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. I have work published in Foreign Affairs.
On a personal note, I grew up in a large 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.
The successful progression of separatist and self-determination movements from pseudo-statehood to eligibility for international recognition is a poorly understood process. Two disjoint literatures, one on partially recognized states and one on diplomatic recognition, speak to the topic, but neither has been focused much on how these states accrue international sovereignty en route to recognition. Official recognition, the dominant measure, reflects only the final stages of a long process. Before officially recognizing aspiring states, third parties tacitly recognize them by other important means: foreign aid, military partnerships, and other forms. To fill in this gap, I create a latent variable model of third-party recognition, using data 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 test several theoretical predictions about recognition, finding: (1) that major powers move towards recognition of separatist groups when other powers stake out positions, (2) that extant violence in separatist conflicts has a direct positive effect on movement towards recognition, (3) that states move away from recognition when they share security interests with the party standing to lose territory, and (4) that successful seizure and control of territory by separatists has no effect on movement towards international recognition.
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.
Through 17 interviews with Saharawi youth in the Algerian refugee camps, I find that Saharawi 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 Saharawi 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.
Foulweather Friends: Building Separatist Sovereignty under the Shadow of Violence
This paper explores the relationship between violence in secessionist and separatist conflicts and the range of activities third-party states employ in these conflicts. Using a latent variable model of international sovereignty, I show that even while major powers tend not to recognize separatists diplomatically, ongoing violence causes them to move towards supporting separatist sovereignty. This is especially pronounced when these movements face crackdowns or severe suppression, and is even present during conventional warfare. Conversely, I show that smaller states are willing to diplomatically recognize early on, even if they lack other means to bolster these movements’ efforts.
Fairweather Foes: Crushing Separatist Dreams on the Brink of Success
This paper addresses a stark foreign policy puzzle. Powerful states lend support to separatist and self-determination movements—military and civilian aid, sanctions, UN votes—recognizing them as distinct political entities, building their institutional capacities, and establishing their cases for recognition as sovereign states. However, they then oppose their entry into the Westphalian system. I show this trend using a latent variable model of international sovereignty. I argue that this is because powerful states’ foreign policy prioritizes stability, which leads to this seeming contradiction. As states assist separatist groups in developing functioning self-government, they move those regions towards higher stability, making recognition a needlessly risky decision at the moment when separatists are arguably the most eligible for statehood.
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.