I am a PhD candidate in the program for Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California.
I study international responses to civil and interstate conflicts. My dissertation explores states’ foreign policy towards other states experiencing internal conﬂict, especially as a result of active separatist, secessionist, and self-determination movements. It focuses speciﬁcally on how state relations with countries embroiled in conﬂict are impacted by domestic and international normative pressures. I develop a continuous measure of international recognition and explore theories about the relationship between recognition, ongoing violence, national interests, and international norms. I also push for substantial revision in the way we carry out survey experiments probing public opinion on foreign policy, providing experimental evidence of some dilemmas inherent in the method.
I also study research methods, have taught a graduate math boot camp for the POIR program, and have instructed two undergraduate courses on social science research methods.
On a personal note, I grew up in a large missionary family between southern Colorado and the big island of Hawai'i. I love classic cars and motorcycles, woodworking, baking, and acoustic music. Before pursuing the social sciences, I was a professional photographer.
This paper demonstrates that survey experimental respondents tend not to consider costs in a foreign policy context, and contends that this weakens external validity for survey experimental designs that could theoretically involve cost-thinking in the analogous real world situation. Inspired by the apparently abrupt change in 2013 of public opinion on US policy towards the Syrian civil war, I replicate a common experimental test of opinion on military intervention. I show that asking subjects about their expectations of American casualties drastically lowers disapproval of empty threats and increases disapproval of intervention, using survey methodological research across several disciplines to explain way. I show experimentally that survey respondents responding to hypothetical situations tend not to consider relevant costs unless prompted to do so, and I demonstrate that this effect is of greater concern with costs than with the theoretically important concern of concern for international reputation. From this, I make a few recommendations for survey experimental research moving forward.
Unintended Causal Pathways: Probing Experimental Mechanisms through Mediation Analysis (with Nicholas Weller)
We present the results of several experimental studies relevant to the general study of causal mechanisms, the specific study of audience costs, and the larger body of survey experiments. First, we show that in the context of audience cost experiments, a portion of the estimated treatment effect is related to the intended causal mechanism, national reputation, but this mechanism underlies a relatively small part of the total causal effect, leaving much of the causal effect unexplained. Second, we show that the experimental treatment manipulates an unintended mechanism that also underlies part of the treatment effect. We conduct two tests to establish the relative independence of each mediator’s effect. Finally, we investigate the possibility that our findings represent question order effects rather than mediation effects, and we find that priming does not substantially threaten our results. Our results and discussion advance our understanding of the challenge of studying causal mediation in survey experiments. We provide some recommendations for survey experimentation moving forward.
In this paper, I suggest a universal framework of state relations that conceptualizes secessionist, separatist, and self-determination movements along a continuum of recognition. I use the Western Saharan conflict as a brief exploratory case to help develop theory about how states move along the dimension of recognition. I argue that states move towards recognition of self-determination movements when those movements face violence, and states stop and even reverse those decisions when violence halts. I also outline a latent variable model being developed to test this and other hypotheses about international sovereignty.
Through 17 interviews with Sahrawi youth in the Algerian refugee camps, I find that Sahrawi youth have come to individually embody the national cause, naming national liberation as their personal goal. They see themselves as self-reliant and individualistic in certain ways, but are willing to sacrifice the individual identity for the sake of the collective. This is most evident in these interviews in the way they sometimes consider opportunity to leave the camps for an easier life: many Sahrawi have been prone to reject them, preferring to stay in the camps because leaving may be viewed as betrayal of the national cause.
In this essay, we consider the influence of a state’s neighborhood on its involvement in international conflict. We find that, when we account for the number and kinds of neighbors a state has, partially democratized states initiate fewer conflicts than any other kind of state, including consolidated democracies and every kind of authoritarian system. We argue that this is due to the renewed focus of transitioning states on domestic issues like education and income inequality. Our evidence strongly counters the substantial state-first vein of theory in the literature, and it gives ample reason to encourage and support democratization in even volatile regions of the world.
Gaining eligibility for statehood: Theory and assessment of third party recognition of separatist movements
Official diplomatic recognition has been the primary measure of third party recognition of aspiring states. However, long before officially “recognizing” aspiring states, third party states tacitly recognize them by other important means: foreign aid, military partnerships, favorable IGO votes, and other forms. Recognition is a continuous process, and official recognition is often the last domino to fall. Using this insight, I develop a continuous conceptualization of third party recognition of aspiring states. This new frame of reference is used to assemble a triadic dataset from 1945-2015 capturing relations between state governments and separatist conflicts. I create a latent variable model on military and economic aid, diplomatic exchange, IGO voting, sanctions, opposition to and support of governments facing separatists, and official recognition. With this new measure, I revisit several key conclusions about recognition in recent studies: (1) that major powers hesitate to extend recognition to aspiring states, but are likely to do so once other powers stake out positions, (2) that extant violence in separatist conflicts has little to no direct effect on patterns of recognition, and (3) that successful seizure and control of territory by separatists is a primary determining factor of movement towards international recognition. I show that states move towards recognition when separatist movements are subjected to violent repression, and that smaller states and former colonies employ official recognition as a form of intervention in these conflicts earlier than larger, more powerful states.
Unpacking the Unstated: Complicating the Causal Mechanism in Survey Experiments (with Nicholas Weller)
In this paper, we show that vignettes in survey experiments can affect subjects’ behavior by unintentionally changing beliefs about factors unmentioned in the vignette itself. We demonstrate experimentally that when responding to hypothetical survey vignettes, respondents may “fill in the blanks.” When these untested factors vary with the randomly assigned vignettes, they may be responsible for a portion of the experimental effect. We demonstrate this phenomenon through a series of experiments on public opinion on foreign policy and candidate choice. Building on these findings, we argue that other untested mechanisms may underlie many of our experimental results, both for audience cost theory and for other theories tested via survey experiments. We recommend scholars carefully design their experiments to test the specific causal pathways dictated by theory.
Lecturer—Fall 2015—Sociology 201: Intro to Research Methods, Chapman University
I developed and taught an introductory course in social science research methods. We focused on the practical value of research in today's political and working environments, and we utilized examples of common problems people encounter every day. The syllabus is available here.
Instructor—2014-2016—Graduate Math Boot Camp, POIR, USC
I developed and taught a one-week curriculum to introduce incoming PhD students to concepts from calculus, linear algebra, and probability theory that are crucial to statistical analysis. I collaborated with peers and faculty in multiple departments to ensure the material would suit students from multiple social science disciplines. The focus was on introducing incoming students to key core concepts from calculus and probability, as well as statistical tools like OLS, negative binomial, logit, and probit regression.
Teacher and Counselor—2010–2012—Group Two-in-One, Tustin, CA
I taught small groups and provided individual tutoring on English grammar, critical reading skills, Spanish, American Government, Western Civilization, SAT, ACT, and TOEFL test preparation to non-native English speakers. We focused on improving their comprehension and performance in school. I advised students on university selection and self-presentation in the application processes to improve chances of admission.
English Teacher—2008—Madrasa as-Salaam, Tindouf, Algeria
I designed a curriculum for both broad classes and individual pupils to build foundations of English comprehension for refugee children ages 9-15. I taught in English, Spanish, and Arabic with classes of about 20 students.