My research

I study authoritarian politics and transitions to democracy. I am especially interested in the emergence - and repression - of mass opposition to authoritarian governments; and how economic development in the countryside relates to democracy and democratization.

Although a lot of my work is global in scope, I have a specific interest in democracy and autocracy in Germany and Central Europe.

Erich Mielke (center), East German Minister for State Security, with Stasi colleagues.

Authoritarian Repression and Social Order in Socialist Central and Eastern Europe

Coercive institutions like the East German Stasi play a central role in authoritarian politics, detecting and repressing threats to incumbent dictators. In my current research, I study puzzling variation in the size and activities of the communist secret police in Central and Eastern Europe to shed new light on coercive institutions in authoritarian regimes.


Watching the Watchers: Communist Elites, the Secret Police and Social Order in Cold War Europe. Forthcoming, Cambridge University Press.

Published Papers

"The Bureaucratic Politics of Authoritarian Repression: Intra-Agency Reform and Surveillance Capacity in Communist Poland." Forthcoming, Political Science Research and Methods.

Rural Development, Agriculture and Democracy

The agricultural sector is critical to economic and political development processes. Growth in rural areas frees up capital and labor for urbanization and modernization. Rural elites are typically stalwart opponents of democratizing reforms. My research explores and challenges the received wisdom that the rural sector is always an obstacle to democratization.

In my first book, Food and Power: Regime Type, Agricultural Policy and Political Stability, I argue that dictators distort agricultural commodity prices using tariffs, subsidies and other policies to buy off powerful landed elites and placate restive urban food consumers. These policies have significant effects on authoritarian regime stability, urban social disorder and broader development outcomes.

With David Samuels (University of Minnesota), I am investigating the effect of agricultural mechanization on the emergence of democracy and on attitudes towards democracy among rural elites. We argue that when landed elites substitute horsepower for manpower, they no longer rely on authoritarian labor repression and become less resistant to democratizing reforms.

Political Mobilization, Violence and Urban Social Disorder

The world is urbanizing fast. By 2050, the UN estimates that over seventy percent of the globe's population will live in cities. In several ongoing projects, I am involved in documenting and exploring political mobilization and violence in urban areas.

Published Papers:

"Urban Social Disorder 3.0: A Global, City-Level Event Dataset of Political Mobilization and Disorder.” With Karim Bahgat (William & Mary), Halvard Buhaug and Henrik Urdal (Peace Research Institute Oslo). Forthcoming, Journal of Peace Research.

"Group Organization, Elections and Urban Social Disorder in the Developing World." With Henrik Urdal, Halvard Buhaug (Peace Research Institute Oslo) and Elisabeth Rosvold (University of Stockholm). Democratization 28 (8): 1525-1534.

Working Papers

"Uncertainty, Pre-Election Polling and Electoral Contention and Violence Under Autocracy." With Svitlana Chernykh (Australian National University)

"Does Trade Cause Protests?" With Haeyong Lim (Jeju Peace Institute)