as dissertation chair for those who have completed candidacy requirements. We share broad interests in the comparative politics of violence and conflict, the politics of constructing authority (“state-building,” conflict and post-conflict, including on the part of rebels) and international responses to conflict.  Over the years, we have conducted joint field research in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Uganda, Nigeria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.  These collaborations involve often lead to coordinated applications for external funding and depending on coincidence of interests, to joint publications.




Abdeta Beyene “Strong States and Bad Neighborhoods: Rule Infringement in the Pursuit of Stronger Rules”


Abdeta Beyene writes about the political strategies that strong states adapt to manage political instability in bordering states.  The problem that he tackles focuses on the growing disjuncture between the political logics of states like Ethiopia and Rwanda and their neighbors.  For example, Ethiopia’s bureaucracies and political establishment manage the rapid spread of infrastructure amidst sustained high growth rates. The neighboring states of Somalia and South Sudan exhibit a politics of a very different sort. Rwanda confronts a similar dilemma vis-à-vis Congo.  Focusing on the problems of buffer zones, proxy forces and direct intervention, Abdeta delves into the more general condition of states that have to infringe on certain global norms of sovereignty as part of the pursuit of their own more intensive engagement as more capable actors in the global system of states. This ironic disjuncture of rule-violating behavior in the service of rule-reinforcing developments sheds new light on the roles of infringements on existing norms and centrality of national power in the rise of political stability and economic success in parts of the African continent. 


Abdeta Beyene recently served as Chief of Staff of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission pursuant to the Agreement to Resolve the Conflict in South Sudan. He currently serves as Associate Director of the Institute for Advanced Research in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.



Marco Bocchese


Marco Bocchese proposes that context shapes whether targets of international prosecutorial bodies will see prosecution as a threat. This perception may be based upon prior ICC or ad hoc tribunal action, but the immediacy of other threats and the degree of menace from powerful external state actors loom larger. This explains why in some instances threats of prosecution just cause leaders to conclude that there is nothing to lose in defiance while others are deterred. This boils down to leadership perceptions about survivability and the likelihood of real punishment for proscribed behavior. He proposes that workable deterrence requires a credible threat, but that the target of the threats is harder to impress when really pressed against the wall. Amnesty plays a positive role in this kind of leader back into a context in which compliance is more thinkable as a viable alternative.



Miklos Gosztonyi “The Resilience of Armed Conflict”


Miklos Gosztonyi is earning a dual degree (co-tutelle) at Northwestern University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He analyses the structural causes for the continuation of armed conflict through much of the recent history of larger countries in Africa, with a particular focus on Sudan. He investigates relationships between groups in peripheral areas of the country with the political center. What is the basis of the durability of this system of politics, and what are the conditions that bring about its (possible) collapse?  His research touches on questions of political control and authority in contexts where central governments cannot maintain formal administrations in distant and often socially diverse parts of their states. He conducts research in association with the Centre Français des Etudes Ethiopiennes in Addis Ababa.



Buddhika Jayamaha “Rebels Inside and Out: Ruling Coalitions, Coercion and Rebel Choices”


Buddhika Jayamaha brings his interest in the micro-politics of conflict to our group. He investigates the mainsprings of organizational strategies and the behaviors of rebel groups and militias in urban environments. His research investigates causes for variation in rebel, militia and state organization and tactics in urban warfare.  His work begins with important descriptions of how groups adapt to urban conditions in warfare. This is an important question as much of the world’s population urbanizes. He also recognizes that the great increase in state surveillance capacities effectively turns all of the battle-space into an urban environment. The rural “liberated zone” option of classic 20th century guerrillas is receding as an option. For this and other reasons, B.J.’s work is especially important. He earned his master’s degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Since joining our program he and I have conducted collaborative field research in Mogadishu and elsewhere overseas.



Moses Khisa


Moses Khisa comes to our group from the Centre for Basic Research in Kampala. He holds a BA and an MA from Makerere University.  He spent a year at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta to study theoretical and philosophical issues in the social sciences. He is completing his dissertation, “The Institutional Transformation of Africa’s Personalist Regimes,” in which he explains the causes of the divergent evolution of political institutions in contemporary Africa through longitudinal and comparative analyses of Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda.  Moses argues that there are two primary paths to institutionalizing power and authority. Moses finds that founding leaders who emerge with broad ruling-coalitions produce relatively stronger decision-making institutions, but the inclusiveness that is the basis of their legitimacy erodes regime capacities to execute decisions. Moses goes on to explain how and under what conditions regimes with narrower coalitions are able to consolidate capacities to execute decisions and institutionalize their authority on the basis of performance legitimacy. His findings shed light on the emergence of liberal and authoritarian “post-patrimonial” state-building models in Africa. His essays appear regularly in The Observer, a prominent Ugandan national newspaper.


Rana Khoury


            Rana Khoury focuses on the politics of refugee mobilization in the context of wider conflict.  She is investigating patterns of mobilization

Among refugees of the Syrian conflict, and has identified different patterns in their organization and relationships to home communities in the course of the current conflict. Her argument identifies drivers of major shifts in refugee mobilization in recent years in the weakening of state authorities in the states of origin and in host states. These changes have undermined international regimes concerning refugee populations. Like other actors associated with contemporary conflicts, refugees also have to adapt to new conditions.  Rana already is an accomplished researcher and is the author of As Ohio Goes: Life in the Post-Recession Nation (Kent State University Press, forthcoming in 2016). In this book, Rana tells the stories of average Americans living in a moment of record income inequality and declining standards of living.  Rana received an SSRC Predissertation Fellowship in 2015 and an American Center for Oriental Research fellowship to support her dissertation research within Jordan and in the Middle East.


Sasha Klyachkina


Sasha Klyachkina is interested in how the organization of violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Caucasus region created new patterns of authority and shaped the subsequent institutionalization of order.  She identifies a post-conflict interaction between the mobilization of rebels, criminal gangs, and counterinsurgency and policing that leads to distinct patterns of local management of order. This involves the intercession of informal practices and institutions alongside the development of formal institutions. This tailor-made maintenance of order adapts practices and institutions from the political center, while simultaneously shaping them to deal with local challenges of monitoring the activities of diverse and often insular communities and regulating behavior and relationships that formal rules and institutions do not anticipate.


Christa Kuntzelman


Christa Kuntzelman came to Northwestern after earning an MS in International Public Service. Her interests lie in how refugees act as agents during displacement to contribute to original and settlement communities. She has studied and worked overseas; in Haiti where she was doing trauma and resiliency work with local NGOs, study abroad in Tanzania to investigate international partnerships in development, and study abroad in Paris to speak French better! Her research goals include developing a better understanding of how urban settlement vs traditional encampment policies affect refugees’ capacities to contribute to their home communities. Much of her recent work is in East Africa.


Sean Lee


Sean Lee came to us after a teaching stint at the American University of Beirut.  Sean’s BA is from Mercer University & his MA is from the Sorbonne & Ecole des hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Sean investigates the strategies of minority groups in civil conflicts; why some groups ally with stronger ones while others go it alone and others simply exit. He finds that these choices do not necessarily reflect relative balances of military capabilities or calculations about the value of external ties. His suspicion is that these choices reflect the nature of inter-elite networks and in how minority group leaders incorporate these in their calculations about risk.  His field research for this project focuses on Lebanon and Rwanda and includes consideration of other recent cases in the Middle East.  He has received a Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Research Grant and a US Department of State Critical Language Scholarship, US Department of Education Title VI – Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships, and a Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Research award to support his field research in Africa and the Middle East.


Jahara Matisek


Jahara (Franky) Matisek comes to us from the US Air Force where he is an officer and has been a C-17A and T-6 Instructor Pilot, 80th Flying Training Wing. His research interests include consideration of the impacts of new war fighting tactics on insurgent organizational and operational behavior.  He observes gaps between expected and observed outcomes in uses of air power, for example, against insurgent leadership.  These interests are related to broader questions about how combatants in contemporary conflicts adapt to shifts in balances and applications of force.



David Peyton


David Peyton comes to us from Wheaton College by way of the National Defense University. He studies relationships between business groups and municipal authorities in eastern Congo. He seeks to explain why varied social orders develop across municipalities in this region of persistent instability and very weak formal state authority. David suspects that mutual concerns to protect commercial operations and assets represent an alternative to classical ideas about how and why state authority becomes institutionalized in ways that provide an increasing array of public goods. In a nutshell, David finds that this urge to protect commercial resources can replace external threat as a mechanism that pushes actors to construct state-like institutions, including ones that protect and mobilize people outside of these narrower business interests. David is the winner of a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2015-16).


Rachel Sweet, “Institutional Choice in Civil War: Rebel Strategies for Managing Political Disorder”


Rachel Sweet came to Northwestern University soon after living in Beni in eastern Congo, where she was based for a year as a teacher. She also has experience in Kenya, where she observed the politics of urban gangs and vigilante groups in Kenya.  Her current research focuses on the politics of rebel governance in failed and weak state contexts. Her research in eastern Congo uncovers important categories of relationships between rebel leaders, local business groups, and most intriguingly, bureaucrats who have managed to establish significant social bases for their authority in spite of the recession of capital-based state authority. The establishment of wartime and postwar institutions of governance and the nature of institutions that are established hinge upon the configurations of these tripartite relations between these social groups. While Congo provides her principal research site (and a lot of variation on the dependent variable), she applies her insights to a wider set of recent and contemporary conflict cases.  Rachel is a winner of a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2014-15) and a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Dissertation Fellowship (2015-16).