After having received my PhD in Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2015, I moved to Sweden to take a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Program on Governance and Local Development (GLD) at the University of Gothenburg. I am now a Docent (Associate Professor) at the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg.
I have always been fascinated by the different ways in which individuals perceive, engage with, and interpret local governance. By local governance I mean the formal state policies, social norms, and entrenched power structures that shape an individual’s engagement with his or her community. In terms of methods, I have worked hard to develop advanced skills in the design and analysis of large-N public opinion polls to understand everyday politics at the micro-level. I believe that high quality survey work should be informed by local experience and engagement on the ground where one is working. Thus, I have invested heavily in conducting fieldwork in the countries I am running my surveys in. My research philosophy is deeply rooted in the belief that we should not treat our research participants as inanimate test subjects, a behavior that the field’s current obsession with causal inference sometimes seems to be encouraging. All too often, research is conducted in foreign countries without careful consideration of how survey questions are understood by study participants or what findings might really mean for their lives. I have spent a great deal of time and effort developing local expertise in several countries. Each of the more than 11 surveys I have led or collaborated on has been informed by weeks, months, or even years of fieldwork in places as varied as Jordan, Malawi, Iraq, Zambia, Syria, Kenya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Oman, and Egypt. Thus, while I am a survey specialist, I have also developed expertise in other methods such as in-depth interviewing (often in local languages), ethnography, focus groups, and document collection and analysis. I have found that a mix of these methods often produce high-quality research, depending on the question being asked.
Most recently, my research has focused on the microfoundations of social cohesion in the aftermath of conflict. This line of inquiry is split across two projects that I am currently leading, both centered on surveys in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In 2019, I was awarded 3.21 million SEK from the Riksbanken Jubileumsfond as PI of a project seeking to understand prospects for reconciliation in a post-Islamic State (IS) Iraq: “From Revenge to Forgiveness: Strengthening Durable Peace in Post-Conﬂict Societies.” I secured an additional 320,000 SEK for this project from the Swedish government agency for peace, security, and development (the Folke Bernadotte Academy). Michael Bang Petersen (Aarhus University) and Kristin Fabbe (Harvard University) are collaborators on this project. Also in 2019, the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) awarded Andrea Spehar (GU) and me (Co-PI) 17.7 million SEK to examine the effects of massive refugee flows on social cohesion. The “Refugee Migration and Cities: Social Institutions, Political Governance and Integration in Jordan, Turkey and Sweden (SIPGI)” research environment includes an interdisciplinary team of researchers: Joshka Wessels (Malmö University), Mine Eder (Bogazici University), and Isabell Schierenbeck (GU).
Work on Post-Conflict Reconciliation and Transitional Justice for Accused ISIS Collaborators
The “Revenge to Forgiveness” project in Iraq builds upon my work with Mara Revkin (Duke University), conducted in 2018. Mara and I developed 2 sub-studies based on survey experiments embedded within a representative survey of Mosul (n=1,458), informed by extensive fieldwork in Iraq. The first sub-study was published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2021 after having won the Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha award for the best paper presented at the American Political Science Association (APSA) conference in 2019. We employed a conjoint experiment for the first time to interrogate the types of justice mechanisms Iraqis preferred and the conditions under which they would be willing to forgive accused IS collaborators. This work filled a gap in the existing empirical literature, which up to then had more narrowly focused on violent actors by considering a more realistically broad scale of enemy collaboration (including civilian supporters). It challenged the false dichotomy commonly adopted by policymakers and scholars alike between victims and perpetrators, underscoring that perceptions about whether collaboration was voluntary shape attitudes about appropriate justice.
The second sub-study is forthcoming at the American Journal of Comparative Law. At the time of our survey, the Iraqi government was applying its harsh anti-terrorism law to deal with accused IS collaborators. This “one-size-fits-all” approach to transitional justice has been accused of violating international human rights law for failing to distinguish between minors and adults and lesser versus more serious offenses in its rulings. We sought to understand whether such harsh punishments are effective in terms of encouraging the reintegration of non-violent offenders, many thousands of whom are even to this day living in internally displaced person camps. We found that non-carceral and community-based justice mechanisms can significantly increase the likelihood of successful reintegration. Strikingly, 15% of respondents who were initially opposed to the return of former collaborators into their communities said that they would support reintegration if asked to do so by a tribal or religious leader or if the offender completed a non-carceral rehabilitation program.
I am continuing to expand upon my work on post-conflict reconciliation, as writing up these studies revealed several improvements that could be made and led to lingering research questions in need of answers. First, I had developed a third sub-study within the 2018 Iraq survey. Employing a series of vignette experiments concerning dispute resolution, this study demonstrates how legitimacy and sovereignty remain fragmented in post-conflict settings. Iraqis are “bain narain” (an Arabic expression meaning “between two fires”) when it comes to dispute resolution: the legal system seen as the most likely to be enforced is also the one that is considered the most corrupt. When it comes to dispute resolution, the respondent’s relationship to the disputant is the most impactful factor in determining which system of justice and rule of law is turned to (amongst tribal, religious, or state orders). Non-state venues are more likely to be sought when maintenance of a future social relationship with the offender is important. Women prefer the religious system, contradicting studies in other contexts arguing that they should prefer the state system due to its foundational claims to protect all citizens equally. Focus groups suggest that restorative justice features of non-state orders may explain their popularity in such cases. These results offer a more nuanced understanding of complex relationship between state and non-state institutions, demonstrating how they are at times complementary.
In 2022, I completed 3 surveys of a total of 4,800 Iraqi citizens and their local leaders in 3 additional areas of Iraq. The data allows my team to address some significant shortcomings of my previous work in Iraq. First, we seek to test a novel framework integrating political science theories of legitimacy with psychological theories of forgiveness, feelings of (in)justice, and desire for revenge. The survey experiments will include more factors that have been theorized to encourage reconciliation in other studies or actual interventions conducted by international agencies, such as appeals to religion, local sponsors, provision of development aid, etc. Second, we are able to map these factors across Iraq’s diverse sub-national communities (e.g., Shia versus Sunni), broadening the ethnic and regional focus of my previous work. Finally, in a solo-authored portion of this project, I examine how “injustice gaps”—misalignments between punishments of former enemies and what citizens perceive as appropriate given the crimes committed—affect prospects for peace and the legitimacy of those attempting to reestablish the rule of law.
I have also obtained a small grant from the Wilhelm and Martina Lundgrens Vetenskapsfond (66,000 SEK) to study how Europeans perceive reintegration of those accused of collaboration with IS. National responses to these returning IS collaborators varies dramatically: Sweden has allowed its citizens to return and has provided some of them with social welfare assistance, whereas England and Denmark have stripped citizenship from accused collaborators. Does Swedish public opinion match the policies of its policymakers? This survey targeted large samples of Arabic- versus Swedish-speaking residents of Sweden. I expect that the least integrated Arabs in Swedish society (as proxied by level of Swedish language capability) will adopt harsher attitudes towards accused IS collaborators; Swedes and immigrants who are most integrated into Swedish society will adopt a more human rights-based approach. The study will offer insights into techniques policymakers can employ to encourage social cohesion and peaceful reintegration of IS returnees.
Work on Refugees in Cities: Social Institutions, Political Governance, and Integration
My second large project, “SIPGI,” studies integration and social cohesion between Syrian refugees and the citizens they live among in Irbid Jordan, Adana Turkey, and Gothenburg Sweden. The selection of these secondary cities for study was based on their shared experience of an influx of Syrian refugees since 2013, but varying political, economic, and cultural conditions. Using mixed methods from the fields of political science, anthropology, and sociology, such as ethnography, policy-document analysis, large-N surveys, elite interviews, focus groups, and field experiments using virtual reality (VR) video technology, and dialogues with refugees, this program analyzes the nexus between political and social institutions in shaping processes of integration for new immigrants.
My roles in the SIPGI project are numerous. First, I help to manage the project and its advisory board as Co-PI. Second, I am implementing 2 surveys (n=11,000) in Turkey and Jordan among Syrians, host population citizens, and local leaders. Third, I am implementing field experiments with pre- and post-intervention surveys in all 3 case countries. The surveys will include batteries from the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI), an instrument I helped to develop with Ellen Lust to gather micro-level data from communities on experiences, perceptions, and satisfaction regarding governance issues. Syrians struggle with exclusion from their host societies across multiple realms that the LGPI was created to provide insights into, including the labor market, healthcare, education, and housing. A second battery will target cross-cultural social cohesion, informed by the Immigration Policy Lab Integration Index developed at Stanford University. I am collaborating with international scholars (Karen Feree, University of California, San Diego) and Mine Eder to develop experiments seeking to understand how host-population members and drivers of residential segregation of Syrian immigrants and the varying institutions (state, non-state, and international) these groups turn to for help with disputes. The VR component of this project comprises of ethnographic fieldwork with refugees in collaboration with Josepha Wessels, workshops to teach Syrian participants how to use VR camera technolog,y and the implementation of a public field experiment in each country. In an environment of heightened apathy for these refugees, this field experiment will test the effects of a VR “day in the life of a Syrian migrant” on empathy for them among citizens. We have obtained ethics approval for this experiment to run in Sweden next year at Gothenburg’s science festival and in Jordan later this month. We are awaiting approvals in Turkey. To present the preliminary results, I am organizing a conference with 22 scholars on October 24-25, 2022.
My current work has been informed by my collaborations with Ellen Lust and the Program on Governance and Local Development (GLD) (2015-2021). Ellen and I first collaborated on a nationwide poll (N=1,499) in Jordan in 2014. I was the lead researcher on the ground working closely with a local survey provider to translate the questionnaire, train the local enumerator teams, and oversee the administration of the survey. Since then, I have worked on surveys in Malawi (N=8,100) in 2016; Zambia (N=9,864), Kenya (N=3,788), and Malawi (N=10,302) in 2019; Malawi (N=4,641) and Zambia (N=2,918) again in 2020; and Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan in 2021. In addition to our local partners in these countries, the teams I collaborated with on these projects included members working in China, Norway, the US, and Sweden. Clear communication, managerial skills, and organization were required for this work as we worked through some rather controversial topics (e.g., how best to measure corruption, election integrity, etc.) as well as varied theoretical perspectives.
In March and April of 2016, the GLD program at Gothenburg implemented a face-to-face, tablet-based survey in Malawi, where I spent three weeks in the field managing an in-depth regional study alongside the household survey of approximately 8,000 Malawians. This survey includes the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI) aimed at creating a metric for investigating the causes of sub-national variation in government service provision and interactions between governance and social institutions at the local level. Within this survey we also embedded a number of experiments that seek to understand sources of legitimacy for various types of leaders, different aspects of vote buying and clientelism, drivers of voter preferences, and gender dynamics as well as the effects of matrilineal versus patrilineal tribal structures on political outcomes. In 2019, we returned to Malawi and expanded the study to Zambia and Kenya, collecting around 20,000 additional interviews. In 2020-2021, a phone survey on the Covid-19 pandemic built off of these previous studies resulted in three additional datasets from Malawi and Zambia of an additional ~10,000 responses.
The outputs of these collaborations include my articles published in Comparative Politics, World Development, the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, Mediterranean Politics, and Survey Practice. I provide just a short summary of these collaborations. My work with Lindsay Benstead (Portland State University) focuses on voter preferences concerning support for female legislative candidates in Jordan. We find that women can leverage intersectional co-tribal and Islamist identities to counteract the dominant preference for male representatives. Ellen, Lindsay, and I co-authored an article in Mediterranean Politics on how election monitors affect perceptions of election fairness. In Tunisia and Jordan we find heterogeneous effects of international election monitor reports on local public perceptions of election legitimacy depending on the respondent’s pre-existing attitudes towards the government. Three of my publications are the outcome of a collaboration with Ellen, Adam Harris (University of College, London), Karen Ferree, Boniface Dulani (University of Malawi), Erica Metheney (UG), and Cecilia Ahsan Jansson (UG). These studies consider various aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic including: which authorities and institutions are most likely to gain reported compliance with disease-prevention measures; the varying effects of the disease on perceptions of the government; the role of expertise, stigma, and trust in getting vaccinated; and what policymakers should do to increase compliance and civic engagement in Malawi. I have also published on the implementation of tablet-based surveys in Survey Practice with Ellen, Lindsay, Dhafer Malouche (University of Carthage, Tunisia), and Pierre Landry (The Chinese University of Hong Kong). Finally, an article with Ellen and Lise Rakner (University of Bergen) on vote buying and anti-corruption campaigns is recently published at World Development.
In addition, Ellen and I expect that our other ongoing projects will make important theoretical and substantive contributions to understanding politics on the ground in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The first of these is an edited volume, Decentralization, Local Governance, and Inequality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). We received 1.5 million SEK (185,000 USD) from the Hicham Alaoui Foundation to bring together a group of talented MENA region specialists in a series of workshops and to fund small fieldwork projects. This book fills a gap in the literature on governance, electoral politics, and development in MENA countries, shifting the theoretical and empirical focus from national and international forces to “locally-lived,” everyday politics. The contributions in this book examine a range of issues surrounding decentralization and local governance: center-periphery power dynamics and negotiated areas of influence, who gains representation in local government and governance institutions, and where and when different citizens engage with local state and non-state institutions. The volume showcases diverse methodological and theoretical approaches and offers a wealth of rich, original empirical evidence from 6 countries. We anticipate the volume will be of interest to students, researchers and development specialists concerned with the MENA region, as well as those interested in local governance and development more generally.
A second project studies the role of gender in legislative legitimacy in the MENA, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York for 3 million SEK (350,000 USD). The team includes Ellen, Chagai Weiss (Stanford University), and Marwa Shalaby (University of Wisconsin). We fielded a survey experiment in Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia that varied 2 main treatment dimensions: the committee’s gender composition and the committee’s decision (expanding or limiting protections of women’s rights). We find that women’s presence on legislative committees promotes citizens’ perceptions of the legitimacy of committee processes and outcomes, and that pro-women decisions are associated with higher levels of perceived legitimacy. This study demonstrates remarkable robustness of findings from the West regarding gender representation and contributes to the burgeoning literature on women’s descriptive representation, and women and politics in gender conservative settings.
Lastly, let me say something about the role my dissertation research played in developing not only the skills that I bring to my current research, but also the research values and empathy for local participants that inform all my work. For my dissertation, I conducted over 100 in-depth interviews during more than 2 years of fieldwork, constructed an original database of over 2,000 parliamentary service logs, and carried out a nation-wide survey in Jordan. My dissertation investigated how electoral rules interact with local tribal institutions to shape voting outcomes and local service provision. I carried out a multi-method analysis of electoral coalitions and matched them with patterns of clientelistic service provision between 2010-2013. Solo-authored work from this research demonstrating how inter-ethnic electoral coalitions matter for service provision years after the last ballot was cast is accepted for publication at Political Research Quarterly. The study makes important contributions to the literature on electoral rules, clientelism, and race, ethnicity and politics. First, it adds a novel and nuanced insight to the literature: electoral rules can sometimes moderate, rather than reinforce, the impact of social cleavages on clientelistic politics even in contexts where social cleavages are highly salient. Second, it brings together multiple original datasets to build empirical evidence in support of its theoretical predictions. I have also published aspects of this research in numerous popular media outlets (see my C.V.) The Arabic skills and in-depth understanding of Middle Eastern culture, politics, and society that I gained through the activities associated with writing my dissertation continue to provide me with invaluable insights that enrich my work today.
My dissertation research employed a mixed method approach and a novel dataset to explore how autocrats utilize elections to maintain ethnically splintered political support through redistribution. I analyze the full parliamentary election results of Jordan from 1989-2013, leveraging historical shifts between three different types of electoral institutions to examine their effect on the formation of successful voter coalitions. Constituent service casework logs of parliamentarians containing thousands of requests they make on behalf of their constituents to the regime and over 150 interviews collected during fieldwork in Jordan provide evidence that multimember districts are engender tribal voting and ethnic favoritism in parliamentary provision of state goods and services in contrast to single member districts where parliamentarians cobbled together more ethnically diverse support coalitions and tribalism does not explain their service provision patterns.
A nationwide survey in Jordan (N~1,500) I ran in April of 2014 in collaboration with the Governance and Local Development (GLD) Program at Yale University and Professor Ellen Lust (University of Gothenburg) and Lindsay Benstead (Portland State University) bolsters these findings demonstrating that among participants registered in multimember districts, those who have had a tribal Member of Parliament in the past are more likely to participate in elections than those who have not, whereas a tribal connection does not determine turnout in single-member districts. This research highlights the importance of political analysis at the sub-national level. My data demonstrates that electoral institutions play a meaningful role in shaping entrenched inequalities in access to government services and life opportunities for the citizens living under the rule of dictators.
Hands-on experience executing public opinion polls in Jordan, Malawi, Iraq, Kenya and Zambia requiring the development of following skills: survey design and analysis, project management, collaboration with international actors, communication between funders and survey providers.
- Skilled in Stata, html, and C# programming languages, with some knowledge of R.
- Extensive training in qualitative and quantitative research methods including in-depth interviewing techniques, questionnaire expertise and survey methodology, and experimental design.
- In-depth knowledge of tribal dynamics, local politics, and elections under authoritarianism gleaned from over 150 interviews and election monitoring in Jordan (2013 and 2016) and Kuwait (2012 and 2013).
- Native English speaker; advanced written and spoken formal and Levantine Arabic; intermediate knowledge of French; intermediate knowledge of Swedish.
- Intimate understanding of the culture and worldview of Near Eastern and North African societies gained from years of residency in multiple countries throughout this region.
- Since 2006, has conducted fieldwork in the Middle East across contexts as diverse as Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia, Oman, and Egypt.
- Has also trained and led research teams on the ground in the East African countries of Malawi, Zambia, and Kenya.