Book Project

Between Gandhi and Mao: The Social Roots of Civil Resistance

From Eastern Europe to South Africa to the Arab Spring, nonviolent action has proven capable of overthrowing autocratic regimes and bringing about revolutionary political change. In fact, recent research suggests that nonviolent movements are more than twice as effective in achieving their goals than violent ones.

But these bold findings about nonviolent effectiveness leave open the question of how and when groups choose to initiate a campaign of civil resistance to begin with Why are some groups able to adopt and sustain a strategy of nonviolent civil resistance while others are either unwilling or unable to do so? Is there anything groups or outside actors can do to increase movements' abilities to initiate and maintain a nonviolent strategy?

This book aims to explain the strategic choices made by movements seeking regime change. My argument is that civil resistance requires challenger organizations to possess certain underlying social network characteristics in order to activate three key mechanisms that are critical to the strategic logic of nonviolent action: mass mobilization, defection, and "backfire" against repression. Movements lacking social overlap will fail to get a nonviolent campaign off the ground and will be forced to either resign themselves to the political status quo or consider an alternative strategy.
Drawing on cases from Nepal and Syria, as well as global cross-national data, the book details the processes through which challenger organizations collect information, deliberate, and decide on whether a strategy of exclusively nonviolent resistance may be viable. I develop a relational theory, showing how the social ties that underpin challenger organizations shape their ability and willingness to attempt regime change using nonviolent means alone. 


"Ethnic Barriers to Civil Resistance," Journal of Global Security Studies 3, no. 3 (July 2018): 255-270.


While ethnic cleavages have featured prominently in our understanding of civil wars, attention to ethnic and social structures has been surprisingly absent from the recent wave of research on civil resistance. Yet these structures likely have an important impact on when and where we see nonviolent campaigns occur. This article argues that the strategic logic of civil resistance presents high barriers to entry for politically excluded ethnic minorities. Constraints on these groups’ ability to activate mechanisms central to an exclusively nonviolent strategy either prevent them from getting a civil resistance campaign off the ground or deter them from ever attempting to do so. Using original data on the ethnic composition of nonviolent and violent campaigns, I show that nonviolent campaigns are less likely than violent ones to include participants from politically disadvantaged ethnic groups and also less likely to feature ethnic political claims. Furthermore, I find that political exclusion and small group size reduce the likelihood that members of an ethnic group will initiate a campaign of civil resistance. Article | Data

"The Security Force Ethnicity (SFE) Project: Introducing a New Dataset," with Paul Lorenzo Johnson. Conflict Management and Peace Science, Online First (June 2017).

The ethnic composition of state security forces is believed to have important effects on the dynamics of conflict processes, but data limitations have impeded our ability to test such hypotheses cross-nationally until now. To address this problem, the Security Force Ethnicity dataset provides time-series, group-level measures of the ethnic composition of military forces in the Middle East between 1946 and 2013. We draw on an extensive review of case studies and histories to produce unique ordinal codings for participation rates in the officer corps and in the rank and file. We demonstrate the utility of the data through empirical applications, examining the relationship between military ethnic composition and the incidence of coups and repression. Our findings illustrate the theoretical and empirical importance of disaggregating ethnic representation in the military from inclusion in other institutions of the state. Article | Dataset | Pre-pub PDF | SFE Website

"Militias as Sociopolitical Movements: Lessons from Iraq's Armed Shia Groups,"Small Wars and Insurgencies,  Vol 25, no. 5-6 (October 2014): 900-923.

From Lebanon's civil war to the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the Shia militia has emerged as one of the most powerful and important actors in the Middle East security environment. Despite this trend, they remain poorly understood by scholars and policymakers alike. This study seeks to expand our understanding of the militia as a type of non-state armed group through an examination of Shia militia movements in Iraq. between 2003 and 2009. More than simply warlords, paramilitaries, or foreign proxies, Shia militias in Iraq enjoyed substantial popular legitimacy, pursued a broad social and political agenda, and participated actively in the formal institutions of the state. Understanding the triangular relationship between the militia, the state, and the population is essential in explaining the rise and fall of the Shia militias during the U.S. occupation as well as in developing strategies to deal with their most recent resurgence. Article available online (gated).

“A Step Short of the Bomb” in Journal of Public and International Affairs (2011)

The global spread of technology will inevitably result in more states acquiring the scientific and technical means to create a nuclear weapon. In order to confront this reality, policymakers and analysts must develop a better understanding of why some states feel compelled to conduct overt nuclear tests while others are content to pursue a strategy of hedging: developing the capability but not actually testing or deploying nuclear weapons. Using case studies from Japan and South Asia, this article seeks to explain nuclear policy through a combination of two factors. First, states attempt to maximize their relative security vis-à-vis their rivals by balancing the value of deterrence with the risk of proliferation. Secondly, domestic political sentiment and the balance of power amongst competing bureaucratic factions may either enable restraint or push a state toward conducting a nuclear test. By applying these two factors to the case of Iran, this article will evaluate the drivers of Iranian nuclear behavior and offer policy recommendations to increase the odds that Iran will pursue a latent, rather than an overt, nuclear capability.  Article available online.

“From Coexistence to Cleansing: Ethnic Violence in Baghdad, 2003-2007″ in al-Nakhlah: Journal of Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization (Spring 2011)

Between 2003 and 2006, the nature of conflict and violence in Iraq transformed from an insurgency against the new U.S. imposed leadership into a sectarian civil war, pitting the country’s minority Sunni population against the majority Shias and centering primarily in the capital city of Baghdad.  Some scholars have seen this as the predictable, if not inevitable, result of an identity conflict that dates back centuries.  However, this interpretation runs counter to the sentiments of many Iraqis, especially among Baghdad’s middle class, that sectarian identity had not been a source of interpersonal conflict before the U.S. invasion.  Using first-person accounts gathered from journalists, non-governmental organizations, web log diaries, and interviews, this paper argues that sectarian violence in Baghdad appears to be less a result of any primordial religious hatred than a collective defensive reaction to the fear and vulnerability created in a time of war and political upheaval.  Specific policy decisions made by the United States as well as the terrorist campaign of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were instrumental in exacerbating this feeling of vulnerability and sparking a chain reaction of violence. Article available online.