Political (un)settlements and perceptions of counter-insurgency militias

with Jan Koehler and Kristof Gosztonyi


Previous research on the determinants and consequences of militia behaviour has relied primarily on "objective" country-level and conflict-level data. We know less on the subjective perceptions of the affected populations: what determines citizens' attitudes towards militias in contexts of violent conflict? We highlight the role of  patterns and dynamics of (informal) political settlements in which militias operate. We argue that "consolidated" settlements improve citizens' ability to make sense of the (violent) behaviour of militias---in terms of general rationales, specific motives and target selection. The resulting perceptions of predictability and agency can make abusive militia behavior seem more tolerable (and avoidable) to citizens than in more volatile political contexts. We investigate this argument in north-east Afghanistan. We draw on four waves of standardized household surveys and qualitative interviews in the period from 2010 to 2018. Our research design exploits spatial and temporal discontinuities in political settlements across the three provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan. We find consistent evidence that citizens' perceptions of militias depend on the political settlements in which these militias operate: similar actions of militias may lead to rather different perceptions of their performance depending on the political context.


Right-wing terror, public backlash, and voting preferences for the far right

with Felix Haaß and Julian Voß


Over the last decade, many western countries have experienced a surge in right-wing violence and a growing public support for populist radical right parties (PRRP). Previous research suggests that right-wing political mobilization can inspire right-wing violence. However, we know little on the opposite direction of this relationship: how does right-wing violence influence voting preferences for the far right? In this research note, we implement an ``unexpected event during survey'' design to investigate this question. We draw on data from daily surveys on party preferences to analyze temporal shifts in support for the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) before and after the most intense terrorist attack in recent German history. Our findings indicate that right-wing terrorism can have substantive but short-lived negative effects on public support for PRRP. Results of exploratory analyses are in line with the argument that these effects result from a public backlash against PRRP that alienates potential voters.


Decentralized networks and bureaucratic careers in autocracies

with Felix Haaß and Jan Pierskalla


Previous research has demonstrated that ruling elites hand-pick top-level cadres from their personal networks to maximize loyalty. However, similar personal networks also exist among the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats 

on lower levels of the administrative hierarchy. We undertake the first empirical analysis of such networks, focusing on a least-likely case: the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). The regime’s highly formalized socialist cadre policy should have left little room for a strong role of informal ties in bureaucratic careers. We draw on detailed biographical data on over 370,000 cadres to investigate if decentralized networks nonetheless shaped promotion practices in the GDR’s bureaucracy. We reconstruct the composition of local work collectives—a center of personal commitment, friendship, and mutual help in the GDR. We demonstrate a substantive role of decentralized career 

networks in cadres’ career trajectories, highlighting a so-far underappreciated element of personalized networks in autocracies.


Long-Term Sequences of State-Building and Violent Conflict


A large body of research demonstrates that state capacity is an important correlate of intra-state conflict. However, similar levels of present-day state capacity can result from different historical trajectories of state-building. This paper investigates how the spatio-temporal patterns of long-term expansion of state authority and control can influence current levels of violent unrest. In particular, I argue that specific sequences of state-building can increase the present-day risk of violent conflict: geographical obstacles can isolate territories from state-building processes for extended periods, strengthening non-state institutions. The risk of violence increases once the state has accumulated sufficient capabilities to close this state-building gap. The extension of authority into peripheral territories triggers resistance from among local elites that can mobilize their constituencies against the central state. I investigate this argument in a mixed-methods design that exploits exogenous variation in early state-penetration in Nepal. Areas located below the Himalayan foothills were heavily Malaria-infested preventing the state from establishing meaningful presence until the implementation of a malaria eradication program in the 1950s. I make use of this specificity in Regression Discontinuity (RD) estimations and a qualitative process tracing approach. Findings lend support to the primary arguments of the paper.