Placement Candidates

James McCann, Placement Director


Kaitlin Kelly-Thompson


  • Fields of Study: Public Policy.
  • Dissertation Title: There is Power in a Plaza: Social Movements, Democracy and Spatial Politics
  • Committee: S. Laurel Weldon, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman. Rachel Einwohner, and Molly Scudder
  • Summary: My dissertation uses a mixed-methods approach to interrogate the relationship between the city, as a built and lived environment, and the inclusion of marginalized groups within social movements. Using the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013 and the Women’s Marches in Boston, San. Antonio, and Pittsburgh in 2017, I develop a theoretical explanation for why the built environment can encourage inclusion of diverse groups within movements and the potential effects this can have on local democracy. I then test my expectations through a series of statistical analyses of the 2017 Women’s Marches, using an original dataset. Through this project, I find that the space of the city effects movements ability to develop inclusion, not only when activists are making direct claims to space, as in the Gezi case, but also when activists come together for more abstract goals, as in the case of the Women’s Marches.


Toby L. Lauterbach, Ph.D.

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  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Comparative Politics, and Public Policy
  • Dissertation Title: Strategic Culture and the Iraq War
  • Committee: Keith Shimko (Chair), Ann Marie Clark, Louis Rene Beres, and Harry Targ
  • Summary: This work concentrates on how cultural assumptions about the conduct of war among US policy makers influenced the Iraq War. Students of international relations generally use the classic logic of power politics to explain national security choices. However, my study reveals that this kind of thinking was distorted by the beliefs that U.S. policymakers held about America’s unique role in the world. As a result, President Bush’s war advisors believed that it would be fairly easy to remake Iraq into a free market democratic society that would serve as a springboard for transforming the Middle East into the image of America and its Western allies. A faith in the superiority of the American way of life, rooted in the belief that the U.S.’s vision of economic and political freedoms are universally applicable, fueled the premise that Iraq would greet American troops as liberators. My analysis illustrates the role culture plays in international security and its impact on specific foreign policy choices such as the Iraq War.

 Mintao Nie

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  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), American Politics, and Methodology
  • Dissertation Title: Agents of Recalcitrance: Decentralization and State Compliance with International Human Rights Treaties
  • Committee: Ann Marie Clark (Chair), Eric Waltenburg, James McCann, and Thomas Mustillo
  • Summary:   Previous research has analyzed various domestic mechanisms that make national governments’ commitments to international human rights treaties credible, including national courts, political opposition groups, and non-governmental organizations. But how does the power dynamics within the government affect state compliance with human rights treaties? In this study, I focus on the effect of the central-local governmental structure. My focus on the central-local governmental structure builds on the basic understanding that international human rights norms need to pass through the convoluted political and administrative processes prior to their implementation on the ground. I argue that a decentralized state in which local authorities enjoy more discretion in local matters is less likely to comply with human rights treaties, because decentralization (1) hinders the top-down diffusion of human rights norms between different governmental tiers, (2) creates many local agents that are not subject to pressure from the international society, and (3) enables the central government to deflect international criticism by shifting blame for human rights abuses to local officials. To test my argument, I first conduct cross-national time-series analyses of state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture. I then use qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate China’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture and the United States’ compliance with Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Complementary streams of evidence from cross-national and within-country analyses suggest that higher levels of decentralization reduce state compliance with human rights treaties.

Elis Vllasi, Ph.D.

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  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Methodology, and Comparative Politics
  • Dissertation Title: Sabotage: When Motherlands Ruin Foreign Democratization Efforts
  • Committee: Aaron Hoffman (Chair), Kyle Haynes, James McCann, and Scott Gates
  • Summary:    Why do some international efforts to export democracy fail? A few conventional answers: the target country lacks the necessary institutions; leadership is incapable of making the changes required; and third-parties have insufficient influence needed to motivate a new system. My research shows an additional but often overlooked predictor of democratization outcomes—the presence of nearby ethnonational homeland, or motherland that seeks to interfere in the democratization processes of their neighbors as they seek to contest the political borders of the states with whom they share transnational ethnic kin. Democratization is seen as a barrier to promoting the convergence of ethnic and political boundaries. I contend that a motherland can opt for a variety of strategies to challenge the democratization of a target state. Their level of effectiveness at spoiling democratization efforts is a function of the intensity and frequency of events (conflict or cooperative) that a motherland initiates against a target state. Motherlands that are non-democratic regimes and have recently lost territories populated by ethnic kin to a nearby state are more likely to be spoilers than motherlands that are democracies that have split from their kin long ago. My findings show, through a large-N study and a case study, that the level of democracy in a target country is lower when a motherland displays high levels of intensity and frequency for conflict. The Western policymakers should pay close attention to these findings as Western democratization efforts are increasingly challenged worldwide through the use of ethnic identity politics.

Bi Zhao

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  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Methodology, and Comparative Politics
  • Dissertation Title:  Better Together? Internal Politics among Civil Society Actors at the UN Climate Summits
  • Committee: Ann Marie Clark (Chair), James McCann, Aaron Hoffman, and Thomas Mustillo
  • Summary:    My dissertation focuses on the internal power struggle among non-state actors. Conventional wisdom tells us that civil society can potentially enhance democratic legitimacy in international decision-making. I find that the unequal representation of civil society actors in fact undercuts the intrinsic value of democracy in venues such as intergovernmental organizations. In particular, I draw on the inter-organizational network of women’s groups working at the UN climate change summits. I employ a mixed-methods approach, using network analysis, statistical modeling, and in-depth interviews from fieldwork at the UN summits. I have independently collected network and organizational data on over 800 participants at the UN climate change summits over 15 years. I show that civil society actors have increased their participation, as the UN opens up more opportunities for them. The growth is, however, accompanied by unequal representation and increasing division. The unequal participation is driven by variation in civil society actors’ organizational capacity and social connection. The power imbalance renders some groups more influential than others, casting an uneven impact on their governance outcome.

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