Research Projects

I am engaged in several ongoing research projects that largely share a substantive focus on understanding the role of ethnicity in shaping the causes and dynamics of violence and a methodological focus on creating original datasets through intensive archival research.

 1) When Soldiers Rebel: Ethnic Armies and Political Instability in Africa

Book Manuscript (under contract with Cambridge UP):

Why do ethnic groups rebel? Common explanations focus on grievances such as political exclusion and economic marginalization. Although these factors have certainly motivated some rebellions, grievances are widespread and yet ethnic violence is rare. Many relatively deprived or excluded ethnic groups fail to resist and those that do choose timing that remains opaque. Powerful and advantaged groups also frequently initiate hostilities.

This book argues that ethnic groups often rebel to preserve the status quo. This helps us understand both the timing and relative rarity of group rebellion: while exclusionary institutions and group grievances may persist over many years, it is in relatively brief and rare intervals that systems of ethnic privilege and disadvantage are created or destroyed.  These moments of change provoke violence from losing groups, regardless of their relative political or socioeconomic position.

Focusing on African militaries and when soldiers rebel against the state on ethnic grounds, I argue that when leaders attempt to build ethnic armies, or dismantle those created by their predecessors, they provoke violent resistance from military officers. The first process, when leaders attempt to construct ethnically homogeneous security institutions, creates grievances amongst groups who now face exclusion from an important state institution. Such soldiers then rebel to preserve their inclusion in the military. The second process, when new leaders attempt to dismantle existing ethnically exclusionary institutions, creates reactionary violence by those whose privileged position in the political system is threatened.

The book employs both statistical analysis of original cross-national data and four comparative case studies: Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.  Archival research was conducted in Kenya, Senegal, France, Great Britain, and the United States to collect information on decolonization practices and the construction of new African armies. Combined with secondary and tertiary sources, these documents were used to build country narratives from which variables where then coded on ethnic recruitment practices and the creation and dismantling of ethnic armies.

Overview of Dataset Construction Process

2) Collective Punishment during the Kenya Emergency, 1952-1960 (with Rex Douglass, UC San Diego)

Working Papers:

“Measuring the Landscape of Civil War: Evaluating Geographic Coding Decisions with Data from the Mau Mau Rebellion” (currently under review)

“The Costs of Silence: Collective Punishment and Intelligence Extortion during the Kenya Emergency”

In 2011, a hidden archive was discovered at Hanslope Park, Her Majesty’s Government Communications Centre. Known as the “Migrated Archives,” these records were deposited by tranches in the British National Archives at Kew between April 2012 and November 2013. They contain tens of thousands of pages of military and administrative documents detailing the violence that consumed late colonial Kenya. From these records, we have constructed geo-referenced microlevel data on both violent events and collective punishment by the government against Kikuyu communities.

Our first substantive working paper stemming from this data, of an envisioned series of papers, analyzes the underlying logics driving the British use of communal punishment as a counterinsurgency tactic. We find that communities were most likely to be targeted where counterinsurgents were most desperate for information, following a rationale of coercive intelligence gathering: in highly-contested conflict zones with mixed territorial control. We also find, however, that revenge also motivated the use of collective punishment and its severity was greatest after fatal rebel attacks and when government representatives, as opposed to civilians, had been targeted.

3) Understanding the Origins and Effects of Military Innovation (with Marc DeVore, University of St. Andrews, and Michael Hunzeker, George Mason University)

Military innovation has long been seen as a critical source of national power. Historically, from the longbow to combined arms warfare, military organizations that effectively harnessed innovation often gained a marked advantage over their competitors.  Our understanding of military innovation’s causes and consequences is, unfortunately, limited by the absence of quantitative metrics and data on this most crucial of subjects. No existing dataset examines either the factors contributing to military innovation or the impact of these innovations on state behavior, such as aggressive diplomacy or the initiation of hostilities. We are engaged in a multi-year data collection project to systematically fill this gap. Original global data, from the 14th century until today, will be coded and compiled on the nature, development process, diffusion, and consequences of military innovations.